Written by Rabbi Yael Ridberg on November 29, 2023
In 2002, Elie Wiesel z”l said at the Legacy of Holocaust Survivors conference at Yad Vashem, “Whoever listens to a witness, becomes a witness.” Today we learned the power of that sentiment.
We met with surviving members of Kibbutz Kfar Aza and Nahal Oz. Both communities have been relocated at other kibbutzim, and are navigating the challenges of being “refugees,” of feeling “homeless,” of no longer believing in safe spaces,” and in one case, a peace pursuing father who lost his compassion for Gaza when he saw the footage civilians spitting on the bodies of hostages and celebrating the slaughter. Their harrowing stories from that day left us with shattered hearts once again and without words. People who spent 20-30 hours in their safe rooms with little food and water, in some cases no electricity, makeshift bathrooms, and remarkable children and dogs who somehow knew to quiet themselves, sleep, and shut out the horrors of the day.
Each survivor expressed their profound shock and upset at the delays of the army and authorities to help and save them, and at the same time, their determined and beloved relationship to home - the kibbutzim as the beating heart of their families. And like the massive civilian efforts we encountered yesterday, these communities are reinventing everything about their existence - education, psycho-social needs, and living in less than ideal conditions in hotel rooms.
It is abundantly clear that American Jewish communities in general and our own San Diego community in particular, will need to pivot in the weeks and months to come to thinking strategically how resources can be provided for whatever recovery and rebuilding efforts will be necessary over the next 18-24 months, as the survivors we met today won’t be able to return to their beloved kibbutzim anytime soon.
We also visited Healing Space: Immediate Integrative Response to Healing, a remarkable, beautiful, and holistic place for survivors and family members of those murdered at the Nova Festival. Through music, spiritual practices, 1:1 therapy, massage, sound therapy, nature, and anything people need, the organizers have served some 2500 survivors since 10.7.
In the evening we visited the Ramat David Air Force Base, providing and serving dinner to the entire squadron of soldiers and reservists. With as much candor as permitted, the commanders who spoke to us shared their pride in protecting Israel and their commitment to ethical guidelines in combat. It was inspiring and uplifting to see the several hundred pilots and soldiers enjoying a delicious meal, knowing how many missions that have flown and how many more there will be.
Everywhere we have been people have expressed their profound gratitude for our visit, the support of President Biden, and concern for all the challenges the American Jewish community is facing at home. We have truly now become witnesses not only to the devastation but the determination and dedication to the future, of which we must be an essential part.