The images circulating of Israel during the war here are dark, and being so far away, it is hard to see that there is any light. But Israel, even amid such difficult circumstances, is a vibrant and bright place. I have just returned from a visit over winter break and would like to share my experience with you.
This coming Sunday, we will mark 100 days since October 7, when the war began, and the hostages were taken. I visited the hostages Square in Tel Aviv during my trip. It is fittingly located next to Tel Aviv Museum of Art and is filled with impactful art installations of its own, including the original Empty Shabbat Table. There is also a large, tented area for the hostages’ families to speak, and it seemed that there was always a speaker.
As we traveled south, the clear sky revealed a migrating flock of storks, a captivating sight that occurs annually during this season. Israel serves as a hub for birds and bird enthusiasts, making it a unique destination for observing these journeys from Europe to Africa and back. Notably, during our visit to Kfar Azza and Netivot, the Iron Dome was active, creating cloud-like formations in the sky accompanying the birds—a surreal experience that highlighted the region’s complex reality. We learned about the sophisticated situation room in the city of Netivot. This room gathers information from numerous cameras placed around the city, aiding in counterterrorism efforts and supporting civilians with various needs.
While exploring the young generation’s area in Kfar Azza, we observed the aftermath of destruction. Although we refrained from entering people’s houses to respect their privacy, we heard sounds of activity. It turns out that some members of the kibbutz had returned and were cooking for soldiers in the area, demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity. Thank you to our Israeli colleagues at Partnership2gether of JFGP for organizing my trip to the South.
Netivot, part of our Philadelphia partnership, appeared lively and resilient during an early dinner stop. The city, featuring a replica of the Eiffel Tower in a shopping center and bustling restaurants, showcased the continuation of life despite the challenges. Reflecting on the events of October 7th, Israel is now adjusting to a new reality. It is crucial for us to continue sharing these stories and bear witness to the ongoing situation.
As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day this Monday, let us be inspired by the resilience and unity witnessed in Israel. In the spirit of service, we invite you to join us for a special MLK Day of Service at the J – find more information here.
Rabbi Moriah SimonHazani