Written by Rabbi Yael Ridberg on November 30, 2023
Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav taught: Every person must cross a very, very narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to succumb to fear. On this final day of our solidarity mission, we confronted the very real understanding of how fear has been unleashed in Israeli society but also how 10.7 was a wake up call to not be paralyzed by that fear, but channel it into what happens tomorrow.
We began this morning with a powerful lecture from Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Hartman Institute. He reflected that today - the greatest challenge to Israel’s democracy is not fascists and messianic ideologies, but rather fear. When you fear for your life as the thousands of Israelis on kibbutzim in the Gaza Envelope and at the NOVA Festival did, it becomes much harder to move forward.
And yet, as we saw time and time again, Israelis harnessed their fear into good works for the country. They have shown up in every sector doing what needs to be done. What will tomorrow look like? No one has a crystal ball, but it will be here - and when it comes, it is the quality of Israel’s survival that is at the heart of the question mark. How to prepare Israelis and how to prepare North American Jewry for the reality to come. What will it mean to live with evil if Hamas is not defeated?
Ultimately, tomorrow will not be about facts and figures. How there can be a level of empathy that reverberates even when peace seems more complicated than ever, because a profoundly changed people is now thinking about and working for it.
While the message of Donniel Hartman hung in the air, we met with Diana Buchman, a recent immigrant to Israel having escaped the war in Ukraine with her two young children, thanks to the important work of te Jewish Agency for Israel. She could never have imagined the parallel experience of waking to the sounds of bombs and seeking shelter with no guarantees in Ukraine and Israel, she is moving forward rebuilding her life with support, humor, and resilience.
We then traveled to Tel Aviv for the final leg of our journey. We met with leaders of Achim L’Neshek - Brothers and Sisters for Israel, another civilian operations center that flipped overnight from the effort to save democracy established by reservists, to a massive operation where everything was civilian driven as people just wanted to do. On 10.9 they opened their headquarters and 50,000 showed up bringing what was needed.
It was incredibly inspiring to see the commitment of the managers and organizers who see what happened as an opportunity for solidarity, renewing the wellbeing of the state, and the communal connections between Israel and world Jewry, as the bond of Jewish people is critical to the future
We spent some time walking around the kikar hahatufim - the hostage square - with installations remembering the hostages in so many different art forms, booths and some tables with family members of the hostages to share in their anguish. We walked from there to the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, where we heard from two families of hostages who are working daily for their release.
We shared a final reflection circle before dinner, each of us sharing poignant moments from this extraordinary mission and the beginnings of what our work will be in the coming months. Our bearing witness has not only been about what we have seen this week, but how everything has made us feel as thoughtful and moral lovers of Israel. We saw and felt the enormous impact of 10.7 - I saw the result of evil. I feel more committed to Israel and its future than I have felt in a long time, and I can only share that connection with anyone who is open to it.
If you can get to Israel to visit friends, volunteer, and bear witness - do it. I cannot express enough to Heidi Gantwerk and the entire Jewish Federation of San Diego Team, our Israeli staff from Giant Leaps, and all the people who shared their grief and their pain with us that we might walk this narrow bridge with them.