April 1, 2024: Jeremy Pearl

We all went into this day with some trepidation, but just didn’t know what to expect. Jack Maizel, Federation past Board Chair, summed it up well as we were reflecting after dinner. He admitted to expecting a slow build of anticipation followed by a wall of negative emotions as we faced meeting after meeting with people who have faced – and are facing – terrible trauma. Yet, our actual experience was one we should have expected – yes, stories that were so difficult to hear, but told by people who could tell them with strength, humanity – even occasionally humor. And we realized that the day was actually filled with moments of hope and incredible strength from the beginning to the end.

But let me start at the beginning:

Our day started with a long drive to Sha’ar HaNegev. On the way, we passed right by the Sderot train station, where many of us were greeted by crowds of happy children last May. The station is now deserted, closed for up to two years. Arriving at Kibbutz Mefalsim, Sha’ar HaNegev former Mayor and current Deputy Minister of Defense for Israel Alon Shuster, described the 3 1/2 hour brave battle to successfully defend the kibbutz. He described a fence designed to keep out robbers not terrorists.
We heard from our guide, Yona, who volunteered to bring out civilians trapped in their homes in the Gaza envelope during the first three weeks after October 7th, while terrorists were still at large and the IDF was focusing on securing the border. With no help from the IDF, they traveled in teams of two cars, with two to a car – one driver, one gunner.
We met with the mother of hostage Emily Damari, 27 years old. A softly spoken, strong woman who described her quest to speak to senior politicians around the world to get her daughter released. What she described and fears should not be put to writing.
We took a look at the Sha’ar HaNegev Operations Center, recently opened, and viewed a presentation summing up the physical and people damage while also laying out a hopeful plan to move forward.
The equivalent of our JCC houses a beautiful pool used for hydrotherapy, as well as dedicated pool space for special needs children and a gym. Damaged after October 7th and closed until very recently, the dedicated staff have made repairs and reopened a community resource. The Community Center is supported by the Federation of San Diego.
At an absorption center, we geared up to paint a shelter and construct benches and planters for recently arrived Ethiopian families. Alas, the painters were foiled by small children who thought they deserved all the fun! The site hosts what is affectionately named the San Diego House.
At the SouthUp Incubator for startup companies, I got to spend some time with CEO and IDF reservist Gil Schwartzman, along with their Board Chair and counsel. With a track record of incubating 45 companies to date, they are starting a new fund to expand to 65 companies and hope to attract US investors looking to impact employment and growth in the region. As a number of our donors have been actively engaged with SouthUp for some time, the hope if for JCF to be able to facilitate investments from DAFs, as well as potentially making a discretionary investment.
Finally, we enjoyed dinner with some of the host families from the Community Trip last May, and a couple of them shared their own stories of the terror they faced on October 7th.
Jeremy is sharing an ongoing account of his experiences throughout the trip via the JCF blog. Read more here.


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