On Monday our Chabad Terror Victims Project (CTVP) trip to Australia for wounded Israeli soldiers met with a downpour but we didn’t let it get us down. (I really think nothing gets these guys down! They have so much spirit and determination and a tremendous sense of making every minute count!)
In the morning we took a covered boat ride, then took shelter from the rain by spending the afternoon in the mall followed by a delicious dinner and some time at the casino.
Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear and we went first to Victoria’s Market so the soldiers (and me) could buy some souvenirs to take home to family and friends.
This was followed by a trip to a zoo and dinner at the Kimberly Restaurant. After dinner we met with some local Australian university students who were invited to speak with the soldiers and ask them any questions they might have.
The university students were amazed and astounded to listen to the stories of these young people, who were the same age as they are, and who have lived such vastly different lives. To be soldiers in battle, to suffer wounds and have to struggle to heal from them – these experiences are worlds apart from what the Australian students’ lives are like. For many of them, prior to meeting the soldiers, their biggest worries were which team won the footie. They came away from this meeting with a very different perspective on life.
On Wednesday the soldiers traveled to Ballarat’s, Australia’s foremost outdoor museum. Ballarat recreates the first ten years after the discovery of gold in Australia in 1851. Thousands of international fortune-hunters traveled to Australia’s gold fields then (no easy feat in those days) in search of riches. Visiting here is like taking a step back in time with period settings and the opportunity to pan for gold yourself.
Wednesday evening we had a beautiful dinner hosted by Rabbi Zalman Gutnick and his family. Rabbi Gutnick represented his father who had to leave for a family simcha. Mrs. Gutnick’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mendel New, were co-host for the delightful and delicious evening.
Mr. New comes from a generation that survived the Holocaust and hosting these Israeli soldiers was very emotional and very meaningful for him.
After dinner we had a sort of round table discussion in which everyone was given the opportunity to express his feelings about the trip.
Mor talked about the realities at home and all the hardships from his injury. He said the trip enabled him to forget about the painful therapy for these few days.
Izzy expressed his gratitude for the full and wonderful schedule that left him no time to think about the pain and struggles that await him when he returns to Israel.
Michael spoke for everyone when he said he wasn’t sure how the trip was going to be ahead of time but that now he knew that he and his fellow soldiers, and all the wonderful people they met who hosted them and were so kind to them, all shared one big, loving heart.
Rabbi Barber, the organizer of the trip, was visibly moved as he listened to the soldiers speaking. He talked about how much the trip meant to him as well and he promised to make it into an annual event so many more wounded Israeli soldiers could come to Australia.
I told everyone that when my time comes to go to heaven, please G-d it should be in 120 years, I will bring the beautiful smiles on all the faces of the soldiers and their hosts, that CTVP and Rabbi Barber were privileged to make possible, along with me.