This summer, my wife and I had the privilege of taking a group of young adults to Israel on a ten day Birthright trip. For most of them it was their first time in our homeland; for all of them it was an uplifting Jewish experience.

We started out in the north where we spent four days, then headed down south for two days; the remaining time we spent in Jerusalem.

Along the trip we encouraged every one to share their experiences thus far. One such occasion was on Day 5. We were sitting at a Bedouin camp in the middle of the desert, around a fire that lit up the beautiful night sky.

Many of them expressed their initial excitement at the beaches of Haifa, since it was their first time in the Mediterranean Sea; they were all uplifted with the spirituality of Sefad; some felt pure after immersing in the famous Ari mikvah; or when singing the Lecha Dodi overlooking the Kinneret in Tiberias. They spoke of a feeling of connection to the land after hiking in the Galilee, and of course they showed gratitude to the soldiers (seven of whom were joining us on our trip) for safeguarding the land everyday, for us to enjoy.

Towards the wee hours of the morning, as the flames burned down and we slowly drifted to bed, we did not know that all this would change, and in fact we were the last group this summer to have all of these experiences. The next day the ruthless Hezbollah (may G‑d wipe out their name) unleashed their showering of Katyushas, and all following groups have had their itinerary changed.

At the time of the abduction of the two young Israeli soldiers, we were climbing Masada. As we walked the sandy hilltops in the heat of the day, sat on the same rocks as our heroic predecessors, and experienced another chapter in the story of our people's fight for survival in their homeland, two of the seven soldiers that were accompanying us on our trip were recalled to their base—to yet again fend off those who wish to destroy us.

Our group had mixed emotions that afternoon: Fear for our safety; assuring worried mothers, and perhaps most importantly, for the first time we felt part of the struggle, not from a comfortable couch in a New York, Cincinnati or Portland home, rather on the soil of the land that G‑d gave us as a gift. We were here in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.

"But our trip must go on," our tour guide Na'ama reminded us, and added, "We, like all Israelis, will continue to lead normal lives, in abnormal circumstances." So we moved on with the next step of our journey; in fact its climax, Jerusalem.

As our bus climbed the highway into the sacred city, it hit me for the first time (and I have visited Jerusalem many times) how precious is this gift that we have in our possession, yet we so often take for granted. We were privileged to visit all of Israel, yet so many more groups have since come to Israel and their tours have been changed.

I tried to keep my emotions in check as I welcomed my group to the capital and quintessential part of our lives, the city of peace, the city of hope, the city where the Holy Temple will be rebuilt speedily in our days, amen.

As the trip was winding down, and the conflict gearing up, many of the group asked me how they can help and what they can do. Some stayed on and volunteered to pack food at army bases; others chose to remain in Israel to study at the Mayanot Yeshiva in Jerusalem; but the majority had prior commitments back home. So I told them all to take one special experience with them from Israel and continue it at home: donning tefillin for the first time at the western wall; candle lighting on Shabbat eve; the charity given to the needy and hungry. I urged them to continue in acts of goodness and kindness and sharing the light, as one small light can dispel much darkness.

With prayers that G‑d should continue to watch the land with His guarding eyes, for safety and peace to all our brothers and sisters, and protect the soldiers that fight for this privilege everyday.