Capturing the incredible experience of the UIA Mission from 23 April- 1 May 2023 is a challenging task, as words cannot fully express the emotions, adventures, and meaningful encounters that made it truly unforgettable.
Among the multitude of remarkable moments, one particular experience stood out as the undeniable highlight of the mission – the visit to the Hezbollah tunnel in Ikrit. This encounter was a profound and eye-opening journey into the heart of Israel’s security challenges. Stepping into the tunnel, a myriad of emotions overwhelmed me. The darkness enveloping us was a tangible reminder of the threats that lay beneath the surface. It was a chilling realisation of how close Israel has come to danger and the potential devastation that could have ensued had the tunnel not been discovered. My heart swelled with gratitude for the expertise and determination of the Israeli Defense Forces for uncovering and neutralising such threats.
Another deeply impactful moment was the visit to the location associated with the abduction of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. It served as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by brave individuals who put their lives on the line to protect Israel. Their unwavering dedication and courage left an indelible mark on our hearts, reinforcing the profound importance of defending the country and her people.
The day began with a breathtaking helicopter ride from Caesarea to Nafach, offering stunning views as we embarked on a jeep tour at Ramat Hagolan. The rugged beauty of the landscape left us in awe, but it was the people we encountered along the way who truly left a lasting impression. At the observation point of Rosh Hanikra, we marvelled at the natural wonders and were reminded of the strategic significance of the region. Our meeting with Avigdor Kahalani, a hero of the Yom Kippur War, humbled us deeply. His stories of courage and sacrifice resonated within our souls, reinforcing our admiration for the remarkable individuals who have shaped Israel’s history.
Continuing our journey, we ventured up Mount Hermon, visiting army points and meeting with dedicated soldiers who safeguard Israel’s borders. Standing at the triangle border, where Israel, Lebanon, and Syria converge, we were confronted with the complex challenges and realities faced by the nation. It was a powerful reminder of the resilience and determination required to protect and secure Israel’s borders.
Among the many memorable moments, the extraordinary dinner hosted by the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod-UIA stood out. Surrounded by generous donors from around the world, I felt an overwhelming sense of unity and purpose. The presence of the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, further enhanced the evening.
While there were exhilarating experiences, such as flying in an F16 Simulator and feeling the adrenaline rush of controlling such a powerful aircraft, the mission also provided opportunities for reflection and remembrance. Joining Masa participants from across the globe at Latrun for the Yom Hazikaron service was a deeply moving experience. Tears mingled with a profound sense of gratitude as we stood together, honouring the memory of those who sacrificed their lives for Israel. This poignant moment served as a reminder of the sacrifices made and the resilience of the Israeli people.
The subsequent celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut with Keren Hayesod-UIA participants was a stark contrast, filled with joy and vibrant energy. The atmosphere was electric as individuals from diverse backgrounds came together to celebrate life and the collective achievements of Israel. It was a testament to the unwavering spirit of unity and determination that drives the nation forward.
Shabbat at the Kotel was a deeply special experience, resonating with a sense of awe and spirituality that cannot be described adequately with words alone.
Throughout the mission, we had the privilege of witnessing the direct impact of the projects supported by UIA. It was humbling and inspiring to see the tangible difference made in the lives of vulnerable communities. From visiting projects that provided support and assistance to Ukrainian and Russian Olim who recently arrived in Israel, to youth villages helping disadvantaged Israeli youth and Amigour -affordable sheltered housing for elderly residents, the dedication and compassion of these programs were truly commendable. Witnessing the transformative power of UIA’s support reaffirmed my belief in the importance of giving back. Contributing to UIA truly makes a significant difference in the lives of those who need it most in Israel.
Hayley Southwick is the Immediate Past President of UIA Victoria