Reflections from Day 2 - Mitch Siegler

Written by Mitch Siegler on November 28, 2023

My Tuesday summary:

San Diego Solidarity Mission to Israel: Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023

Tuesday was an action-packed day with a wide variety of experiences throughout Jerusalem. 

We met several “Chamalim”(civilian-run war operations centers). During a time when the government’s response has been ineffectual, ordinary people have stepped in to fill many of the gaps in society. 

Two young women we met - Shira and Talia - built a WhatsApp group on October 8 that soon morphed into a bottoms-up organization with thousands of volunteers who fulfilled many important functions. We also met four young Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews who wanted to pitch in. (Haredi volunteers joining the Israeli Defense Forces and ambulance/search and rescue groups have risen 1,000% in six weeks). 

We also met four young Haredim who arranged for preparation and delivery of thousands of daily kosher meals for soldiers and search and rescue personnel. They say the Charedi community “felt the need” to contribute and their participation signals wider shifts in society. 

These groups and individuals are very motivated to contribute, adept at using technology to build teams and manage projects and incredibly nimble. Among the many things these chamalim have done are: 

  1. Sourced medical equipment
  2. Sourced military equipment (gloves, protective vests, helmets and more) for reservists needing gear
  3. Organized physicians and dentists for tens of thousands of displaced people
  4. Organized donations of rare blood types
  5. Arranged the relocation of displaced people, including finding housing/hotel rooms and transportation 
  6. Arranged for preparation and delivery of kosher meals for religious volunteers in Zaka (a search and rescue operation which focuses on the dignified recovery of bodies of those killed)
  7. Arranging basic things to give dignity to displaced people who have been away from home, friends and family for 7 weeks - like organizing laundry services and manicures for displaced people living in shelters 
  8. Charedi families bought food, prepared and delivered 12,000 meals/day; now 2,000/day, 8,000 on Shabbat.

We also heard from the former mayor of Kibbutz Mefalsim, who is a member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) and previously served as Israel’s Minister of Agriculture. 

His son was part of a small team which came together in minutes to protect the kibbutz from the October 7 terrorist attacks. They were in a massive firefight at the junction just outside the kibbutz gates where they fended off 30 terrorists trying to breach the fence - some defenders were killed, several were wounded. He says the community will rebuild (“we’ll do it because we have nowhere else to go”) - though he expects that not all families with young children will return. 

We heard from two young Haredi men who are volunteers with Zaka (the non-profit which retrieves the bodies of those killed to provide a dignified burial). These men have witnessed horrific scenes – following bombings and terrorist attacks. What they witnessed on October 7 and 8 and the days which followed was “way beyond anything they’d ever seen before”.

I will not rehash the stories they told us, but will share that these strong, young guys are still incredibly impacted, and will likely be for a long time. They reminded us that women were particularly targeted in these brutal attacks and are shocked that women’s rights organizations and human rights groups have been largely silent.

We then met the CEO of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, the seventh largest hospital in Israel. (He is married to the woman who owns the tour operator guiding us - and he’s a terrific communicator.) He shared some additional challenges the hospital is facing after October 7, including:

  1. Heightened demand for services 
  2. Soldiers and survivors of the terrorist attacks were helicoptered in daily (most helicopters had multiple patients) for weeks. 
  3. Many patients who are experiencing physical trauma also have mental trauma 
  4. Many members of the staff – doctors, nurses and medical personnel - also are military reservists, who have been activated. So, in addition to a much heightened increase in demand, the hospital faces a meaningful shortage of staff 
  5. 25% of Jerusalem’s population is Arab and the hospital has always treated all patients the same and has rules and protocols that staff must follow. There have been a few incidents of staff and family members feeling uncomfortable with Arab medical personnel or roommates. The hospital has been highly focused on maintaining staff cohesion and reinforcing its ethics and values about fair treatment for all. 
  6. The hospital has even treated a number of injured terrorists which the CEO called “treating with tears”.

That evening, we met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.  The President is widely respected at home and abroad as a bridge-builder, a peacemaker.  I have heard him speak two other times since Oct. 7; this was a much more intimate meeting. During the past seven weeks, President Herzog has also met with dozens of world leaders and dignitaries. He said many interesting things, including:

  • On the nation’s priorities, he said “mental and emotional health is a top priority. We also need to focus on strengthening ties with the Jewish diaspora.”
  • On the issue of a two-state solution, he said “nobody in his right mind believes that bullshit now.”
  • On the Abraham Accords, he said “we were very, very close with Saudi Arabia - leaders there tell us ‘there’s no turning back now’”

On many levels, it feels like Israeli society is building a new plane while flying it. It’s quite incredible to meet these extraordinary volunteers and see their amazing creativity, heartbreaking to hear many of the stories and fascinating to see Start-Up Nation, Part Two.



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