Sign In Forgot Password

Israel Solidarity Mission: Our stories!

05/14/2024 09:00:26 AM

May14

Solidarity Mission Participants

On February 19, 2024, eighteen members of the South Bay Jewish community arrived in Israel for a mission of solidarity. Rabbis and professionals, past and current lay leaders from synagogues, schools, Unexeptable, and Jewish Silicon Valley joined together to bear witness, visit the sick and comfort the mourners. 

February Solidarity Mission to Israel: Our stories in a series below!

Use the jump links to jump between the stories.

Index of Stories:

Susan Levin: Standing Under the Stretcher

My reasons for joining this trip were completely emotional: I wanted to experience what Israeli Jews were living through first hand. I wanted to smell, feel, see, touch and hear what was going on with them. I didn’t want their truths to be mediated by reporters from the NYTimes or CNN. There are times in our lives when we are taught about the power of presence...We ALL stood at Sinai; We ALL were delivered from Egypt. I felt that this was one of these moments.

As soon as I got off the plane, I felt “at home”. This was not a time when every expression of pain for what we were going through had to be countered by an expression of sympathy for Palestinians. It was enough to just take in the experiences of my people and to sit with what they were feeling. Blessings and gratitude for the organizers of the trip for trying to open us to the stories of people with divergent backgrounds and opinions. From my good friend who refuses to listen to the news to the people who spend their entire days and nights working on a project, my soul is full to the brim with their emotions.

Overall, it seemed to me that I felt a heaviness. People were out and about in Tel Aviv, yes, but I didn’t sense that care-free joie de vivre that characterizes this wonderful city. People seemed to be living in a space where their energy was directed to surviving the present moment. But at the back of their brains was the knowledge that the future was uncertain and that a day of reckoning was coming.

So we grasp at the stories of heroism, and rejoice in the rescue of hostages. But we don’t know if the State will continue to exist, or what it will look like, in the future. This was supposed to be a Mission. But I don’t feel like a missionary. I am not a prophet and I can’t preach about a vision for my people. All I can do now is to bear witness for what I saw and felt during my time with my Israeli people.

I just learned an Israeli expression: “Standing under the Stretcher.” When you are in basic training, you take a stretcher hike. Four of you carry a stretcher and run great distances. You are practicing carrying out the wounded or dead. You are accompanied by four others who do a hand-off every two minutes. It is very hard and you are never allowed to drop the stretcher. It has become a metaphor that has entered Israeli slang. For example, when Benny Grantz entered the government, he justified it by saying...we are in a war and I am putting my shoulder under the stretcher. The metaphor says that you can’t do it alone, that it takes all of us working together.

That is an expression of the most powerful experience of my trip. The feeling of solidarity and togetherness that I observed was as real as the tears and bullet holes. How beautiful that we could mobilize our resources so quickly and competently. For me, who despairs about the way America seems to be thriving on hate and the glorification of personal power, seeing my Israeli family “under the stretcher” was especially uplifting.

Am Yisrael Chai

Jump back to the top list of all the stories.


Julee Ogawa: Saving Shards: The National Library of Israel

February 21, 2024, Jerusalem: With heavy hearts we bid farewell to the bereaved families and friends whose encampment in front of the Knesset has grown since the start of the war. Their pictures and stories brought to life the painful experiences of losing loved ones. It reminded me that their losses are our losses as well.

Our group wandered down Kaplan Street to the new home of the National Library of Israel. This spectacular structure houses the National Collections Archives, the National Sound Archives, and two world-class research collections. The grand opening scheduled for the week of October 22, 2023 was interrupted due to the war; the event was scaled-back to a limited opening on October 29th.

We entered an immense, circular space where portions of the collections and the people studying them could be viewed. In a designated area, a long, illuminated wall of individual victims’ names and their faces were displayed. It was a masterful use of space, perhaps planned for something else, preserving the images of these victims who lost their lives in a tragic moment in history. Our history. I wanted to honor and remember them by looking at each person but there were far too many. My head and my heart hurt and could not handle the scope of the collective loss. I wanted to close my eyes, but for their sakes, I had to keep them open because they no longer had the option to see.

Next, we were escorted through a spiraling and complicated maze to find our study space. Raquel Ukeles, Ph.D., presented on the topic, “Bearing Witness: Documenting October 7th and Its Aftermath in Israel and the Jewish World”. She and her colleagues “realized they needed to grab this moment” and started their work on October 9th to guide the field to a common archive. Because of the open platform nature of this work, it would be extremely difficult to collect, organize, and archive “shards” (massive amounts of documentary material) of the variety of sources from which they come. Dr. Ukeles anticipated that this project would take approximately five years to complete. The website is available now: https://www.nli.org.il/en

What hit me later (as I tried to keep my attention level high for the next presentation by Tomer Persico of Shalom Hartman Institute) was the unprecedented amount of work that lay ahead for Dr. Ukeles’ team working on the archive. The shards from October 7th are everywhere. Documentary evidence comes in a variety of forms. It comes from first-hand or second-hand accounts. It may be the last image seen, the last word spoken, or the last text received. How will the team sort through this unfiltered material while taking care to manage their own secondary trauma?

I plan to follow their work and applaud their foresight and courage to jump on a project for an event that is ongoing with no end in sight. This is our story too.

Jump back to the top list of all the stories.


Jim Kastelman: Tel Hashomer - Recovering from Trauma

On the third day of our tour we were privileged to visit two members of the IDF who had been injured in battle and were recovering in the rehabilitation department of the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv. Both were gracious in thanking our group for showing up, particularly Omer who mentioned how meaningful it was for American Jews to travel the long distance to show their solidarity with Israelis. Omer had gone through numerous surgeries and a life threatening infection but he was upbeat and proudly showing us pictures of his young daughter who is waiting at home for his return.

One of the most striking aspects of our visit to Sheba was that the person who accompanied us on the tour was a volunteer who had never been to the hospital until war broke out on October 7. She initially came to the hospital to see what she might do for those who were injured, securing supplies wherever they were needed. Because she spoke fluent English the hospital staff then asked her if she could take English speaking groups on tours of the hospital when they arrived and she agreed.

This spirit of volunteerism is one we encountered numerous times during our tour, exemplified by groups such as Brothers and Sisters in Arms and Zaka. To able to marshal the physical and emotional energy to provide numerous services to those in need despite the terrible trauma of October 7 revealed the incredible resiliency of the Israeli people. It also brought to mind the famous saying from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), Chapter 2:16 " Rabbi Tarfon used to say...It is not up to you to finish the task, but you are not free to avoid it."

The trauma that Israel has suffered from the horrific attacks by Hamas on October 7 will have long lasting affects and recovery will be a slow and uneven process. It was impossible to know when we started our journey how our presence would be received by those who are mourning the loss of loved ones and healing from physical and emotional harms. The warm reception we received from all of the Israelis we visited was very heartening and confirmed that our trip was viewed in the spirit of Rabbi Tarfon's famous saying. We were all blessed to be able to participate in the mitzvah of a solidarity mission.

Jump back to the top list of all the stories.


Dorene Kastelman: ZAKA - Religiosity, Reverence, Respect

ZAKA is best known for respecting the deceased in whatever remains are available, and providing a full Jewish burial for those who meet a sudden death. With the deaths in Israel on October 7, Zaka became the resource for finding any remains available, from small fragments to whole bodies, and reverently creating a last Jewish home for so many.

Our speaker, a trained Social Worker who specializes in Grief Work recounted the horrific brutality of Hamas' killings, rapings, and burnings; coming in to find the body parts strewn or intact, and all with signs of unimaginable trauma. She spoked calmly and and evenly, but clearly was overwhelmed and still in deep trauma by the witnessing of Jewish lives cut short with tremendous suffering. The Zaka volunteers go where no one else goes, to provide solace to the souls of those harmed, irregardless of how hard, how long, and how traumatic it was to provide this care.

Zaka's mission prior to October 7 was itself so heart rendering; after October 7 ZACA teams encountered physical and emotional challenges beyond what they ever thought possible. One of the ways they experienced this was knowing some of those who were killed, and especially the existential reality that most of those killed, raped, and tortured were part of kibbutzim that were peace activists, and had long histories of working to help and provide support for those in Gaza. This was still hard for them to integrate and believe. This same thinking was mentioned several times on our trip, and goes to the loss of idealism and thinking of the viability of peace activists, a core Jewish value that was defied by these killings.

In addition to working to provide the physical care of death, Zaka also does search and rescue assistance. The needs of October 7 were well placed with and created other niches for ZAKA.

I came out of the meeting with ZAKA with deep appreciation for their religious work to provide for our Jewish members in these horrific times. While we are so far away physically, politically, and religously , ZAKA is a reminder of the depth of Jewish values and as our host said, the way we are all connected in the Jewish diaspora, and all bonded in our depth of feelings of how to integrate the experience of October 7 in our Jewish international community. I am honored to have met with ZACA, and to know this facet of Jewish religous life that is helping in such deep and important ways.

Jump back to the top list of all the stories.


Heidi Livingston Eisips: Maoz Inon and the Incredible Power of Hope

"Next year, I will, once again, sow wheat, for the coming year will be better" ~ Yakovi Inon

No Revenge

On the morning of February 20, 2024, nineteen of us from Silicon Valley, calling ourselves the South Bay Solidarity Mission to Israel, walked to the Abraham Hostel at 21 Levontin Street in Tel Aviv, and descended the stairs from the lobby to a basement meeting room. There we met Maoz Inon, one of the bravest and most inspiring people I’ve ever met.

Maoz started his story with tragedy. On October 7, 2023, his parents, Yakov and Bilha Inon, were murdered in their home, a wooden house in Netiv HaAsara, along with 18 of their neighbors (out of a total population of about 900 people). Yakov was 78. Bilha was just shy of her 76th birthday. According to Maoz’s brother Magen’s account, “My siblings and I received a short message from my parents saying that they could hear gunshots. They said they were safe inside the house and had locked the doors. This was the last time we heard from them.”

Maoz told us that his first reaction was that “nothing can prepare you” for the crushing reality of such a devastating loss. But as he reflected on his own life, his parents’ lives, and their legacy, he said that his thinking transformed, and that he realized that “all my life was just a preparation” for this moment.

Netiv HaAsara (Hebrew: נְתִיב הָעֲשָׂרָה, which means "Path of the Ten") is a moshav (cooperative agricultural community) in southern Israel, close to the northern border of Gaza. After the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Netiv HaAsara became the closest Israeli community to Gaza, only 400 meters away from the northernmost Gazan city of Beit Lahia (Arabic: بيت لاهيا, which means "House of Lahia").

During their time of mourning, Maoz and his four siblings collectively decided—in the aftermath of their very personal tragedy—to send a universal message to the world: no revenge. Maoz said they’ve experienced an amazing outpouring of solidarity in response to their pacifist stance.

Maoz lives with his wife and family in a community of 16,000 in the north of Israel, about 140 kilometers and 2 hours’ drive from the idyllic farming community where he and his siblings grew up. His parents were part of two different groups of Zionist pioneers, Yakov from the Gordonia Youth Movement (Kibbutz Nir Am) and Bilha from HaShomer HaTzair (Kibbutz Ruhama).

Living into The Legacies of Yakov and Bilha

Yakov was a highly respected agronomist, and most of today’s leading agronomy professors in Israel were his students and studied in his fields. The inheritance that Maoz takes from his father is three primary things: communication, innovation, and a deep love of learning. Yakov, known fondly as Yakovi, always focused on learning from challenges and persisted in believing, even after every disappointment, “next year is going to be better.” Maoz said these beliefs became part of his own “operating system” — that “every cell” in his body knows, even after all the tragedies, that the future is going to be better.

Bilha was an artist who produced her own art—often from garbage and other found or reused items—and taught others about art making and creativity. She was always very proud of the art produced by her own kids, and she taught art classes to all ages. She once painted a mandala and gave it to Maoz—and here Maoz stopped to impart a piece of wisdom to us moms in the room (and one that I know all too well from my own experience):

"Moms: sons do not read their mom’s gifts." ~ Maoz Inon

On the 7th of October, 2023, Maoz finally read the mandala his mom had given him, and it sang out her legacy:

"All our dreams can be fulfilled if we have the courage to chase them" ~ Bilha Inon

Show respect to others - and it will be returned to you in kind

Maoz has traveled the world, backpacking trails across Israel (“Shvil Israel”), North America (John Muir’s famous Pacific Crest Trail) and South America as well. It was in a small guest house in an indigenous community in Ecuador that Maoz saw how tourism, done well, can benefit the traveler while empowering the local community. He came home and was inspired to create the Fauzi Azar guesthouse in the Arab community of Nazareth, the largest city in the north of Israel. His hospitality business, established in the abandoned Azar mansion in Nazareth’s old city, initially aroused a lot of suspicion from locals, and Maoz decided to build trust by doing three things — not displaying any Israeli flags, not installing any cameras, and leaving the main door to the guesthouse always open.

Since the establishment of the Fauzi Azar guesthouse, more than 50 shops have cropped up in Nazareth’s Old City and begun thriving, and others are looking for properties to establish more guesthouses and hostels in Nazareth. From the very beginning, Maoz was advised by a member of the Azar family to show respect to local citizens, and he’d see that it would get returned in kind. In fact, Maoz has been so embraced by the local Nazarene community that he held one day of shiva (mourning) for his parents in Nazareth, and hundreds came, very emotional, to show their support for him and his family in the wake of their unspeakable tragedy.

We Are Very Close to Peace

"I forgive the past and I forgive the present, but I won’t forgive anyone for ruining our future. Hope is not just a feeling, it’s something you need to make and create." ~ Hamze Hawawde

At this point in our visit, Maoz turned to sharing some of his own thoughts and wisdom with us. He said that worldwide, we are facing three global crises: (1) economic, (2) environmental, and (3) socio-political. He quoted Hamze Hawawde by saying that hope is an action—like love. He called on all of us to amplify voices of peace and reconciliation, and to pour all the energy we have into creating hope and a better future for all of us to live side by side.

Maoz then asked for my journal so he could sketch his vision for us (see image). He said we are all family, we started out together, and now we’ve been living a parallel existence — we’ve been apart, but we are traveling the parallel paths, perhaps in conflict, but still side by side. He said that today, after October 7th, it may seem like we are even farther apart than ever, making things seem hopeless, but it’s possible for us to come back together again. Maoz reminded all of us in the room to go back and look at examples from history, such as the Anwar Sadat story in making peace with Israel over the Sinai Peninsula, and we will see the rhythms of peace making and hope building. Maoz believes with every cell of his being that we are only four to six years away from our destination of peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

After Maoz finished sketching, he gave me back the journal with a humongous hug and invited all of us to climb back up out of the basement and take the stairs all the way up to the roof of the Abraham hostel (the building used to be an old Bezeq telephone exchange and post office). We entered a lovely rooftop garden, which in the spirit of Yakovi also served as an ecological experiment to understand the benefits of having a “living roof” on the top of an urban building.

I wrote down two quotes that Maoz said toward the end of our time together that really stuck with me:

“It was difficult for me to listen to you and so I listened twice.” -and- “I don’t agree with you, but I’m proud of you.”

Sometimes, in the midst of my grieving for October 7, it’s hard for me to embrace Maoz’s incredible optimism, but that morning I felt inspired to try. Maoz, I’m going to listen to your words and to your story again and again and try to let them settle into my cells like a legacy. It is still difficult for me to really feel that optimism in the midst of the crushing loss, so I’m going to listen, and keep listening, as many times as it takes.

"We can’t fix what happened to grandma and grandpa, but we can fix the world for our kids." ~ Magen Inon

Jump back to the top list of all the stories.


Heidi Livingston Eisips: Yuli Tamir, President of Beit Berl College, We Will Grow from This Together

On February 20, 2024, our group (SBSMI) had the honor to meet with Dr. Yuli Tamir, President of Beit Berl College, (along with Yossi Levin, the Strategic Development Director of the college). It was more quiet than usual when our delegation was on the Beit Berl campus, because it was the first week of an official break in the academic calendar.

Israel’s educational institutions were deeply affected by the atrocities of October 7th and their aftermath. Studies that should have started right after the fall holiday season (which ends with Sukkot and Simchat Torah – the day the attacks were perpetrated) were delayed in some cases by nearly three months, to the beginning of January 2024.

A Career in Public Service

Dr. Tamir is an academic and politician with an incredible resume. Between 1999 and 2010, she served in various governmental roles, including Member of the Knesset (MK) from the Labor Party, Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Minister of Education, and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. She also served on a variety of Knesset committees, including the Education, Culture & Sports, Law & Justice, and Finance committees. From 2010 to 2020, Tamir was President of Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan, Israel. She has been an adjunct professor at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University since 2015. Tamir is the author of several books and numerous articles in the fields of moral and political philosophy, philosophy of education, feminism, and human rights.

As Minister of Education, Dr. Tamir led a comprehensive school reform, raising teachers' salaries and introducing innovative teaching methodologies; these are causes that she has continued to dedicate herself to at Beit Berl, which is primarily a teacher training college. One in five teachers in Israel is a graduate of Beit Berl.

Origins of Beit Berl

Beit Berl is an internationally recognized degree-granting institution which provides Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees across four different academic disciplines: Education, Educational Counseling, Art & Film, as well as Security Forces training. The Beit Berl community was first established in 1946, and was named to honor Berl Katznelson (1887-1944), a Zionist pioneer who was born in Lithuania in 1887 and made aliya to Israel in 1908.

Originally a librarian, Katznelson is known as a founding father of a variety of labor-oriented institutions in Israel, including the Histadrut (a labor union), HaMashbir (a consumer cooperative which evolved into a national department store chain), and Kupat Holim Clalit (a mutual aid society which has become one of Israel’s four major HMO services). He also served as editor of Davar, the first daily newspaper of the labor movement.

The college named after him is highly diverse and caters to all communities across Israeli society: Arab/Jew, religious/secular, etc. Beit Berl is 30% Arab, both in terms of students and faculty. The college also enrolls a significant number of Haredi (religious) students. Beit Berl also has an educational advisory board; beyond being a college campus with four faculties; Beit Berl is an educational teaching and learning lab, with many different active schools directly on site.

Navigating a Crisis Together

In the pre-October 7th reality, the Beit Berl institutional focus was on “preparing teachers for the 21st century,” and helping educators and educational systems catch up with new methodologies and technologies, such as strategies for teaching and grading with the emergence of generative AI (such as ChatGPT, etc.). According to Dr. Tamir, schools are not adequately meeting the needs and aspirations of students, because educational realities change far quicker than educational systems do.

Everything changed drastically on October 7th, 2023.

A huge national challenge after October 7th was arranging nursery schools and kindergartens for displaced children; in particular, the poorest of evacuees have faced enormous challenges, because they have very limited community and support systems to fall back on. Beit Berl teachers-in-training and faculty rolled up their sleeves and got to work on solving these problems right away. They placed temporary nursery schools and kindergartens in community centers and in the hotels where displaced families had taken up residence. What Beit Berl constituents found in their pivot to address these issues was surprising. In general, the audiences they worked with were so grateful for the help provided, and there was little to no ideological conflict. With their academic focus areas of art and education, Beit Berl was well positioned to help. Families, kids, and communities asked for art, and they were also eager to simply be listened to. Throughout our trip we heard the same refrain, that the national infrastructure of Israel—state-run institutions and services—were not able to fully function or be adequately responsive to citizen needs as well as they should have during these challenging times—and Israeli civil society self-organized and stepped in to take up the slack.

At Beit Berl, post-October 7, suddenly there was a rapid expansion of urgent focus areas based on sheer necessity. College leadership had to deal with the dual realities of their various constituents, such as displaced people from the north, tension between conservative vs. progressive demographies, the needs and reactions of Jewish versus Arab students, and the needs of young people in various mechinot.*

Exploring the Jewish-Arab Relationship

Our group outside a building; sign reads "We will grow from this together" Dr. Tamir spoke to us about how they worked hard to support all of their students (and faculty) after October 7th, be they Arab or Jew. Beit Berl has been a Jewish-Arab coexistence center for 14 years. The first thing they did as an institution and community was condemn Hamas' atrocities right away. Then they opened up a Zoom-based faculty/student dialogue, because school was on hiatus. Some folks had posted some extreme comments online and as a community they needed to come up with a very clear ethical code of discourse.

Over three months of oftentimes painful discussions, tears were shed and deep emotions were expressed. They collectively decided that there has to be a limit to what you can say, for the health of the community. There were even cases of faculty members who posted extreme statements who had to then issue a retraction and apology to their colleagues. What the community collectively learned is how to be sensitive to other members of the community. One example: after October 7th, signs cropped up all over Israel, on billboards, skyscrapers, advertising screens, and shop windows, saying in Hebrew “together we will win” (b’yachad nenatzeach - ביחד ננצח). Beit Berl leadership felt that this was not the right message nor the right approach to be inclusive of all citizens. So instead, on the Beit Berl campus is emblazoned the message “We will grow from this together” (niztmach mi’ze yachad - נצמח מזה יחד).

A Commitment to Educate Normatively

Beit Berl is dedicated to the progressive side of educational ideology: deliberation, human rights, democratic thought, and social justice. We asked Dr. Tamir: “Can this Beit Berl experience post-October 7th resonate in the United States?” Her response was to remind us that “the role of the university is not only to teach but to educate.”

She said that it is not simply a question of transmitting information with complete neutrality, but instead to ensure that formation of character is central to the educational mission. She added that, in fact, neutrality in education has only emerged as a fad in the last 20 years.

Prior to that, universities were often centers for nation-building, they created a sense of community, built norms, and had what Dr. Tamir called a “normative mission.” She was, for instance, disappointed with her own alma mater, Oxford University in the UK, which, like many other world-renowned institutions of higher learning, refused to put out a statement condemning the October 7th atrocities of Hamas. Beit Berl is currently in the process of launching an ebook – sharing tips and recommendations for how to effectively volunteer in education as well as more specifics about what they did to help communities during the crisis.

Prior to October 7th, Israeli society had been gripped in an ongoing civil debate about the future of their judicial system. There had been 39 consecutive weeks of peaceful protests, attracting hundreds of thousands of people to come together in incredible acts of solidarity. It is Dr. Tamir’s contention that these efforts will not be lost after October 7th but actually the opposite—these efforts at protecting Israel’s liberal progressive democracy will be reinforced. According to Dr. Tamir, Israel is going to be re-built from the bottom up… through the civil society. It’s the people and the grass roots that bring optimism. When the people want to do something, they find some way to contribute.

*Mechinot are preparatory programs, such as Beit Berl’s Art Preparatory Program for Arab Students, Preparatory Program for Film, Television and Education for Arab Students, and the Master’s-level Preparatory Program in visual arts and art therapy.

** For more from Dr. Yuli Tamir, check out this recent podcast appearance (January 2, 2024) On Pain, Sorrow, and Compassion - Z3 Podcast Ep. 10 with Prof. Yuli Tamir

Jump back to the top list of all the stories.


Heidi Livingston Eisips: The Battle of Sderot, Oct 7, 2023 - a.k.a. The Fall of the Sderot Police Station

Prologue
Sderot means boulevard
A beautiful, wide thoroughfare, lined with trees
Boulevard comes from bulwark
Something that protects you from danger

Police protect the polis (city)
The public, people, and property
“The police station is the safest place in the city”
A bulwark against outside threats

Shai is a municipal police officer, in Sderot, Israel
Shai starts us off with two rules:
1. If there is a red alert (siren) the protected space (shelter) is over there à (danger still threatens)
2. Do not record, photograph, or film (people are being killed in these scenes we’re about to see)

***

Shabbat morning, 7th of October, Simchat Torah
These are the first five minutes
When there is a siren, all personnel immediately go to the police station
They need to supplement the on-duty force

6:45 AM
An officer from the intelligence service heard the siren
He and others begin to arrive
A police officer from the station arrives and is shot
Point blank

Terrorists are in a truck
They take an RPG
And shoot into the top floor of the police station building
Anther RPG is retrieved from the truck

Terrorists are fighting with police officers
Police are positioned on the rooftop
More terrorists are coming in to help
And they’re trying to neutralize the police

A terrorist walks over and shoots the driver again
At point blank range
To make sure he’s dead
The car rolls out of control

Elsewhere in Sderot… the Swissa family is driving along
The dad is shot, point blank
The policeman says to the mom: “follow me to the police station…
…it’s the safest place in the city”

An Israeli Arab, Amer Abu Sabila, tries to help
Amer (who is a Bedouin Arab)
Tells her “I will drive your car for you”
Terrorists surround car and kill both Mom and Amer

The terrorists coordinate the attack very efficiently
And move together systematically
Police are still conducting a battle
From the roof, trying to hold them off

Another policeman arrives
And is shot and killed on sight
His red car drives out of control onto the sidewalk
Before ramming into a light pole

Body cam on a different police officer shows
Him approaching the vehicle
The two little Swissa girls are cowering scared
The big sister protecting the little sister

Big sister says:
“Take us! Save us!”
“I’m here with the baby…”
“…save my sister”

Their mother lies in the front seat dead, alongside the kind-hearted Bedouin man who tried to help her.

6:30 pm
Shai says: “We wanted to take back control…
…of the police station”
They manage to save 10 policemen alive
A miracle

Special forces came in through the roof
With firefighters’ equipment
And took the remaining police from the roof alive
While the terrorists took over the building

At this point, they understood
There were no more policemen alive in the station
The idea is the importance of life
Before property

So they used a Caterpillar D9
To break down the walls
26 Hamas terrorists were fortified in the police station
10 terrorists were killed - a dozen+ wounded

That day,
50 Israeli civilians were dead in Sderot by the end of the massacre.
500 rockets hit the city.
The two Swissa girls survived and are now supported and cared for by family members.

***

Shai’s message to us, to take back to our homes and communities in the U.S.
We are still here, even though we experienced the October 7th disaster
We will not be broken
We will not give up

Shai continued:
Every single one of you that lives in the United States…
…is an Israeli ambassador
…we are all in a battle against fake news
…we are all fighting on that front”

Am Israel Chai (The People of Israel Live)

Jump back to the top list of all the stories.


Mark Allen: Solidarity Mission and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai

Yesterday we heard aspects of hope. Today was more difficult. We headed south from Tel Aviv to the Gaza envelope. Here we met people who were grieving. At the same time, we saw acts of heroism.

Since this will be a long post, I want to start by describing the emotional conditions. In many ways, no matter where you are, you see a country suffering from PTSD. They say that every person knows someone who was killed or taken hostage. And yet, in most places, they have already begun healing and repairing. Think back to September 11, 2001. We had our own case of PTSD after the first real attack on US soil.

We started at Yad Mordechai kibbutz. The kibbutz was founded in 1943, purchased legally from Arab owners. Members are farmers, raise livestock, and are beekeepers. We heard from Noam, a young lady of 20, who is a medical trainer in the army. She is a third generation member, and grew up in the kibbutz. On the morning of October 7th, she and her brothers and sisters (ages 14, 16, and 22) awoke to sirens, and following the normal protocol, moved into the shelter. Their parents were away in Tel Aviv for the weekend.

Think about that. Kibbutz Yad Mordechai is within eye and earshot of Gaza. Rockets are fired from Gaza into the envelope often enough that moving to a bomb shelter has become normalized. The school where the kids learn is itself a bomb shelter. The Iron Dome (literally Iron Kippah) stops 90-95% of the rockets. Next to bus stops there are concrete shelters in case of rocket attacks. This time, there were over 3,000 rockets in salvos of 100+, attempting to overwhelm the Iron Dome.

This morning, things felt different. From the bomb shelter, they could hear fighting. They were able to communicate until the power went out. A few soldiers who were at a base on the kibbutz, as well as kibbutz members assigned to protect the kibbutz engaged with the Hamas terrorists. Yad Mordechai sustained relatively little damage, and Noam and her siblings were picked up by their father. The majority of the kibbutz was evacuated. Children are now going to school at a kibbutz farther north. They expect everyone to return by July.

That weekend, only 200 soldiers were assigned to patrol and protect the entire boarder with Gaza. It was felt that the huge fence constructed, dug 20 meters deep with sensors to detect tunnels, was sufficient. However, Hamas didn’t dig under, they blew up sections and came over the top.

We next went to Kfar Aza kibbutz. Kfar Aza is only a mile from the border. Their farm land reaches the border. At 6:30 in the morning, when the sirens sounded, when the civil guard went to the armory, they found Hamas already there. Those seven people were killed immediately. The 15 people who had guns tried to hold off about 200 terrorists. That day, 79 members were killed and 18 were kidnapped. We walked the grounds where houses were burned and/or hit by grenades.

Our guide, Alon Keslev was in the north, but his daughter and grandchild had managed to get to the safe room. The army didn’t come for 2 1/2 hours. Alon’s family spent 20 hours in the safe room until the army was able to secure the area. Because the kibbutz is so close to the border, it was easy for Hamas to take the 18 kidnap victims back across the border. Alon drove south like crazy and was able to pick up his family during the night. Alon himself is a tank commander in the reserves, and was immediately activated. He commands a battalion of 40 tanks and 1,000 soldiers.

We next went to Sderot a small city near the north east corner of Gaza. Here Hamas attacked the police station. We watched security camera footage as one of the policemen, Shai, described what we were seeing. 10 police were killed as they responded to sirens telling them to return to the station. We also saw an innocent family of 4 drive into the area. Both parents were killed. Police rescued a 7 year old girl protecting her 3 year old sister.

The IDF destroyed the police station, killing the 25 terrorists who had barricaded themselves inside. We saw the memorial on the space where the station had been.

We then went to the site of the Nova Festival, a nice park with a eucalyptus forest. There were 3,000 attendees who had partied late and slept on the grounds. Hamas murdered 350 people. 350 trees have been planted in their memory (bamboo stakes in the above photo). We saw many civilians and people in army uniforms coming to pay their respects. Here we chose to say prayers for all of the individuals we had learned about. May their memory be for a blessing.

It has been a gut-wrenching day. We spoke with two more people before heading back to the hotel. One of them leads a Jewish/Bedouin service group that has worked to maintain civil dialog between the Bedouin and Jewish citizens in the area. The other was a rabbi in Ofakim who told the story of the death of some of his students. You will enjoy this story of an unlikely heroine.

There is still fighting going on in Gaza. In both kibbutzim and at the site of the Nova Festival we heard gun and mortar fire. This made things all too real.

We had the impression yesterday that everyone we spoke with was “left” leaning. That wasn’t the case today. As might be expected, people much closer to the events were not so hopeful. However, they all spoke to their values, and did not descend into politics.

Tomorrow we head up to Jerusalem.

Jump back to the top list of all the stories.


Diane Fisher: If We Speak Sbout It, It Will Be Manifest

Picture a beautiful sunset and the promenade on the beach in Tel Aviv, with a group of 19 travelers singing Eli, Eli and Shecheheyanu. This is how we began a week of mitzvot and connection, of listening and engaging our Israeli mishpachah (family). The beauty and the pain, the love and the challenges will draw us closer to each other and provide us with stories we want to share back home.

There will be many different stories, but we were grounded in the possibility of hope by beginning our visit with Noa (Achinoam Nini), the international singing phenomenon and passionate peace activist. Just WOW. I have been a huge fan so just a bit awestruck.

As with every visit we are embraced with gratitude for coming at this time for solidarity rather than tourism– this heartfelt appreciation cannot be over emphasized. These are not sentimental people by nature. But they feel our solidarity deeply.

Noa comes from a Yemeni family, raised Modern Orthodox in NY, moved to Israel as a teenager. She started her singing career at 20, and it exploded. A highlight was singing for the Pope @the Vatican. She has performed in 55 countries, and particularly popular in Italy.

Noa's life changed forever in 1995, when she sang at the peace rally supporting the Oslo Accords and stood nearby as Itzhak Rabin was assassinated. For the rest of her career and even now, she has been dedicated to speaking into reality the possibility of peace. Even now as she worries about both her children serving in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force).

You cannot help feeling inspired as she stretches out her arms toward a future peace. She feels as an artist her role is to “make toxic situations less toxic”, but she implored each of us to generate hope in any way we can. If we speak about it, it will be manifest.

Jump back to the top list of all the stories.

Mon, July 22 2024 16 Tammuz 5784