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Watch the Opening Ceremony for Derech Daniel.

Tzevent Daniel in the Jerusalem Marathon

Ben Mandel - My First Trip to Israel

Danny, our Daniel by Ben Zuk

Wordless conversations by Ben Zuk

Ben Mandel - My First Trip to Israel

To my new friends in Israel, thank you and please pass on my regards to those I do not have email addresses for (Yaron and Hagar).

To my family - David, Cheryl, Jonah, Sari, Gabriel, Nicole, Eliav, Shlomo:

Although my parents keep me updated with the goings on of you all, I cannot recall the last time that we were in touch. You are my cousins that left Toronto for Israel because of your strong beliefs and love of the country. My only barometer for the life that you lead is through the stories I hear from our family in Toronto and the tragic reportings that fill the news.

After completing my three year analyst program at an investment bank in New York on July 2nd I made my first trip to Israel on July 13th as a participant in the Canadian Israel Experience – Birthright trip (a sponsored trip for all Jews to visit Israel). I knew going in that it would be a very emotional and moving trip, but I had no idea what I was in for.

During the first few days we visited Masada, Ein Gedi, several kibbutzim, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem, learning about the historical and cultural significance of each. It was in Jerusalem that we hooked up with 11 soldiers who were to travel with us for the remaining 5 days. The purpose was twofold – for us naÔve Canadians to have exposure to real Israeli soldiers and for the soldiers to have a break from their daily rigours and practice their English with some canucks. It would turn out that meeting these soldiers would have a much more profound effect on me than I could have ever anticipated.

We first met these soldiers of the Nachal brigade near the Knesset for a picnic in the park. We all engaged in small talk and mostly kept to our own groups the way boys and girls do at a grade 5 dance – both afraid to make the first move. Later that evening there was a large party that brought together almost 6000 of the birthright trip participants from around the globe to one auditorium in Jerusalem. It was an amazing evening filled with song and dance. It was this night that I engaged Amir Rosenfeld in discussion and mentioned that I had a cousin that served in the Nachal brigade, Daniel Mandel.

Amir grabbed me and with a stern look in his eyes demanded that I repeat myself. After calling the other members of the Nachal that were traveling with us over to share in this coincidence, a sense of amazement came over us all. The immediate closeness that we all felt after the mention of Danielís name was the first glimpse that I had into the respect and esteem that Daniel had earned from his soldiers and friends.

Over the next few days, I spent the majority of my time with Amir and the other soldiers: Gidi Holzman, Avi Nir, Itamar Egozi, Yaron Cohen, Hagar Sharabi, Yifat Ron, Hadar Avigad. They shared stories with me about their training, their missions and their officer. Had I not known Daniel and heard the stories before, I would have thought them made up and exaggerated. The high regard in which they viewed their tough and demanding officer and the friendship that they shared with him seemed like something out of a movie. They described to me an ideal man and soldier that inspired others, that made others laugh, that made others listen and that made others better, both in and out of uniform. Daniel Mandel was their officer and their friend and, because of the trust that he gained from them, they would follow him blindly and serve him with utmost loyalty.

While I did not know Daniel well in life, it has been an amazing journey to learn about him now. One of the soldiers asked if I thought that my life was similar to Danielís – we were from the same family, both from Toronto and only differed in age by 6 months. I quickly said that the similarities ended there. Daniel lived his life as a hero. He lay it all on the line and fought for what he believed in. He was a man of strong convictions who loved his music, his country, his friends, and his family. It was an honour to tell the members of Tzevet Mandel that I was part of the same family and I wanted to tell you the same.

Ben

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