Firstly, I want to wish you all a Happy Sukkot from Israel. Sukkot is about rejoicing with family and friends and giving thanks that though life is temporary, we feel protected and safe. May it be so for Israel, the Jewish people, and the world!
Two days ago, the leader of our recent Kilimanjaro trek, Tomer Saada, wrote an incredible travel diary that to me captures the power of both BFL and how this journey changes lives. Many of the soldiers climbed Kilimanjaro with leg injuries and never dreamed it would be possible to finish a trek remotely close to Mt. Kilimanjaro. I can tell you from personal experience that the mountain becomes a metaphor for life itself. Each injured soldier experiences that with the two elements of relying on each other and resolve, we can overcome anything!
Travel diary, Kilimanjaro 2023
At this hour exactly two weeks ago we got on the plane back from Ethiopia to Israel. 15 blood brothers who went through together a once-in-a-lifetime experience – climbing Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro.
It took me two whole weeks to digest the journey, to process the big and small experiences, to recreate in my head the highs and lows and to believe that we really conquered it – a peak 19,500 feet above sea level…
Eight days ago, those 15 we met at Ben Gurion Airport were quite nervous and worried about the unknown but determined to meet the mission. Though we had trained together for the climb we didnt’ really know each other and we had no idea how our lives would change over the next 6 days.
We landed in Tanzania, which felt unknown and chaotic. The next day we set out on the journey. We felt excited that joining us on the trek was Rabbi Chaim, the president of BFL, and three of our partners from the US, Bobby Sulkin, David Rostov, and Brad Conroy. In the first two days we climbed 2,000 meters, going through a tropical forest and an African savannah. Small conversations during a slow and exhausting walk, new friendships woven as we shared words. Many groups set out to climb the mountain but only one group carries with it the flag of Israel for the entire trek, inspiring us through the difficult moments.
Shabbat, the day of rest and height adjustment, we passed at 3,700 meters. On this day a miracle happened – a conversation of warriors, a circle of love that we make on such journeys. Everyone in turn shared amazingly openly their own story of personal injury. We allowed ourselves to open up, we cried, laughed, and hugged for almost 3 hours (which felt like 10 minutes). From that moment, 15 brothers for the journey became brothers by blood, brothers for life. The next couple of days looked different. A tight bunch, walking together as the summit ahead of us looks like a dream coming true.
Summit day was rough. Very. There is no beautiful or easy way to say it. And as tough as the climb was, the descent was no less tough. This day started before dawn, walking heel to toe and five breaths with each step. After seven and a half hours in light oxygen conditions, hours that felt like eternity, we arrived at our destination. Inner happiness that is hard to explain in words, a feeling of crazy satisfaction and the heart is soaring. Again we cried, laughed, hugged and of course made sure the photograph looked good – after all we’re all on for the picture, right?
The traditional satellite phone call from the summit (just to let Israel know that we arrived safely) we have upgraded this time to a video call on WhatsApp. Yes, it turns out that if you want (and you pay 30 dollars in advance) – there is Wi-Fi even the tallest mountain in Africa. So after the short photo shoot we stood together and sang HaTikvah with the remaining oxygen in our lungs. HaTikvah at the top of the world somehow felt so important. Then we started the long journey down. It was brutally hard but got easier with each step.
The next day, during the last 20 km descent, a moment of lack of vigilance led to a bad fall and injury of one of the brothers and sent all of us back in one moment to the IDF. Immediately we lifted our injured brother on our shoulders and formed a virtual stretcher. Everyone walked beside this stretcher, waiting for their moment to take part in the rescue. It was like being back in the battlefield. No words were spoken and everyone worked together as one.
At the end of the day we crossed the exit gate from the reserve – smelly, dusty, hungry, and tired – but with a heart bursting with pride and a great sense of capability. And most importantly – every single team member made it up and back. We don’t leave injured in the field!!!
I’m always amazed how BFL enables life changing projects like this trek and so many others. BFL has been my second family for the past 13 years. Thank you for the privilege!
So to sum it up:
6 days of a physical but no less spiritual journey. The new lifelong unbreakable connection between wounded warriors that is impossible to explain… and so many moments I’ll never forget.
To my brothers, my team members along the way, it was an honor to be part of our wonderful journey together. Thank you to each and every one of you, you have gone deep into my heart. Love you guys to the top of Kilimanjaro and back ❤️❤️❤️
And last but most importantly, thank you to my dear wife Neta Bar-Natan Saada who is still flowing with my craziness… Love you the most in the world 😘
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,