Jon Segal from Montclair, NJ and Hannah Bender from Carol Stream, Illinois here. Along with 33 other students attending the fall semester of NFTY-EIE High School in Israel we have hiked from the Kineret to the Mediterranean, spent a week in the Israeli army, journeyed to Poland, climbed Masada, floated in the Dead Sea, and shared many other fulfilling experiences here in Israel in addition to studying Jewish History, Hebrew, Math, and everything else you do in High School.
While on our first big trek, Yam L’Yam (Sea to Sea), we witnessed history. Five years ago, while on duty in his tank by the border of Gaza, Corporal Gilad Shalit was captured and held by Hamas. On the fourth day of our trip, while hiking in the Galilee, we could see Shalit’s hometown, Mitzpe Hila. Without our knowing, this was also the day of his release and he was scheduled to arrive home at the same time we were scheduled to arrive at the top of Gorin Mountain. Before climbing the mountain, we were preparing and relaxing at the foot, when our guide got off the phone and said, “How quickly can we get to the top of this mountain?” We raced up, arriving in exhaustion. As we sat at the top, observing the scenery and learning the history of a Crusader Castle, a helicopter came overhead. This helicopter circled around the mountaintops for about 15 minutes, until ultimately yielding to two very large army helicopters making their approach. One helicopter landed on top of a hilltop across the valley. Gilad Shalit was on board and he was coming home, finally.
This experience has left a mark in our hearts and has shown us what being in Israel is all about, how much the citizens of Israel value human life and how hard they will work to save just one. EIE has given us the opportunity to be a part of Israeli society and given us the tools to take back to America the values of Israeli and Jewish life. We spent a week in Gadna, an introduction to the Israeli army, and came to realize the length Israelis will go to protect the State and its citizens.
Last Tuesday, we had the singular honor of spending time with Noam Shalit, Gilad’s amazing, indefatigable father, and interview him. It was obvious why everyone was so passionate about the cause; because Shalit had become the child of all Israel, the son of the Jewish people. We saw in his eyes and heard in his voice his relief and genuine, overwhelming gratitude. All of these experiences inspired us to feel a part of something larger than ourselves: the continuity of our ancient civilization. Thank you Israel, thank you EIE, and thank you Gilad Shalit.