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Lori, Malka and Dini Lewittes hiking with One Family Fund in the Judean Desert

One Family Fund Cross Israel Ein Gedi Hike

by Rabbi Adina Lewittes , posted Dec 6, 2011


All my life I have been told, and since becoming a rabbi, I have been telling people that the Jewish people are one, a single family united by a common past and a shared destiny. Recently, this idea came to life in a profound way in the remote, sun-soaked trails of the Judean desert.

For five days my two sisters and I, along with 80 others, hiked up extreme ascents, down treacherous cliffs and through deep canyons in one of the world's most breathtaking settings, with the Dead Sea's luscious yet lifeless blue waters keeping watch over us. But this was more than a group of North American Jews building ties to Israel through nature, fitness and history. Let me introduce you to some of our fellow hikers.

Tzur had been shot in the head by terrorists and told he would never walk or talk again. Cheryl's son Daniel was murdered while serving in the Israeli Defense Forces as he attempted to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Ron lost his 17 year-old daughter Tal in 2003 when the bus she was riding on in Haifa exploded. Ettie's son Edan was killed by terrorists on the last day of the Second Lebanon War.

The rest of us were mostly from Toronto, Ottawa, and a few from the U.S. We had come to Israel to embrace these Israelis and share with them and the more than 17,000 Israeli victims of terrorism over $300,000 we had raised for the One Family Fund – a remarkable organization that provides financial, psychological, medical, social and recreational support to victims of terrorism and their families (; And, yes, we had come to hike.

The theme for this fourth annual Cross Israel Hike was memory. Each hiker was given a small picture and bio of a terror victim that we attached to our backpacks.

By day we were out in the desert, awed by its rugged beauty, and at night we gathered under the stars, overwhelmed by the rugged courage of our Israeli brothers and sisters -- listening to their stories, watching videos of their gorgeous, now dead children, witnessing their pain and suffering, strength and spirit.

One night the Bereaved Men’s Choir came to sing for us. Hearing these men singing in the wake of their children's deaths, I found myself unable to restrain my tears. After the concert he explained that not only is singing healing to him, but since his son no longer has a voice, he believes that his singing brings forth the beautiful and melodious soul of his child.

Each night's presentation ended with profuse thanks from the Israeli participants to all of us for our fundraising efforts. It often felt like the awkward stereotypical Jewish story: the well-to-do cousins from America bring some fruits of our freedom and privilege in the Diaspora to our struggling cousins in Israel. That is, until I spoke to Cheryl.

After she related her and her husband's decision to move to Israel from Toronto with their five children and the devastating loss of their son Daniel, I asked her what message she would want us to bring home to our communities. She paused for a moment, and then said, "I am not angry about what happened to Daniel. I understand that there are responsibilities that come with living in Israel, one of which is participating in her defense. But I want people to know that Daniel didn't serve in the Israeli army and ultimately lost his life only out of his loyalty to the State of Israel or out of his strong personal convictions. He did it for you."

The message that the freedom and security enjoyed by Jews around the world is largely dependent upon a strong and secure State of Israel is one we have heard many times. But to have the mother of a murdered soldier stare into my eyes and declare that her son lost his life in part for me -- for my safety and freedom as a Jew in the Diaspora -- affected me deeply. What I had always known in my head seared its way into my heart.

When asked to offer some closing remarks that night, I ensured that the expressions of gratitude from us to all who serve in the IDF and build lives, families, careers and communities in Israel were heard loudly and clearly. For ultimately, what defines a family is the sense of responsibility each member feels for the other. We were there with our sponsorships, our compassion, our commitment and our hiking boots, for which our Israeli family expressed deep thanks. They were there with their scars, their memories, their courage and their resolve, for which we expressed immeasurable indebtedness. Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze Bazeh-- the Jewish people are all responsible one for the other. How tragic that too often it takes tragedy to remind us all that at the end of the day we are One Family.




Rabbi Adina Lewittes is the founder of Sha’ar Communities in Bergen County, NJ.


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