30 November 2023
Originally posted at https://www.tikvatisrael.org/israel-mission-day1/
After sleeping through most of the long plane ride, I arrived in Israel at 2:15 pm and by 3:00 we were on the bus to Tel Aviv to meet with the leaders of Achim v’Achayot L’Yisrael – Brothers and Sisters for Israel. The group started about a year ago as Achim L’Neshek – Brothers in Arms – as a group of senior IDF reservists who opposed the government’s proposed judicial reforms. They played a major role in the protest movements this year, somewhat controversial because they announced they would stop volunteering for reserve duty if the government went through with its plans. On October 7, the group immediately changed focus and began identifying and saving people who the IDF was not able to rescue. At first by instinct, and the next day by decision, the people affiliated with this group used their technological and logistical know-how to set up an organically built safety net – providing clothes, transportation, food, housing, and education to soldiers, families of hostages, refugees, and anyone who needed it. Truly inspiring to see Israel’s unique chutzpah, compassion, and courage come together in the best of ways, in the worst of circumstances.
We then drove to “Hostage Square” – a plaza between the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and Hakirya (the Israeli Pentagon) that has became the base for the families of the hostages and people who are providing support services. Walking around, there were various booths set up to provide spiritual or mental health services, food, a graffiti wall, and a place to be together. We heard the heartbreaking stories of missing loved ones from two families, one of which was written up in The Times of Israel (we are the “small group” who the article referenced). Their stories were incredibly painful to listen to and yet so important to hear. Finally, we boarded the bus for the drive up to Jerusalem, heading to our hotel for dinner, where we were briefed by a senior journalist.
Each of the speakers brought unique aspects to their stories, but I noticed several common elements:
First and foremost was their appreciation to the United States and President Biden in particular. These were not pro forma statements, but deeply emotional expressions of gratitude for all the support the US has provided.
Second, they each expressed a feeling that this will be an inflection point for the relationship between Israelis and Diaspora Jews. There is a recognition now more than ever that our fates are tied together and that we need one another to survive and thrive.
Third, and finally, each expressed concerns about how and when this will end and the uncertainty about what comes next. This has always been a complex problem and it is more clear than ever that there are no simple solutions.
And while much more could be said, it’s late and tomorrow is another packed day. I’m so grateful to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the Tikvat Israel community for giving me this opportunity.