Bearing Witness- Rabbi Jason Nevarez

Written by Rabbi Jason Nevarez on November 27, 2023

We began our time together sharing by dinner with leaders/members of the Sha’ar HaNegev community. It was truly wonderful to hug our friends and share in a peaceful moment together.
We had a briefing with the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He noted that his unit has offered 8500 interviews in over 50 languages since October 7th. He spoke of the optimism in hostages that were released but cautioned that the release, especially some of the children, will surely not be the end of the story. Some of these children watched their parents being murdered and are now orphans, and the work of healing will be lifelong.
I had the privilege of sitting with Vered Libstein, the beloved wife of our Ofir (z”l), and her sister-in-law, Ayelet. Both lost their mothers, sons, and Vered lost Ofir, while he valiantly fought to defend his home and kibbutz. His family spent 30 hours in their safe room before being removed while there were still terrorists on their kibbutz.
*And something you won’t hear on the media* and now shared with me by 3 first-hand accounts: while Hamas terrorists turned these kibbutzim into a war zone, while innocent families watched their family members murdered and kidnapped with their own eyes, they would soon hear women and children from Gaza come over and loot their homes. Understand this: the terrorists brought their own family members, and children (some their own) into a war zone to steal and destroy the homes of these Israeli families. Those who were fortunate to survive listened in silence from their safe rooms as their homes were ransacked. Let that sit with you for a bit.
This morning, one hour after Netanyahu toured Elon Musk (I have some choice words for that visit), our group entered Sha’ar HaNegev. As with everyone who currently tours (we are the first mission group to tour Kfar Aza), we suited up with bulletproof vests and began our time at Kibbutz Kfar Aza.
The attached pictures illustrate a bit of the devastation that we witnessed - beyond comprehension. The smells, while lessened a bit by the rain, still permeate the bullet-hole-ridden walls and beds. The loss of life that resulted there is immeasurable.
The hand-drawn markers on the homes denote those that have been “cleared”/checked, markers by ZAKA (the Hebrew acronym for Disaster Victim Identification) mark where bodies have both been found and identified.
Among the wreckage, we heard from the commander of a search and rescue unit, who spoke candidly about the carnage he found upon first entering Kfar Aza, while also noting the numerous stories of heroism of many that are just starting to come out of October 7th.
Before leaving Kfar Aza, we fortuitously encountered a woman, whose 30-year-old daughter, Doron, is still being held hostage in Gaza. She came back to the Kibbutz to find something from the rubble of her daughter’s house in order to give to her when she is back home. She wants the world to know her story and to understand the unconscionable inhumanity that entered Israel on October 7th.
Right before leaving Kfar Aza, we stopped outside the home of our dear friend, Ofir Liebstein, the mayor of the region, and gave his life to defend his family and community.
We then headed to the Sports complex on the Sapir College Campus (we had just dedicated this center built by Jewish Federation of San Diego in May), where we had lunch with a large reserve division that serves as medical and logistics support for 1st line soldiers in Gaza. The complex now serves as a temporary home and base for 700 IDF soldiers. As the cease-fire holds, these units were on a brief respite. They spoke, courageously and proudly of their work, which requires overnight missions to deliver fuel and necessities and on-site triage in order to get the wounded back to Israel for medical treatment. The Lieutenant Commander was clear on the message he asked us to break back: “Don’t worry. Israel isn’t going anywhere!”
After many hugs and personal stories shared, we are now heading south to Mitzpe Ramon, to meet with families of Kibbutz Erez, who find the peaceful enclave their temporary residence.
A massive rainbow greeted us on our way out of Sha’ar HaNegev, reminding us of God’s covenant and hope, the beauty and potential after destruction.



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