Why would I choose to go to Israel in the midst of a war? Why would I choose this year over other years?  Why? Because life must continue and we must still find joy where we can, while we wait, while we worry.  So together with 55 other ALYN supporters I joined the hospital’s annual Heels of Love charity hike, held this year on February 27-29.

Planning an event of this magnitude, this logistically complex, with so many moving parts and participants, during a war no less, is no easy task. The first challenge was to decide whether to hold it at all and then there are always last-minute tweaks that need to be made, including moving the start time to accommodate participants who wanted to vote in Israel’s local elections that week. Of course, there are always weather considerations, and the day before the hike, flash floods were predicted. Yarden Frankl, Director of Special Projects, and his team came up with numerous backup plans, and the hike carried on. Add to that, the land changes over time, rain causes mud, and boulders moved. Our guides were amazing, they ventured ahead and updated our routes as needed. For the participants, no one was the wiser – and everything ran smoothly and without incident.

Those were the logistical challenges. For me, the challenge was to see if I had the strength for three days of hiking.  I love being outside, but my personal "sport" is swimming, and I will take any opportunity to do so, including when we found a pool in the middle of a valley in the desert, I swam – with permission.

There were two hiking groups – one more technical/difficult and one for less extreme hikers, like me. I knew I should start with the second group.  I was certain I would enjoy the views, the food, the stars and, importantly, fulfilling the mitzvah of fundraising for ALYN, instead of helping someone else fundraise, which is a daily part of my job at AFAH.  What I found was so much greater - I found strength in myself I didn't know I had. I had conversations with people I would never have met. I learned lessons about life from people of all ages and backgrounds. Every day the guide for our group, Keren, would teach us about the land we were hiking on. We would learn about flowers and animals.  She told us about why the sands were purple in one place and about seeds that refused to open until they knew they had enough water to grow. She told us about the birds flying above us and the people who roamed these mountains millennia before us. The harder the climb, the more I saw, and the more I learned.

While a large part of Heels of Love focuses on connecting with the land of Israel and with her history, there is an equal emphasis on embracing the opportunity to forge connections with the other participants – creating new friendships and strengthening existing ones. Certainly, in the shadows of the war, feeling safe and supported within a community is paramount.

Together we looked for the positives in our lives over the past year. We shared stories of connections made post-October 7. We shared our struggles - the tears, the lack of sleep, the worry for the soldiers and the hostages. We offered each other support – both figuratively and literally - whenever someone said they didn't think they could climb that boulder or finish that climb, someone else said, “Yes you can. Take my hand and I will help you." So many volunteered to help push, pull, demonstrate, or assist in any way.

After three intense days, and excited for a long shower, I made my way back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep. After a quiet Shabbat, I spent a few days back at ALYN Hospital, validating what all that hard work had been for after all – for the children who come to ALYN every day and work even harder on their own rehabilitation. The fundraising goal was $200,000, to cover the cost of two months of physical therapy services for ALYN. We are nearly there!

I have now returned home to the US, and I am richer for having had this experience. I have new friendships, a deeper appreciation for the land of Israel, an expanded understanding of the amazing work that happens at ALYN Hospital. If those were all I came away with  -  dayenu, but I am fortunate to have also discovered new things about myself; I found strength in my body and mind that I didn't know I had.

To learn more about Heels of Love, read here.

Davida Climbing Down
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