October 21, 2013

We're All One Family

Living in Israel, incredible, heart-warming opportunities are right at our doorstep. Last week, we had the privilege of being with a group of very special Canadians on a day of the OneFamily Fund hike. This organization helps families who are victims of terror.

The organization was founded in 2000 during the height of the Intifada, when a young girl from Jerusalem decided to donate her bat mitzvah money to those affected by terror attacks in Israel. One Family Fund  is now funded entirely by private contributions and sustained by field workers, counselors and hundreds of volunteers who help the families and injured victims function. Unfortunately, more Israelis have been murdered and injured by acts of terror than in all of Israel’s wars.

Each year, the Canadian division of One Family raises money and hikes the land. And on each visit, they focus their footsteps on a different part of Israel. On the last hike, they trekked across the Mitzpe Ramon crater. This year, 50 participants came to explore the trails of the Judean Hills just outside Jerusalem. They stayed at a zimmer near the trail and after breakfast each morning, they put on their hiking boots, packed a hearty lunch and headed to off to the trail with a guide and medic.

The day we joined the One Family Hike, they were following the Nahal Sorek trail, crossing over two mountain ridges. It was a fresh October morning and everyone was friendly, eager and energized. Autumn, with its deep blue skies and refreshing breeze, is an ideal time to hike in Israel.

When we started off, I noticed a hiker had a tag attached to his bag. On it was a color photo, a name and a story. Looking around, I saw every hiker had a tag, yet each bore a different name and face.

As we took a break in a shaded area of Ya’ar Kedusha, the guide explained that six million trees had been planted on these slopes and in the valleys in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. I looked up at the lush hills covered in pines and realized that these very slopes were once rocky and barren. So many trees; so many lives lost.

We trudged up and came to a sculpture atop a ridge. One half depicted twisted barbed wire, consuming flames and the deep agony of a persecuted people. Yet the other half showed proud soldiers carrying a menorah, and people dancing amidst the Jewish flag of a nation rebuilt.
There are two stories to the Jewish people, and agony and despair are still a daily reality in this fledgling nation. 
The guide asked one of the hikers to read the tag on his backpack. We all sat silently on this verdant green hilltop, in the shadow of this sculpture and heard of a young girl who was meeting her friend in Netanya when a pipe bomb exploded outside a fast food restaurant, killing her. She was vibrant, social and had her whole life ahead of her. She was just doing what every child loves to do--have fun with her friends. Her crime? Being a Jew and living in the land of Israel. 
The words of the hiker were lost in a sob. We all sat in silence. Nothing can heal such a loss.

And then another hiker was asked to read the story of the young man on his bag. A high school student from Haifa was riding the bus home. He sat and talked happily with his girlfriend. She kissed him goodbye, and he waved to her as she stepped off the bus. A few blocks later, the bus was blown into bits by a suicide bomber, taking his life and murdering many others. He too was popular and smart and had a full, beautiful life ahead of him that was snatched away too soon.

We walked with these heavy emotions, yet were buoyed by views that stretched all the way to the glistening Mediterranean.

On some days of this powerful hiking experience, survivors' families join the group.  In the evenings, the participants  hear more stories first hand from parents, siblings and spouses of Israelis who have lost loved ones to terror and directly from rehabilitated victims themselves.

Thanks to One Family, Israeli victims of terror receive financial, medical, legal and psychological assistance, workshops and retreats, children’s camps, as well as warmth and compassion.

This year, the Canadians raised over $100,000. Hiking this beautiful country one step at a time, and connecting to the Israeli victims with great compassion, they proved that we are all one family. 

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