Nov 22, 2012  By Charles Miller  Category: Travel,

A Day on the Front Lines

Today I had the tremendous privilege of standing literally on the front lines with our brothers and sisters in Israel. I arrived in Israel last evening to participate as a delegate from the National Council of Young Israel on an emergency mission to Israel sponsored by the Rabbinical Council of America.

I just returned to Jerusalem after a fourteen hour suspense-filled day that included briefings on the Gaza border and a visit to the bomb shelters of Sderot.

Today's itinerary was spearheaded by Rabbi Heshy Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere, who was praised by the IDF, JNF and political leadership for his tremendous dedication to the effected Israeli communities.

Our day began at 8am with a government briefing in Jerusalem from Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. Speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, Minister Neeman thanked the delegation of rabbinic and lay leadership from the United States for its steadfast support for Israel and the Jewish people.

At this critical juncture in Israel's history, Minister Neeman praised the unity and morale of the Jewish people in its support of the residents of southern Israel. Looking at the miracles of our time, he said that the Jewish people should be reciting the Al Hanissim everyday, not just on Purim and Chanukah, and he closed his remarks by stating that the life insurance policy for our people is our faith in Hashem and in Torah study.

We next received a military briefing from a senior officer of the IDF, explaining to us the nature of the conflict with Hamas and the landscape of the Gaza Strip as it pertains to Israeli cities and towns. He emphasized the "extreme shock" of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leadership regarding the success of the IDF. There was discussion of the need to control and prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza from the Sinai and how the Iron Dome system has been a "game changer" in the conflict.

Next, the delegation boarded buses and traveled to the Gaza border. On the way, there was a Code Red alert of incoming rocket fire, prompting us to leave the buses and seek cover on the side of the road.

We arrived at the Gaza border, surrounded by thousands of IDF reserve and active duty units, with tanks and infantry soldiers ready to enter Gaza. We were briefed by a General Officer, who told us that the IDF was ready to fulfill its mission and only awaited a political decision regarding initiating a ground operation.

The environment was intense, with the possibility of the ground invasion commencing at a moment's notice. Tanks could be seen firing shells in the direction of Gaza.

An Iron Dome battery sat a short distance away from us, ready to respond to incoming rockets. Three Kassam rockets were then fired from Gaza, visible to us and heading in the direction of Ashkelon.

We then drove to Sderot, where the mayor greeted us and spoke of the achdus of our people. He spoke of the bravery of the residents of Sderot and the other southern communities, who have persevered for years from intermittent rocket attacks.

We met with the children of Sderot at their indoor playground, the largest in Israel. We learned that every facet of the playground, constructed by the JNF, had to accommodate the need to get to the bomb shelter portion of the building within 15 seconds of an alert. Thus, the rock climbing wall could only be of a modified height and a planned merry- go-round had to be scratched because it takes too long to stop it in the event of an attack.

While the town streets of Sderot were silent and eerily empty, the hundreds of residents we met and spoke with demonstrated to us the incredible resolve of our people.

We then traveled to Soroka University Medical Center in Beer Sheva, where ambulances were literally pulling up to the emergency room with wounded soldiers from incoming Kassam attacks in the area. The deputy mayor of Beer Sheva greeted us at the hospital and explained the tremendous danger to the residents of southern Israel.

We visited wounded soldiers, civilians and their families in the hospital intensive care unit, offering words of chizuk and misheberach prayers for the injured.

Two of the soldiers, blinded by an anti-tank rocket attack on their jeep, intoned "Amen" upon our prayer for their full refuah. Tears flowed from their family members and from the delegates.

We boarded the buses at 8:00pm, to then see on our television monitor an announced cease fire, effective at 9:00pm Israel time.

As I sit quietly back in Jerusalem and take stock of the day I've just witnessed first hand, the only thought that comes to my mind is Mi K'Amcha Yisrael.

What an honor to be a part of the Jewish people, in Eretz HaKedosha, as we go from strength to strength.