We share another story brought to you by our Chicago office writer who took part in the recent tour of Israel - this one featuring the dedication of The Fellowship's IDF Hospitality Vehicle!
As our tour bus made its way up into the Golan Heights in northern Israel, the danger of the area was clear.
While the fenced-in fields looked beautiful, they were marked with signs warning of landmines. Reuven, our guide to the Holy Land and himself a longtime IDF veteran, explained that the mines had been placed decades ago by the Syrian military and consisted of two types of explosives. Smaller anti-personnel mines that lay just beneath the surface had long ago been corroded and made ineffective by the elements. But the larger mines that were buried deeper and were used to destroy tanks and other military vehicles were still viable, and posed a very real risk to anyone who might venture through the fields even today.
Mines weren’t the only dangers this far north in Israel. Less than a week before our visit, Iranian rockets had been fired at this area from neighboring Syria, with some of them landing in Israel (and others miraculously misfiring and landing back in Syrian territory). And, as Reuven told us, the IDF base we would soon be arriving at was but a mile from the Israeli-Syrian border, where such violence was becoming increasingly more frequent.
Like many of our days in the Holy Land, this particular day was, as Reuven put it, “a scorcher.” But as we exited our bus, the men and women of the IDF base greeted us with refreshments – fresh fruit and cold drinks. And refreshments were the purpose of our visit. The Fellowship was set to unveil a refreshment vehicle for the base, one that could carry drinks and snacks and Wi-Fi connections to soldiers on the frontlines.
Before the unveiling ceremony, Fellowship Global Executive Vice President Yael Eckstein addressed our group, citing the base’s importance in defending Israel. She introduced the base commander, as well as a group of IDF medics.
The medics, all in their late teens and early 20s, then spoke to us about the discreet missions they carry out each night. Throngs of wounded Syrians, innocent victims of the ongoing civil war in Syria, flock to the Israeli border at night, hoping for medical treatment. These medics sneak the wounded across the border and treat them, from infants to the elderly.
After hearing from these brave young medics, we went outside to present the base’s soldiers with the new Fellowship vehicle. Yael shared a few more words of love and gratitude, and then the busload of Fellowship friends and a baseload of Israeli soldiers all shared ice cream and cotton candy and fellowship.
I must admit that while this time of fellowship was touching, I was able to have an even more personal time with these new friends. Wandering away from the crowd, I found an outdoor area where many soldiers were sitting in the shade. Sitting down with these young men – I was old enough to be their father – I shot the breeze, asking them about their backgrounds, telling them of the music and pop culture I enjoy in the U.S., and thanking them for their bravery and service.
There was constant danger only a mile away. But this day of new friendships and warm fellowship made us all forget that for just a moment and focus on our shared values and love of the Holy Land.