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By: Amy Sasson

What is inspiration? New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks describes it as "moments when the mind and spirit take flight, when the senses are amplified and we feel a new sense of being overawed by some beauty. There's a thrilling feeling of elevation,” he writes, “a burst of energy, an awareness of enlarged possibilities.”

This past May, 60 community men and women experienced precisely that sort of feeling while participating in the 8th Annual Flatbush Adult Chesed Mission to Israel.  Each year, this unique spiritual journey not only offers an opportunity to help and heal, but also has the tremendous power to inspire. Though sacrifices were required – we left our families, jobs, and the comforts of home  – the kindnesses performed and lessons learned during our week in Israel made them all worthwhile.   

Led and coordinated by Rabbi Naftali Besser, Dean of Students at Yeshivah of Flatbush High School, and Mrs. Susan Franco, Flatbush alumna, the mission and its demanding itinerary required that each participant give their all and be fully committed to the cause.

So much good was performed on this mission, which was centered around the mantra “olam hesed yibaneh” – the world is built with chesed. We distributed gifts to sick children in hospitals, putting smiles on their faces and offering strength to their families. We danced and sang with hundreds of neglected children at Beit Elizraki and Achuzat Sara Emunah Children's Homes, showering them with the love and attention they deserve, but have been long deprived of. We visited Hemla, a Jewish home shelter for abused women and shared in their hopes and dreams of a new life. We packaged food for the needy at Pantry Packers and entertained immigrant children at an Ethiopian absorption center. We interacted with special needs children at Shalva, Aleh and Keren Or, which was especially challenging, but so rewarding as we learned to look beyond their disabilities and find the beauty in each child. This newfound perspective on life was reinforced after meeting with Rachamim Melamed, a man of faith and vision who, despite his paralysis, continues to have the will to live.

Many of our activities also included time with members of the IDF. We expressed to the soldiers our appreciation for their defense and prayed for their protection. We heard first hand-accounts from the heroes of Tikvot, who work to overcome the physical and mental wounds of war and terror. At Har Herzl, we paid our respects to those who gave their lives while defending the State of Israel. We also met a group of brave young men and women with special needs who volunteer for service in the IDF as part of a unique inclusion project called Special in Uniform.

As the trip progressed, we continued to be wowed by the contributions of the organizations that we visited. Tazpit Press Service, the leading media outlet in Israel, is helping to change the way the country is documented, both in Israel and internationally. One heart at a time, SACH brings children from underdeveloped countries into Israel and offers them quality cardiac care for free. The volunteer medics at Hatzaloh Headquarters help save thousands of lives a year by providing emergency medical treatment in under three minutes. We got a first-hand look at specially equipped motorcycle ambulances and bore witness to the generosity of the Ben-Haim and Harary families, who donated an ambucycle in honor of all the dedicated Hatzolah volunteers.

Every action taken on this chesed mission was full of purpose. We gave of ourselves in the purest sense, to people and institutions that are full of heart and soul. Through such giving, we connected with the true meaning of life. Along the way, we formed friendships and bonds that were real and deep. Together, we cried tears of sadness and empathy as well as tears of joy and laughter.

The moments of inspiration and clarity we shared were G-d given gifts and opportunities for growth. We’ve returned from our mission feeling humbled and confident, acquiescent and powerful. As the days pass, we strive to hold onto the spiritual experiences we had and express them in some beautiful new way here at home. We ask ourselves, how can we continue to live lives full of purpose? How can we continue to make such a profound and lasting difference?

We thank the Yeshivah of Flatbush for the privilege to participate in such a mission and Rabbi Besser for envisioning it. He truly enhances our community’s legacy of chesed. We’re also indebted to Susan Franco for the boundless love, dedication and energy she puts into the missions all year through. We are forever grateful for this impactful and life-changing experience.