The Neshamah Geological Survey

A trip up to Northern Israel to help its residents and soldiers

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Neshamah Geological Survey

The Neshamah Geological Survey Preparing to return to Israel. As unbelievable as this may sound the army is asking that we help them by providing clothing, equipment, food, water, and money in order to remain at full strength. I have received several emails and as soon as I have the permission of the soldiers involved I will publish them and you will be able to see for yourselves what we are talking about. While the morale remains high it is easy to understand the worry of an imminent outbreak of action without the necessary requisite above mentioned items. I will never forget the warmth and hospitality of those troops in the Lebanon bunker. Please also keep these brave young men and women in your prayers on Rosh Hashona, as well.

Preparing for the next trip

"Ask me about land for peace"
The following picture is Aishey standing on the side of a mountain that was destroyed by Katusha rocket fire. It was an eerie feeling that we all agreed was akin to standing on a desolate planet. It was very treacherous terrain and we all took some form of a fall negotiating the steep slope.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Shalom u'Lihitra'ot

Rambam Hospital, Haifa
(Click on any thumbnail in this blog
to see enlargement)

As we prepare to leave we can't help but feel how satisfying yet inadequate our journey has been.

From the first day when we landed and began our run towards trying to make a small difference in the indifferently we did not stop nor sleep.

We were zoche to see and experience so very many diverse Jewish experiences as a diverse traveling companionship camaraderie.

I cannot say enough about Micha and his super son Aishey, without whom none of this trip could have happened. It was due to a true tolerance and Ahavas Yisroel that made for a trip that served the needs of so many who need so much.

Thanks to our wives Chana and Siggy for allowing us the time to travel into harms way and give whatever they were able to organize.

The people of Israel continue to need ever more increasingly so much more that we are already discussing the next trip.

The United States has canceled the most recent 2 Billion dollar commitment to Israel and the need has never been greater.

Please help us in whatever format you can. Childrens clothing, army clothing and supplies, money for food and shelter.

More businesses have closed during the past few days and the number of checks in the north bouncing have created a national crisis. This is all happening because of the war.

We leave Isreal with a sense of separation that is profound in light of the ever increasing need and a sadness that is motivating our imminent return.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Final Day of Trip

Today we got off to an early start. We were in Tzfas and met an old friend, Dovid Rothschild, who is very familiar with the terrain and the army positions.
Just prior to our meeting the air raid siren went off and we all ran to the Miklot in the Hecht family's home. It was a heart wrenching experience to hear the cries of the children and see the fear on their faces.
We did hear explosions in the distance but these it turned out were not the anticipated incoming missiles but rather the army detonating several large explosive devices in and around the area.
We remained in the sealed room for about 5 minutes as we tried to calm the frayed nerves and reassure everyone that it would all be okay. It was truly a heartbreaking experience.
From there we headed out to our destination of the day, Lebanon.
After about an hour of traveling and pausing to view the landscape and topography of the war grounds we finally arrived at the base in Lebanon.
We were allowed into the compound which is highly fortified and complete with many underground bunkers and sniper positions.
While there we put on Tefillin with the soldiers, signed them up for letters in a Sefer Torah, and toured the entire compound.
One young man confided to me that he and his wife have been considering becoming more "Dahtee" but he had no idea as to how to begin the process. He confided that they were considering that maybe they could begin with a Friday night Kiddush or keeping Shabbos. I pulled out my Tefillin and said let's start right now with the mitzvah of Tefillin. I assisted him in putting on the Tefillin, saying the Shemah, and we agreed that we would send the picture of this first mitzvah to his wife in order to notify her that he is now ready to begin. Please notice the pictures on the wall of the bunker where we put on Tefillin.
We went up to the top of the sniper tower and were able to look through some very high powered binoculars and we could see the enemy peering back at us.
The men of the unit could not have been more accommodating. They could not believe that we actually came up there to visit them. We thanked them for serving and they said oh no it is us who must thank you. We assured them that we were the ones who needed to do the thanking. They asked us how that is possible.
We explained to them that they are not only fighting for the borders of Israel but for all Jews everywhere. That this is a war that goes far beyond the borders of one country. They were very moved by our explaination and our visit. We were also overcome emotionally.
Aishy really enjoyed handling all the weapons and as we were leaving he commented to his father all I had to do was fire that machine gun and I could have started an international incident.
I guess that will have to wait for another visit which we will talk about in the days to come.

These are pictures from a bunker inside Lebanon. The pinacle of the rise in the above photo is the first village inside Southern Lebanon.

Tomorrow we will meet with the director of the boys and girls camps in the shtacheem.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Day 7 Begins

Today we are off to Lebanon.
I cannot impress upon everyone how difficult the situation is here in the northern part of Israel. Many of the small businesses have had to close because of the war and the people were not only appreciative of what we brought them but they repeatedly implored us to tell them when we will be back, "we really need you."
It is heart wrenching to witness the need and yet simultaneously there is a stoic-ness of these Isaelis that allows them to continue with their daily lives knowing that there is another attack just around the corner. They are boosted knowing that there are still people out there in the land of plenty (the good old USA) who care enough about them to take time out of their busy lives to visit and help. Please join us.

And again thank you to everyone who has helped out materially and spiritually to make this such a successful trip.

Golani Training Center Visit

(Click on any thumbnail in this blog to see full sized picture)

From the hospital we left for Hadera where we met up with the Golani Unit who took us to a training center where we presented the soldiers with the special tee shirts that they had requested as well as all of the flashlights that we brought with and finally the remaining canisters of home baked cookies.
They were so overcome with emotion that they presented us with personalized dog tags, Golani tee shirts, stickers, and specialized watch covers that block out reflection on the dial whilst in combat. There are 1500 trainees on the base and after thanking us profusely they requested that we obtain for them another 1500 flashlights as well as a list of other items that they will email us in the next day or two.

Return to the North

Today we spent the day performing the mitzvah bikur cholim at the Rambam Hospital. While we were in the hospital we were told that the Prime Minister Olmert was also visiting soldiers and from the looks of the police and military presence it was most certainly true.
We met a young man named Yechiel ben Zohara (please remember him in your Tehilim) who is quite a remarkable young man. He is 36 years old and the proud father of a little girl who will be one year old next week. He started a community in the Golan by living and working there for an entire year alone and now he has almost 50 families who have built and moved in to new housing.
Yechiel is one of 11 children and he was so appreciative of our visit that he insisted that we sit down and spend some time with him and his best friend. He was shot 10 days ago in the back and the bullet traveled internally and exited below his rib cage on the right side.
We thanked him for all he did for the Jewish People and for being a real hero. He was so modest that he insisted that we were the heros for coming to Israel to visit him.
Well actually there is such a person.
We took the bus to Haifa and on the bus was a young man whom we ran into in Yechiel's room. His name is Malkiel Lerner and he is called "Brother of the Wounded." Malkiel works a full time job in Jerusalem cleaning the streets and as soon as he gets off work he takes the bus to Haifa and the Rambam Hospital to visit the wounded soldiers. Mr. Lerner does this every day except Shabbos and often goes twice a day once before work and then again after.
When we got up to leave Yechiel began to cry from the raw emotion of our encounter. I must admit it was quite a powerful and very special encounter.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A view of a Miklat

Imagine the scene... You're in Tzefat during the war, the siren just went off, and it's time to run to the miklat, the shelter.

First, you pass a sign pointing the way:

Then, you make it past first one set of air vents...

... and another, and you quickly make sure the family makes it down the steps into the shelter.

The din in the shelter is palpable, as is the tension in the people around you. Finally, when all is clear you emerge.

This is what's left of the house above "Miklat 8":
Just across the street from Rabbi and Mrs. Hecht.

Arik Sharon

"Hey Arik get up Olmert is in a Coma"

I spent Shabbos in Tzvas with the Hecht family while Micha and Aishy returned to Jerusalem.
On Shabbos morning Rabbi Hecht and I decided to walk to the old city and daven in the Tzemach Tzedek Shule, which is in the midst of a remodel and face lift. This is quite a walk on a hot and muggy Shabbos down a mountain road.
As it turns out there was a big fargrengen after davening was over in honor of Shabbos mevorchim. There was plenty of mashka, lively niggunim, and stories of war and emunah.
The Tzemach Tzedek remained open and did not miss one minyon during the entire duration of the milchama.
One of those who farbrang was a Reb Mordichai who told a most amazing story. Mordichai is a chaplain on the Lebonon front for about 1500 men so he could not abandon Tzfas at this time.
Last Shabbos afternoon Mordichai was sitting on his meer-pesette (balcony) learning from a Gemorah when he suddenly felt something very hot on his face. He realized almost immediately that the source of the heat was a Ketusha whizzing past him very fast and only 10 feet away from his face. The rocket landed about another 12 feet away from him and the impact was so powerful that it literally knocked him back a full 15 feet into the wall behind him.
He said he was dazed and "terrified" and simultaneously in shock. He knew he was in shock because the first thing he did was replace the chair to its original spot, retrieve the Gemorah, and return to his seat to continue learning.
As he was relating this story to the gathering of Chassidim he suddenly began to tremble. Then he said that this was even more amazing and he began to relate an encounter that he had with the Lubavitcher Rebbe more than 40 years ago.
Mordichai told us that when he was very young he went with his father to the Rebbe. During that meeting the Rebbe told him that one day he will understand, whilst relating a story, that there is One G-d and two worlds and you will be "terrified." This he said was the story and he very definitely was "terrified."
The war is by no means over and the word here is that the commando units are as busy as ever. Because of all of the continued action we have not been able to meet with the boys as a group. They are still on high alert and have not been given any passes or time off.
Everything that we brought and distributed was very much appreciated, however, the need is greater than our first expectation or effort and I am appealing to you to please encourage your friends to give either clothing, toys, or money for food.
The soup kitchen served 2500 hot meals a day during the war and many people remain in very difficult situations having not worked for 6 weeks and many of their businesses had to close altogether.
The children who had to remain behind are traumatized and they need a respite. We are helping to defray the expenses in the summer camps as they come to a close but many of the children did not get away in time and need to now.
After the farbrengen we faced the challenge of the steep climb before us inspired and inebriated. We made it up that hill in that condition now I know we will be successful in everyway if we will climb the next challenge together.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Erev Shabbos Tzfas

Two months packed into two days. Everything in Israel moves at a break neck pace and to accomplish anything of significance can take hours merely to arrive at the point of take off.
Yesterday the warning siren went off in Tzvas and even though it was only a false alarm the panic that it caused and the fear was worse than the rockets landing. The people here are suffering from classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. They are irritable, easily frustrated, worried, and so very appreciative that anyone would take the time to come here and lend a hand.
From that perspective this has been a phenomenal success.

Our host family in Tzfas, Rabbi Eli Hecht and his wife Yardena, have been fantastic. Keeping us fed, providing us with all of the amenities of a five star Hilton. And we must also thank Moshe and Shachar for all of their help in loading and unloading all of the packages that we brought to Tzvas.
Much of the big bags of clothing and toys have already been distributed to families who so very desperately needed them.
Despite the realities of war and all of the attendant stress the people remain hopeful and resilient and they attribute much of this hopefulness and resilience to visits and assistance from people and groups such as ours.
I would greatly encourage anyone contemplating a trip to the North of Israel to follow through and make your travel plans.
Many of the displaced families from the northern communities are going to soon be required to move again as the schools in the south who have so graciously provided space are scheduled to commence the new school year and will now require their space for the children.
We left money for the Tzvas Kitchen that is providing 2500 hot meals a day as well as for Shabbos. We sponsored five days but they need so much more. On Monday we will be volunteering in the Kitchen in Jerusalem as well.
We will also be meeting with the alone Moreh Camp Director, Rabbi Rubin to bring him money to help defray the expenses of having taken in so many of the campers this summer. The boys program is over and the girls program has another week to go.
I am looking forward to a real mystical Shabbos in Tzfas. In preparation I went to the mikvah of the Ari Zal and I am going to take a short half hour nap. So before I fall asleep at the computer and type something that I don't want I will bid everyone a good Shabbos and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.................................

Getting to Tzefat

Rabbi Goldstock mentioned our base of operations. I need to open by thanking my parents for opening their apartment to us while they're trying to pack to go to the States. Adding our chaos to their chaotic process. (I'm sure that as they read this my parents are probably wondering why I'm bothering to thank them, given the project and the fact that I'm their son, and I thank them for that too.)

Today was a somewhat frustrating day; and yet, in a couple of minutes it was all worthwhile.

Our plan was to take much of the donated clothing and toys to Tzefat, to a food pantry run by Rabbi Eli Hecht, and then to help get food out for Shabbos. We got everything into cabs, and took them to the bus stop to Tzefat. The busses, however, have been on a reduced schedule because of the situation up north. Today there were only three pickup times. Egged would run as many busses as necessary at those times. As one filled, they would send the next one. But, we ended up getting to the stop 2-1/2 hours before the next run. And no way to get all those packages back to the apartment and the bus stop again.

All the while, back in Tzefat, Rabbi Eli Hecht is wondering where we are, and is in cellphone contact with Rabbi Goldstock. It is he who told us about the rescheduling. Or, as Rabbi Hecht put it, "Welcome to Israel!"

But at 10 minutes before the bus, suddenly the stop is full. Packed. People from Tzefat, Meron, and other places on the route, who have spent the past three weeks or so living with friends, relatives, or just kind people who opened their homes in Jerusalem. Coming home. Tense, wondering just what they were coming home to.

We didn't make it onto the first bus, but I was able to secure us three seats on the second by joining the crowd running to the depot to get on the bus before the first official stop. (Fortunate side effect: My son Aishey sat with Rabbi Goldstock, I sat next to an American oleh who has been living in Tzefat for the past decade. At least one other bus filled in behind us before we left, I don't know how many ran. You have to picture the scene: An overcrowded bus. Luggage and carriages on most of the aisle. A hot, sticky day. Whole families coming home, with children who needed to walk over and around all those packages and legs to get from one parent to the other. Crying babies. The tension of everyone anticipating a happy homecoming (but as one person asked me, "Could home ever seem safe again?") and afraid of what they would find.

I spent some of the trip talking to the fellow sitting next to me, but the truth is it felt awkward given what else he was juggling. Our conversation was interrupted by calls from friends and a daughter who had gotten home first. The house wasn't hit, thank G-d. But one said there was power, another there wasn't. He and his wife trying to pick out the lights of the city as they approach... Can we make out which one is on? They're off, aren't they...

The bottom of the bus was packed with packages. Our 7, even though they were larger than everything we sent with 5 children to sleepaway camp combined, did not stand out. So at every stop we would get out, help people unload the jigsaw puzzle of suitcases, boxes and bags, and to reload the packages of those going on. All the while trying to determine which were which.

But at 10pm, we finally did reach Tzefat and the food pantry. Far too late to help deliver food. But I experienced the sheer joy of the people working there. They saw the items are were literally excited at being able to distribute the items, at who would be right for what. And, as I said in the opening, suddenly all that frustration and exhaustion evaporated.

Rabbi Hecht took us home, fed us some of his wife's delicious cooking, and have been chatting about our plans for tomorrow. And that brings us to the present.

(Updated: As you see, we found a broadband connection, and posts are being updated with pictures.)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Day One

We began the day after a long flight and a short night a little later than planned yet it was not without eventfulness.
The real problem with the bus schedule is that for the past two weeks no one has gone back and forth to Tzfas and now suddenly everyone is trying to return. The problems are not only logistical. The people whom we met on the bus were returning to an unknown. They, for the most part did not know what if any damage their homes sustained. It is possible to see the stress etched on their faces and in their interactions with each other. The children especially are confused and a perceptible sadness in their posture and expression is easily detected. B"H the bus schedule will return to every half hour regular service tomorrow.
As we entered the city of Tzfas the lady sitting across the isle began pointing out the various stores, shops, and restaurants that sustained damage from some of the 3500 rockets and missiles launched against this, the second most holy city in Israel.
We witnessed also some of the homes that were hit and it is truly devastating to view.
It is now 1:30 in the morning and we want to arise early in order to complete our schedule for tomorrow before Shabbos. Micha and Aishy who have been absolutely indispensable on this trip are going to spend Shabbos in Jerusalem and I will remain hear for Shabbos Mevorchim. I look forward to davening here, using the Ari's Mikvah, and farbrenging with the chevra here. We will reconnect Motzei Shabbos as we have a meeting with some of the army boys from the Golani. Kol Tuv

Arrival in Country

We arrived late last nite to Yerushalayim with several hundred pounds overweight-the bags not the travelers- and went immediately to our base in Rechavia. The Israir flight was relatively uneventful although there were a few in flight storms thrown in just to be sure that no one was able to sleep peacefully the entire way. We are traveling to Tzvas today to meet with Rabbi Hecht at the Soup Kitchen where we will all be volunteering serving food and whatever else is needed. The desperately need money, clothing, and baby supplies, all of which we will be bringing with on our trip north.

We will also be meeting with the boys in Golani while up there and delivering special flashlights, undershirts, and other equipment that they requested. Check back later today to see photos. We will be posting them when we arrive in Tzvas.

Monday, August 14, 2006

We leave tomorrow...

Tickets are bought, care packages await in Rabbi Goldstock's living room, and I'm wrapping up business. Three of us are going: Rabbi Lazer Goldstock, my son Aishey (13) and myself. I'll let Rabbi Goldstock speak for himself, but the excitement in our home is mounting as the frantic pace of last minute preparations also mount.

There's nothing yet to report, but to get in the spirit of things, you may wish to read R' David Eisen's war journal. (RDE is a member of Avodah, an email list I run for AishDas. In one of the more amazing moments in the email list's history, he sent a post on a detailed discussion of berakhos from somewhere on the Lebanon border.)