A whirlwind trip to Israel is a mission of love

April 2024
Wendy Schneider

Adas Israel Rabbi Daniel Green and Hamilton Hebrew Academy (HHA) principal Rabbi Yaakov Morel flew to Israel last January on a mission called Operation Gratitude to show their support for former HHA students serving on the front lines of Israel’s war against Hamas. 

In an interview with the HJN not long after their return, Rabbi Morel recounted some of what occurred during their whirlwind five-day trip, starting with boarding an El Al flight in Boston (the airline no longer flies from Canada) loaded with four duffel bags filled with community donations, and landing in Israel to an eerily deserted Ben Gurion airport. 
When it became clear shortly upon their arrival that most of the HHA alumni were redeployed and would not be available, the two men improvised new plans that included a number of unforgettable moments.

Among the highlights of the days that followed were a number of impromptu encounters, beginning with a chance meeting with an IDF platoon at the site of the Nova festival, during which, after an emotional greeting by Morel, where he called them “the heroes of our nation,” 40 soldiers lined up to hug him and Rabbi Green. In a moving moment, the soldiers were given thank you cards crafted personally by HHA students. Their feelings of deep appreciation were evident in their expressions.

The two also went to a Jerusalem rehabilitation centre to visit the brother of an HHA teacher who had sustained injuries during the first weeks of the war. The brother was visiting Hamilton on Oct. 7 and soon after flew to Israel to join his unit.  

“He took us through the clinic and we started meeting soldiers,” said Morel, going on to describe how he and Rabbi Green went from room to room, hugging soldiers, taking photos and handing out leather bound books of psalms with an inscription from our community.  

A similar scene unfolded later that day at another rehab centre where they were at first refused entry. 

“Tell her we’re not moving from here, we’re on a mission of gratitude and we’re emptying our bags.” 

Minutes later they were given free rein to distribute their gifts. “We didn’t need all these presents,” soldiers told them.

“You came all this way to say thank you? That’s all we needed.” 

Before the end of their stay, the two men, accompanied at times by Rabbi Green’s daughter, attended a shiva for one of 24 soldiers killed in Gaza on a single day, visited the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, where they spoke with many mourners, including a woman who had recently lost her son. 

They also visited a Jerusalem hotel where evacuees from the south were staying and persuaded a reluctant security guard to let them in.

“Children, I have presents,” Yaakov Morel called out in Hebrew in a loud voice once they gained entry into the lobby. Seconds later, they were surrounded by a crowd of young children.  After the mayhem, a woman approached them.  “It pains me to sit at this hotel,” she said. “The Jewish people are all about giving. I can’t take from you. When I go back to my community and we rebuild, I want to have you at my house.”

The trip culminated with a celebratory dinner hosted by former Hamiltonians Alan and Moleigh Wiesenthal at their Jerusalem home. In attendance were former HHA students and other members of the school’s extended family. 
“We should be proud of the Hamilton community for producing these young men and women with the highest morals and values of protecting the Jewish people. We have a lot to be proud of. These kids have stepped up to the plate. They’re on the front lines fighting for us on a daily basis. They have a mission. They’re focused. They’re strong, and they’re resilient,” said Morel.

More than anything, Morel said the unity of purpose he felt among those they encountered during the trip, was invigorating. “They wanted us to know, ‘continue praying but stay strong. Put your differences aside. Stay united.’ That’s what we need to do as a nation. That we continue to stress the importance of Israel. We should be proud of our history, of our community. We’re creating the next generation of heroes.”