Bearing Witness - Day 2 - Rabbi Jason Nevarez

Written by Rabbi Jason Nevarez on November 28, 2023

Yesterday was a tough day - to see the destruction and devastation, first-hand, has felt surreal and painful and numbing. Today, however, felt like a small antidote and ray of hope to all October 7th has meant for those living here in Israel. Most of today's experiences were responses to renewing hope. The brutality should not and will not define their and our humanity.

We began in Jerusalem at the Hamal (civilian operational center) - the foundation of which was built off of the democratic protest movement and its mobilization successes, with many of the same players in leadership. The Hamal is a grassroots effort to address the critical needs of displaced families and soldiers. Their main objective is to provide food, supplies and clothing for the thousands who have been displaced. We volunteered in their storage facility, helping to provide dignified clothing for those in need.

We met dynamic, young leaders, some of whom gave up their part or full-times jobs to volunteer and support the greater Israeli community. In their first few weeks of operation, there were 4-5k volunteers. Today, they still have 500 volunteers on a daily basis.

Some of their efforts: finding displaced people/families hotels, paid for by Americans to helping family members who were murdered to organize shiva. The human needs and response with compassion is beyond measure.

As part of this effort, we also heard from members of the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) community who have stepped up to lead in order for their respective communities to be part of greater Israeli society. Post October 7th, members of the Haredi community want to be involved in activism. Some of their efforts: organizing drives for soldier transport, meals, and shiva services for avelim (mourners) and setting up the shloshim project to let the families know that people still care a month after loved ones were lost.

One of the more challenging parts of the day for the group was meeting with members of Zaka, who go in to recover the bodies after a terror incident or natural disaster. They arrived within hours after the massacre, fulfilling the Jewish law of providing utmost respect and respect for the body. What they witnessed was recalled, in great detail - the horrors unleashed upon those men, women and children in the region. One can only help but feel humbled by their heroic work.

Later this afternoon, we had the opportunity to visit Shaarei Tzedek hospital, the largest 1,000 bed hospital in Jerusalem. 5 hospitals in Israel have received wounded hostages and soldiers from Gaza. We met with the head of the hospital, the hospital ‘s Rabbi, and itinerary IDF liaison. The hospital grounds their decision-making in the moral and halachic (Jewish law) understandings and interpretation, grappling with everything from IVF to treating terrorists who are injured. Currently, they are navigating the influx of the population that have been displaced from the north and south and now are temporarily living in and around Jerusalem - maintaining critical care services from children in need of dialysis to cancer care, and well as the influx of babies being born due to the stress of the mother in the current climate.

What came to mind for me is the stark contrast to how hospitals operate in Israel and Gaza. In Israel, the hospital's most important essential services are kept in their underground floors, in the event there should be an attack, patients can be transferred with ease. In Gaza hospitals, their undergrounds are used to hide weapons, keep terrorists safe, and abduct and hide hostages.

Our evening continued with a wonderful visit with Isaac Herzog, the President of Israel at his residence. He shared his great pain of a nation at war, yet still inspired us with messages of hope and possibility.

We concluded the evening with a wonderful dinner and guests from JFNA, sharing about the incredible rabbinic and spiritual support services they have been working on, and two area rabbis (one our dear friend Rabbi Yael Vurgan, who serves the Sha'ar HaNegev community. Their stories of rabbinic support and what they have been navigating since October 7th is nothing short of inspiring.

Tomorrow, we head north to meet with more Sha'ar HaNegev families and serve meals to soldiers.

Each day we are here, more hostages are released, and we eagerly anticipate more tomorrow....


Add Comment