Group gets a big thank you in the Holy Land

A group of American vets get to meet their Israeli counterparts.

wwii veterans rally 311 (photo credit: GPO)
wwii veterans rally 311
(photo credit: GPO)

“These are the best of us.”

As an urbane, highly successful businessman, America-Israel Friendship League President Harley Lippman has seen his share of remarkable things, but after leading a recent tour group to Israel, comprised of wounded American veterans, he says the experience was so moving that he plans to continue efforts to give something back to those who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There are so many worthy causes out there, but for me, this one has captured my heart,” he shared upon his return to New York. That declaration is especially impressive when one considers that Lippman is also involved in a Cambodian orphanage and efforts to locate mass graves of Jews in Poland.

A 10-day trip—with the group’s arrival on September 11—was profound for all involved, especially, of course, the 10 vets.

“There was immediately a powerful connection, between vets,” Lippman remembered. Coordinators gave special attention to linking American wounded vets with their counterparts in the IDF. Stops at the country’s major sites was a given, but the vets also enjoyed private tours of other, equally meaningful places.

“If we could do a quarter for American vets what they do in Israel, I think that would be amazing,” Lippman said. “There’s a culture in Israel that values enormously and respects those who put themselves in harm’s way. The people who go into the most elite combat units are held in the highest regard. When they come out they often get the best jobs, as they should, and if you want a political career, you would be at a severe disadvantage if you were not in a combat unit.”

He contrasted that with some experiences veterans have in the US each July 4 for the past quarter-century, when Lippman has taken his family to a parade at Southampton, Long Island. The idyllic setting often masks an awkward reception that veterans receive; Lippman has seen it:

“People don’t know how to react to veterans; therein lies part of the tragedy. These people who are so deserving of gratitude and recognition often don’t get it.” He related this story during the vets’ tour of Israel, when the group met US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro.

In fact, two stops in particular captivated the US vets: Hadassah Hospital and a Beit Halochem treatment center. At Hadassah, the vets were able to see cutting-edge treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, being developed by Israelis.

“At Hadassah, it was remarkable,” Lippman recalled. “The department of psychiatry has developed a new technology, Brainsway. They use electric fields as a non-invasive way of stimulating the brain. It helps in the treatment of major depression.”

At Beit Halochem (“a place where the disabled can regain their dignity and quality of life”), the wide-eyed vets looked on as an IDF soldier who can no longer walk partnered with dancers and was transformed into … a ballroom dancer! These and other experiences left the American contingent brimming with hope.

Lippman was also able to see some incredible American initiatives, as well, such as the two dogs brought along to perform tasks for the vets.

“It was a real eye opener for me,” Lippman remembered. “They were golden retrievers and they were fabulous! They do so many things…I can’t even count. They can sense about a half-hour before a soldier is going to have an anxiety attack. They’ll get your water and get your medications, and when they’re in the States, they know how to dial 911!”

The US vets were also able to relax during the trip, something many of us take for granted.

“They’d stay out until four in the morning, sitting on the beach and seeing the nightlife,” Lippman said. “Some of them said to me, ‘Harley, since Iraq, I don’t sleep.’ They go on two or three hours of sleep per night.”

“The vets were very moved by the Christian and Jewish holy sites,” said Lippman. “And by going to Israel, they were able to connect with their Israeli counterparts and share experiences.” Oddly enough, the group arrived on September 11, and was able to visit the only 9/11 memorial outside the US (at Jerusalem’s Arazim Park).

That was a connection that brought their lives full circle. It was but one reason Harley Lippman so treasures the trip.

“It was the most meaningful, most powerful trip I’ve ever been on, period. It was because I was with wounded American vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. In my world (Manhattan) I don’t see people who serve in the military, and I was deeply moved by their sacrifices for our freedoms. I think it’s an absolute shame that we don’t always take care of our soldiers when they come back to the United States.”

By helping link American and Israeli warriors, Harley Lippman is doing his own significant part to change that reality.

The writer is a member of the executive committee for the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel, and the director of Prophecy Matters. He can be reached at [email protected].