Reflections from Day 1 - Rabbi Yael RIdberg

Written by Rabbi Yael Ridberg on November 27, 2023

The prophet Isaiah offered the Divine commandment to the Jewish people to be witnesses and in doing so, God can be God (43:12).

Today was our day to bear witness to the atrocities of October 7. Whatever news we had consumed, whatever media we had seen, very little compared to walking through Kibbutz Aza in the rain for several hours today. I entered the kibbutz carrying with me the memory of the night before listening to Vered Libstein, wife of the beloved mayor

Of Sha'ar HaNegev, Ofir z”l who was killed in one of the earliest battles with Hamas when they infiltrated the kibbutz. Vered and her sister-in-law Ayelet each lost a son, their shared mother/mother-in-law, Ofir and Ayelet’s brother. Walking through the kibbutz with them In mind was immediate and raw. 

We entered the kibbutz wearing bulletproof vests as the first mission group to do so (on the heels of the German leader, and earlier Elon Musk with Netanyahu), and proceeded towards the area where the young people post army lived.

The pictures I am sharing are only a few of the devastation that we encountered. The burned homes, bullet-ridden walls, debris from RPG damage everywhere, and the evidence of life interrupted were inexplicable, horrific, and unforgettable.

Outside each home were spray-painted messages from the IDF where the home had been cleared and/ or with stickers from ZAKA (Disaster Victim Identification) where bodies were found. I stood there imagining what it must have sounded like on that morning / the shelling, the fires, the screaming (?), the chaos and the incomprehensible absence of assistance. We could see the place in the fence where Hamas had infiltrated the kibbutz.

We had an unplanned briefing from the commander of a search and rescue unit who spoke painfully and 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, we fortuitously encountered the mother of Doron Steinbrecher (30), who is still captive in Gaza. She came Back To the kibbutz to find some things of her daughter’s to have for when (please god) she will be released. She expressed her grief that though Doron is not a child, not a mother, she is her child and wants her home. 

We then headed to the Sports complex on the Sapir College Campus where we had lunch with a large reserve division that offers medical and logistics support for front-line soldiers in Gaza. They spoke passionately and proudly of their work, the unity of the mission and the profound pride in Israel.

As we headed to Mitzpe Ramon to spend time with displaced members of Kibbutz Erez and their emergency response unit which effectively saved their community from sure devastation, we were gifted with a full

Rainbow in the sky. The sign of a world yet to be was a poignant symbol of what we would hear from the response unit - that their job on that day was to protect their community, to work for and ensure there would be beauty after the storm of October 7.

Indeed when we toured the kindergarten rooms set up for the children, a message above their artwork read: “for me on paper, the world is wonderful.”

May it soon be in person as well, and may we be Edei kiyum- in the words of the rabbis: witnesses of establishment - to gather and be present to the now and to what is to come; the act of bearing witness where our seeing brings something new into the world.



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