Most people’s first trip to Israel isn’t a jam-packed 18 hours on the ground marked by visiting army bases, paying shiva calls and scrambling to a shelter under rocket fire.

However, with Israel in the midst of a grueling war—the country’s response to Hamas’s brutal slaughter of 1,400 civilians and taking more than 240 hostages—a visit these days is not what it used to be.

Neil Steiner saw the raw and emotional side of Israel first hand when he arrived last week as a part of a mission organized by Chabad-Lubavitch of Binghamton University, N.Y., to show support for Israelis under fire.

The delegation, organized by Rabbi Levi Slonim, director of development at the Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life at Binghamton University, said the trip was more than a solidarity mission, but the representation of an ideal often expressed by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

“The Rebbe would always talk about how the Jewish people are all one body. We need to be there for each other like a person’s arm is there for their other arm, especially in a time of need,” he said.

“The sheer magnitude of the death, torture and kidnapping of Jews is agonizing,” said Slonim. “When your sibling is in trouble, you drop everything and you show up for them. This trip is about standing firm with our brothers and sisters in Israel and extending support on multiple levels.”

Steiner, who graduated from Binghamton in 1986 and currently resides in Syosset, on Long Island, N.Y., felt this theme throughout his entire 18 hours on the ground.

In one shiva call, he spoke with a woman whose husband and son were murdered by Hamas.

With her family now ripped apart in the blink of an eye, she cried to Steiner and asked why such a tragedy would befall her.

“I told her, ‘You can’t ask why. No answer will make any sort of sense when you’re faced with this kind of senseless hatred. This is evil,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘I don’t know you, but as a Jew, I’m here to feel for you and hear you and help you in any way I can.’ ”

Short but Impactful

During visit after visit, Israelis were shocked that not only was this Steiner’s first brush with the Holy Land, but that he’d be on the ground for less than a day.

The idea that a busload of Americans dropped everything to console and uplift those in crisis made an impression on everyone they met.

Jenna “Ayelet” Nemetski, a 19-year-old student at Binghamton University, was moved to see a flicker of joy in the eyes of a young boy whom she visited in a shelter for those displaced from their homes in Israel’s south.

When she handed him a Super Mario figurine, the 6-year-old boy began regaling her of all the toys he had back home, saying that this new addition would fit perfectly in his collection.

Of course, he didn’t realize yet that he had no home to go back to and that all of his toys were gone.

The look of joy on the boy’s face, juxtaposed by the pain on his mother’s, was symbolic of Nemetski’s feelings throughout the trip. It was one marked by exhilarating highs when spirits were uplifted, and devastating lows when encountering innocent people who’ve seen so much suffering in such a short period of time.

“We visited an army base along the Gaza border and were told by their commander that morale could use a boost,” she said, remembering another example of when they were able to spark joy. “We met with them, we sang with them, and it didn’t take much for them to begin singing and dancing with us.”

Gaining Inspiration

Very often, it was delegation members who walked away inspired.

Take, for instance, their meeting with Israel Defense Forces Capt. Ofir Dahari at Samson Assuta Hospital in Ashdod. Dahari sustained three bullet wounds in his hand, leg and stomach, and has undergone at least five surgeries.

On the morning of Oct. 7, Simchat Torah, Dahari was at home in a small town near Ashkelon when the rocket fire began. Though his unit is meant to report directly to Ashkelon during a crisis, Dahari picked up over IDF radio communications that terrorists were attacking nearby Sderot. He immediately gathered the 20 men in his unit and headed there.

In Sderot, they battled with Hamas terrorists, making their way to the local police station, which had been taken over by terrorists, where they coordinated with a nearby brigade in the fight to retake the station.

After a few hours, at around 11 a.m., Dahari heard terrorists were attempting to infiltrate the nearby Kibbutz Nir Am and headed there. Over the next hours, they fought off 37 terrorists, who ultimately failed to infiltrate the village. It was there that Dahari was hit by a sniper three times; two men in his unit were killed in the firefight.

“What made this so amazing,” continued Steiner, “was that had it not been for this captain and his men, these terrorists might have entered the kibbutz and massacred the 400 civilian men, women and children living there, who were struggling to defend themselves.”

Steiner says he will be forever grateful to Slonim for the opportunity to visit his brethren in Israel during this difficult time. “I will never forget Ofir or his story, nor the countless others I had met during my 18 hours in Israel.”

Steiner, who won his place on the bus by entering a Chabad-organized raffle, expressed his disbelief that it took him so long to visit Israel. He says he is grateful that fate finally brought him to the Jewish homeland.

“After being there, I can’t wait to go back,” he said. “I now understand when people say, ‘When I got here I didn't want to leave.’ I understand when a freshman in college tells me he wants to join the IDF. I get it now. The sense of brotherhood is incredible.”

“The ability for each of us to add light, support and positivity, has not—and will never—be taken away from us,” added Slonim. “Just as the hate and destruction were so immense, the magnitude of the response to do positive deeds must be equal.”