Joy in the Land: My Experience on the Ground
Please open your heart and allow it to be filled with joy, courage and real hope on behalf of all of Am Yisrael, including the soldiers we visited. While on Operation Torah Shield, YU’s student delegation to Israel, I witnessed a lot of reasons to feel hopeful.
On the first day of our trip, we went together to Otef Aza (the Gaza envelope). Driving through the Otef, we saw shadows of burnt cars on the main road in southern Israel, burnt trees and the lot of cars that were destroyed at the Nova festival. On one base, we saw two bikes that were used by Hamas. But please don't allow that to scare you. Our main objective in traveling through the Otef was to help a farmer pick his eggplants, and this farmer signifies the resilience and hope that encapsulates the true lesson to be learned from Operation Torah Shield.
Originally, the farmer believed that his produce would go to waste since most of his workers returned to Thailand at the beginning of the war. This caused him to turn off the water drip irrigation system to all of his produce, and in the ensuing weeks the produce began growing uncontrollably, making the eggplants unsuitable for proper picking. When he heard that volunteers were coming from within Israel and abroad, he requested that his reserve unit help string his eggplant plants to the ceiling to allow them to grow properly. He then turned the water supply back on for his eggplant crop to continue to grow. Our job was to finish the process. Together, we picked tons and tons of eggplants that were shipped all over Israel. That is the story of the eggplant farmer and the Jewish strength and courage he embodies.
Later that night, we saw dozens of Israeli flags tied to the side of the highway back to Jerusalem. Each flag represented a spot where one person was killed by Hamas. The feelings that went through my head when I saw those flags are not fully describable. You have on one hand the bloodshed of the October 7th massacre and on the other the fact that Israeli flags fly high in those very spots, representing the almost indescribable eternity of the Jewish people and our ability to survive.
The second day of our trip was partially spent at the Tel HaShomer Army base hospital. We saw brave soldiers recovering from wounds sustained during their service undergoing a remarkable recovery. These soldiers were our own age, and had sustained life-altering injuries, many of them missing arms and legs, and one would expect that they had lost their pride and joy along with their limbs. And yet they did not. They found the strength and optimism to continue living. We saw soldiers out on balconies, hanging out with their families, drinking arak and eating sunflower seeds. Most of them were happy to see us despite the circumstances. All of us were uplifted by their smiling faces and positive attitudes.
So, my dear friends, brothers and sisters around the world, please open up your hearts. Be inspired, be hopeful and know that the best times are yet to come. Please continue to do your hard work, please continue to advocate; please continue to donate and please continue to do good, because love always overcomes hate.
Photo Caption: A symbol of Jewish courage and strength.
Photo Credit: Yoni Bensoussan