I am writing this message sitting at Ben Gurion airport awaiting my return flight to the states following a whirlwind experience as part of a Jewish Federations of North America Solidarity Mission. The mission was divided into three thematic days:
- Exploring both the damage Hamas inflicted on the south of Israel and the resilience of the residents in the area
- Engaging with leadership of the new Israeli government
- Learning about the shared society, the rifts that were exposed during the latest fighting and some of the solutions being put in place
I cannot in a brief note describe all we experienced so I’m only going to share a few highlights from the first two days.
On the first day in Sderot, we visited with the family of Ido Avigail. A rocket fired by Hamas terrorists busted through the walls of his family’s apartment directly into the family’s safe room where Ido, age 6, was killed instantly. It was, needless to say, a very emotional and difficult visit for all of us. There were no dry eyes. Ido’s parents have a mission in life now to make sure everyone realizes how precious our lives are. Their strength deeply strengthened us. Within 24 hours after the attack, while Ido’s mother was in the first of a three day coma (she was injured when shrapnel pierced her chest), the Jewish Agency for Israel through our Federation support, delivered the family a check of $1,000 to let them know that world Jewry was standing with them through their grief and pain. The family thanked all of us and by extension – YOU. This was one of the most meaningful visits I have ever had.
That same day in Sderot, we visited with Pittsburgh’s friend, Taly Levanon of the Israel Trauma Coalition. ITC’s nonstop work since the fighting began has been dealing with the trauma impacting those in the south from the impact of thousands of rockets being fired directly at them. Imagine the impact of over 4,000 rockets fired, with explosions from the Iron Dome blasting through the skies, has on both children and adults. The ITC was with us in Pittsburgh immediately after the synagogue attack and provided us and our mental health professionals with incredible expertise to deal with a form of trauma we had never experienced. We continue to fund different initiatives of ITC including their work with those directly impacted from the tragic deaths of over 40 individuals at Meron a few months ago.
As to the new government, we, the Federation system have good allies in place in important leadership roles. Nachman Shai, the new Minister of Diaspora Affairs, served as the head of the Jewish Federations of North America office for several years. Freshly appointed President Isaac Herzog served as the Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency and has worked hand in hand in deep partnerships with Federations. Other MK’s shared their desire to not only work with diaspora Jewish communities on areas of interest in Israel but to help us as we strive to keep Jews engaged in Jewish life. Nachman shared that “American Jewry is a strategic asset to Israel” and went on to remark that part of his job in the government is to educate and convince other Members of Knesset to feel as strongly. I was especially struck by words from former Member of Knesset Michal Cotler-Wunsh. Michal said to us “the unity of the Jewish people is our Iron Dome.”
There is so much more to say but perhaps the most important thing is that it felt so great to be in Israel after such a long period of time. I realized how much I missed being here. At the beach in Tel Aviv, the Kotel and the Knesset, all I could think about is our Mega Mission in June 2022. I hope you will join us to experience all the beauty, accomplishments and complexity of this 73 year old country.