It was six o’clock on a Thursday morning. I knew the challenge that lay ahead, but I still felt unprepared. Then again, my constant tendency to underestimate myself was why I signed myself up for this trip in the first place. There was no turning back now. I knew I had to face this obstacle in order to help Shmuel forget his disability and remember what it was like to do what he loves.
In June of 2018, I went on a program called Israel Leadership and Development that would send me to Israel with a group of students. Every day of this trip, we were taken out of our comfort zone and faced with a new physical challenge. When arriving in Israel, we were deprived of our luggages and slept outside for three consecutive days. By the second week, we were building rafts and crossing rivers as a group. We learned how to survive as a team, which would be helpful in completing our biggest challenge yet: helping Shmuel.
The week we helped Shmuel was “survival week”- a week filled with 12-hour hikes and minimal food to keep us awake. What made Shmuel’s challenge different was that it was not only physical, but there was a meaningful story behind it.
On Wednesday night of survival week, we learned that we would hike Mount Meron with Shmuel, a veteran from the Yom Kippur War. Until the war, Shmuel’s favorite pastime was hiking. However, he was injured in the war and fractured three vertebrates in his neck, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life. He thought that he would never be able to hike again.
Hearing Shmuel’s story hit home. I always felt a deep connection to Israel due to my Jewish heritage. In 1973, a coalition of Israel’s surrounding countries committed a surprise attack on Israel during Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the year and a fast for the Jewish people. Although I did not think that I could complete the challenge, I felt as if I owed him for helping Israel when they needed it most. He thought he would never be able to hike again, and it was up to us to prove him wrong.
The hike began on Thursday morning. I took my last bit of strength after a full week of survival. Our group of forty-two students was assigned a difficult task: to hike Mount Meron, the second highest mountain in Israel, while pulling a special wheelchair with Shmuel sitting in it. The wheelchair had bars on its sides, allowing us to carry it. As we walked up the mountain, we alternated in small groups that would each have their turn to pull the wheelchair. Each group would carry for roughly twenty minutes and then switch off with the next group. The task was strenuous, but we stayed focused and committed.
After eight hours, we finally got to the finish line- a place I had originally doubted I could reach. I felt a combination of relief and accomplishment. Shmuel was filled with bliss as he reached the top of the mountain, filling my body with pure happiness. I was able to help a man feel whole again.
Before the trip, I had a tendency to underestimate myself. My mindset instantly changed after overcoming this challenge and persevering through harsh circumstances. Shmuel’s challenge taught me that passion is the key to accomplishment. I predetermined a false limit for myself only to discover that I can achieve my goals with hard work. Not only did I learn what I was capable of, but also that the journey holds more value than the end result. Success does not mean anything if it came easy. After misjudging my true potential, I finally succeeded in helping Shmuel experience his lifetime hobby. I will never forget that feeling at the top of Mount Meron.