Our first full day in New York began with a delicious breakfast and panoramic views of the city at the home of Gabriel and Yaara Bank-Plotkin. A veteran El-Al pilot joined us for breakfast. His son had served in the same unit as some of our soldiers, and they enjoyed meeting one another.
Although we plan our Belev Echad trip down to the very last detail months in advance, every now and then something throws a spanner in the works. In this case, it was President Obama’s trip to New York. We found out at 11pm the night before that we would have to postpone our helicopter ride for a different day, because of security concerns relating to the President’s visit.
No worries—off we went to the Empire State Building for the best views this city has to offer. We were fortunate to enjoy beautiful weather and clear skies, enabling us to see for miles in each direction.
Afterwards, we went to Ground Zero where our heroes were given a VIP welcome by the police department. Our soldiers received a private tour of the museum—a place they could very closely identify with.
From there we went to Chinatown, where our guests enjoyed the many little stores—very different from shopping in Israel!
The evening ended with a rooftop party where 150 people came to meet and thank the soldiers. Bonds were formed over burgers; friendships over beer.
One of the heroes, Nir, shared his story at the party. The house his unit was staying in during Operation Protective Edge was hit and the commander died. Another missile hit and they lay buried in the rubble. The rescuers gave up on them—they assumed no one could possibly still be alive under all the destruction, so the surviving soldiers had to dig themselves out. Thank G-d, Nir is alive and well and smiling and able to tell his story.