On Tuesday afternoon I visited Kuneitra for a second time this summer. On my first visit I stood amid the destroyed town, in Syrian territory, and with my heart and eyes trained on Israel I was torn at my inability to communicate my true feelings to those around me. This time Kuneitra is only a vision from a hilltop bunker in the Golan Heights, a hundred yards and a thousand negotiations from Syrian territory.
As I stood on the heights of Har Bental, alongside a coffee shop wittily named after the former UN secretary-general (Kofi Annan in Hebrew literally translates to coffee in the clouds!), I again felt torn. The ruins of Kuneitra reminded me of the personality I adopted while I was in Syria. Forced to conceal my faith and attachment to Israel, my withdrawn personality compensated by becoming incredibly sensitive to my surroundings. Sustaining that level of perception was one of the most rewarding experiences I had in Syria. And so while I am grateful to now be in Israel, where I can (and do!) express myself without fear, I do miss that sixth sense.
Seeing Kuneitra was only one of many highlights as my garin toured the Golan Heights this week. While every other group in Garin Tzabar had traveled to Eilat for the three day trip marking the end of pre-army life ( known as the tiyul giyus), Garin Hineini chose the Golan! We enjoyed brilliant views, water hikes in nachal (stream or riverbed) Zevytan and nachal El-Al, tours of a winery and apple factory and a wonderful guide named Dikla.
On Wednesday the rest of Garin Tzabar joined us in the Golan for a program called B'Akavot Lochamim (literally, "on the heels of the warriors"). The program is designed to introduce and get Israeli high school students excited about their mandatory army service. A tank demonstration (cover your ears!) and an "army job fair" (been there, done that) did not impress.
A morning address by Avigdor Kahalani, however, was inspiring. Kahalani spoke to us in the Valley of Tears, the battleground from the 1973 Yom Kippur War where he led a ragtag group of tankers in an epic battle against the invading Syrian army. Some 150 Israeli tanks held off over 1,400 Syrian tanks during the first three days of the war, turning back the invasion. Awarded the Medal of Valor for his courage and leadership, Kahalani was described by his commanding officer as the "true savior of the people of Israel."
"I am ready to return to my tank if Israel is threatened," Kahalani told us, "but my time is past. The responsibility, the security, of our country is now in your hands."
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