By Rochelle Ginsburg –
NEW YORK – *Achiya Klein*, an officer in the Israel Defense Force, was
working with his unit on a recently-discovered terrorist tunnel between
Gaza and Israel, 20 meters underground, when an explosion rocked the tunnel
and knocked him unconscious.
“When I woke up, I couldn’t see anything,” said Klein. “But I felt my all
of my body and I knew I was in one piece.”
Achiya was instantly blinded and horrifically burned. Five of his comrades
were also injured in the blast and he was evacuated to a nearby hospital.
Three days passed before he regained consciousness and the long road to
recovery could begin.
“One day my father came to my room [in the hospital] and told me I was
chosen to be part of a delegation to America. [He said] I have to be
healthy to go.” He still could not see and had undergone multiple
surgeries, but the excitement of a trip motivated Achiya to keep going. A
month and a half later he was able to go home.
Today, six months after the violent blast, he’s in New York City as part of
Chabad Israel Center’s fifth annual Belev Echad program, a 10-day trip
honoring Achiya and nine other injured Israeli soldiers and victims of
terror. The trip is a whirlwind of fun and support, a much-needed respite
from the physical wounds and emotional scars that plague these young heroes
“Belev Echad accomplishes more than what any doctor can do,” said Rabbi *Uriel
Vigler*, director of Chabad Israel Center and founder of Belev Echad, at a
private dinner for the honorees on Wednesday. “The greatest form of therapy
is when we say thank you to these soldiers and show our appreciation, when
we tell them how much their sacrifices mean to us.”
“We all feel so privileged to be in one room with heroism, with courage”
said former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. *Danny Ayalon* at the dinner. “I
give many speeches as part of my career but I was never as emotional as
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations *Ron Prosor* underscored the
bravery of these soldiers. “They experience the bitterness of war and carry
wounds that will never heal. You can be proud of this next generation, that
they will take us from strength to strength,” he said. “We have to be
strong, resolute and determined to defend ourselves, because no one else
will do it for us.”
This determination is no more apparent than in Achiya’s statement during
his speech at the event. “I’m still an officer in the army,” he said
proudly. “We are still working in Gaza to find all the tunnels. We know
there are at least 25 of them.
”The Belev Echad trip includes a visit to Ground Zero, helicopter ride over
NYC (an especially meaningful experience for one soldier whose last two
helicopter rides were evacuations under fire), Wall Street, the United
Nations Building, VIP tour of Yankee Stadium, cruise to the Statue of
Liberty and Ellis Island, Broadway show, shopping sprees, museums, day trip
to Bear Mountain on specialized motorbikes, Lag Baomer celebrations and
numerous events with the community in their honor.
Rabbi *Menachem Kutner*, director of Chabad’s Terror Victim Project in
Israel, who encourages the soldiers and victims of terror in their hospital
rooms and handpicks the honorees of each trip, pointed to the broader power
of these visits. “Your support and solidarity are the answer to our
enemies. When we are together, united, we have the strength to overcome
Belev Echad is a project of Chabad Israel Center on the Upper East Side in
conjunction with Chabad Terror Victims Project. Bios of the honored
soldiers and victims of terror, as well as photos and videos in a running
blog of the trip, can be found at www.chabadic.com/BelevEchad .
*Video: 3 day recap: *http://vimeo.com/95250009