REPORT FROM ISRAEL - DAY ONE — November 27, 2023
I am participating this week on a mission in Israel
sponsored by the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ),
the American Reform Zionist Association (ARZA),
and ARZENU - the International Reform
Zionist representative to the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Our group is a delegation of Rabbis
and Reform Jewish leaders from around the world. Our goal in traveling during
this difficult time is to bear witness to the events happening in Israel and
Gaza, learn as much as we can about the situation, and bring a message of
solidarity from our home communities. After a long day of travel yesterday, we
began our journey today. I hope to be able to share my experiences with you
every day of the trip – but I can’t promise that I will be successful. Our itinerary is ambitious and doesn’t
provide a lot of free time. Also – jet
lag is real…but I will do my best.
Instead of working in the fields, we made two stops: One at a Beduin Village near Beer Sheva called Kfar Huna, and the other was kibbutz Dorot, in the Gaza Envelope.
(Kher Albaz - Kfar Huna)
While in Kfar Hura, we learned about the bravery of many
Bedouin who risked their lives to save young Jews at the music-festival. They
shared their loyalty to the State of Israel – despite the deep social,
educational and economic disparities that current exist. We learned that many
Bedouin were killed by Hamas rockets – especially those is so-called
“unrecognized communities” - largely due to the fact that the Government of
Israel had not provided them with proper bomb shelters and safe rooms.
We learned about the poverty and their subsequent rise in unemployment and poverty – resulting n crime and violence – that plague many Bedouin communities throughout the region. We saw first hand how AJEEC trains men and women in basic first aid and helps provide educational and recreational outlets for children in order to break these unhealthy cycles.
Kher Albaz also shared how he is working to create a “shared
society” in Israel – not a place of “co-existence.” He is a proud Israeli
citizen and wants to raise awareness of the plight of the Bedouin.
Kibbutz Dorot is located only 3 kilometers from several
communities that were attacked in the Hamas pogrom on October 7th. Most of the kibbutz lies empty today. Most of the able-bodied men under the age of
40 are serving in the IDF. All of the mothers and children have been evacuated
and are staying in hotels and guest houses around the country (more on this
later). We were able to speak to two members of the kibbutz – Yael and Sharon
as well as Rabbi Yael Vurgan – the Reform Spiritual leader of the Shaar
HaNegev Regional council, which includes
kibbutz Dorot and several of the communities decimated by the brutal Hamas
They all painted a very bleak picture of life post October 7th. Rabbi Vurgan spoke of how she has been officiating at funerals, visiting families whose loved ones were murdered, injured or kidnapped. The overall feeling they described was of loneliness and betrayal. Sharon and Yael were involved with a remarkable program called “Road to Recovery” – founded by a visionary activist, Vivian Singer. They would drive Palestinian patients from Gaza to and from hospitals in Israel so that they could receive medical attention. As some of you may have heard, Vivian Singer was murdered by Hamas on October 7th.
The despair in their voices and faces was palpable. They felt betrayed by the
Palestinians to whom they had reached out and with whom they thought they had
partners for peace in the future. They also felt betrayed by the Army and the
Israeli Government whose failures to prevent this horrific attack, and whose
delay in responding was catastrophic.
They also felt abandoned by international political Left with whom they thought they had partners in working to create a better world. The pro-Hamas, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic chants and actions that fill the internet and the airways have helped to increase their sense of isolation.
The kibbutz itself had an eery character to it. It was deadly silent. Toys lay abandoned on well groomed lawns. The only sounds we heard were the roar of Jets taking off from a nearby airbase. There were no tractors, cars or factory noises – as one would normally hear on a kibbutz. There were no children – only elders who did not want to leave their homes.
The best way to describe the feeling of our visit can be
described as visiting a house of mourning. The fatigue and grief on all of
their faces was palpable. They appreciated our visit, our messages of support
and our hugs, but it was clear that the trauma that impacts their lives will
remain part of their souls for the rest of their lives.
There is a lot more that I could write – but it is getting
late and we have a full day tomorrow.
As I sit in my room, all of Israel is anxiously awaiting news of the next group of hostages to be freed. We also have heard news that the pause in fighting will be extended a few more days. While we give thanks for the glimpses of hope and freedom that these hostage exchanges represent – we still are fervently praying for those who are still in captivity.
With prayers for peace, I am, L’Shalom
Rabbi Joseph R. Black