Chai Lifeline visits Israel
Chai Lifeline visits IsraelCourtesy

We spent the past week in Israel in what we’re told was one of the more tense weeks in the country’s social and political history. I write “we’re told” because while we know that the news reports were filled with analysis of the controversial judicial reform bill and protests surrounding it, we were blessed to see the Israel we’ve always known and loved. We were able to experience Israel from a perspective we might not have been able to appreciate on previous visits.

I would therefore humbly suggest that perhaps there is a deeper lesson, one that can be gleaned from our experience, particularly during these challenging times.

I came to Israel as a leader of Chai Lifeline’s Wish at the Wall trip. Sponsored by the Hartman Family Foundation and supported by the Chicago community, the trip allowed 15 teenagers who are dealing with a variety of medical and practical issues, to come and experience Israel. And as the name indicates, one of the highlights of this experience is coming to the Western Wall and allowing these incredible kids and an accompanying parent to express their personal prayers and thanks.

The delegation consisted of teenagers from California, Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Canada, and Great Britain. We have teens who live with Epilepsy, teens who are paraplegic, teens with muscular issues that stunt their growth. In our group are teens who have had to deal with dozens of surgeries, Cerebral Palsy, Cystic Fibrosis and a long list of other issues.

Undoubtedly in our little group are people with many different opinions on religion, state and likely many other issues that normally divide us. Some come with minimal Jewish education from secular backgrounds, while others hail from hasidic backgrounds. We have “right wingers, left wingers and everything in between”. But we are a Mishpacha, a family. And that is a message that underlies all our work, our mission, and our trip to Israel. We are a family - dedicated and loyal - supporting each other physically and emotionally - through the most difficult of times, and in times of joy. Together.

We came to Israel to tour and to learn. We came to climb Masada, swim in the Dead Sea and ride Jeeps through the desert. To go camel riding, sightseeing, eat amazing Israeli breakfasts and travel around Israel just like every other Jewish teenager.

We also came to thank G-d for all our blessings and learn about our history.

We came to Israel to embrace our challenges and tell the world not to be afraid of someone who may look a little different than yourself.

But most importantly, we came with a very simple message for our Israeli brothers and sisters in the Israeli Knesset, on the streets of Jerusalem, and to Jews throughout the world. We are a Mishpacha. We are one very special family.

Rabbi Shlomo Crandall is Regional Director of Chai Lifeline's Midwest region.