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Feb 13, 2024

Federation’s Fifth Solidarity Mission to Israel Finds Resolve and Gratitude

Visiting an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Unit

Last week, 21 Miamians joined the Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s fifth Solidary Mission to Israel and found the previously polarized nation now passionately united in two common goals: to win the ongoing war with Hamas and bring the hostages home. “[The Israelis] are unyielding in their desire for a clear and decisive victory,” said Jordy Levy, one of three Mission Co-Chairs. “I’ve never seen a country more unified in their position,” he remarked, recalling how, on a VIP tour of Federation Israel Emergency Fund (IEF) recipient Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, “Every single injured soldier wanted to get well so they could go back and fight – the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers are amazing!”

Hearing from injured soldiers at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center

Fellow Mission Co-Chairs Jon Diamond and Gil Bonwitt concurred. Diamond noticed that while Israelis “feel more vulnerable than at any time since 1948, you would never know it seeing the fighting forces of the IDF.” Bonwitt took a similar note. “The soldiers felt they were part of centuries of Jewish fighters who protected our nation,” he shared. “It brought tears to my eyes. Hearing the story of Rami Davidian, the farmer who saved over 700 kids from the Nova Festival, reminded me that one individual with courage can change the world.”

Meeting with a hero of the Nova Music Festival massacre, Rami Davidian, far right

The group lunched with the soldiers of IDF Unit 669, close to the front line, where Diamond found, “They were all so resolute in their mission of fighting for the State. It was clear to us they understood it was for their country’s survival.” Mission participants even witnessed a bit of action themselves. Recounted Diamond, “I will never forget standing arm-in-arm with the soldiers of Unit 669 singing Hatikvah with artillery fire blasting over our heads toward Gaza.”

Lunch and camaraderie with IDF Unit 669

The Mission’s three days were packed with a diverse array of experiences glimpsing wartime Israel. Highlights included meetings with other IEF recipients such as Brothers for Life, which rehabilitates injured IDF combat veterans; and Brothers and Sisters for Israel, a volunteer organization helping civilians and soldiers; an exclusive look at a unit for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), gaining notoriety for their use in IDF offensives; and discussions with other officials at the Ministry of Defense Headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Making friends at Brothers for Life

At the IDF’s canine unit Oketz, which operates in the field of counter-terrorism and search and rescue, participants learned how these specially trained dogs are playing an essential role in the war against Hamas. “The canine unit was extraordinary,” relayed Levy. “These dogs have been saviors in the tunnels. They send them in with GoPros (video cameras) to tell the military what’s going on so they can advance.”

At Oketz, an IDF soldier and his canine counterpart

The men also toured the site of the Nova Music Festival massacre and two kibbutzim, Kfar Aza and Be'eri, which were destroyed in the October 7 terrorist attack. “What stood out was the complete devastation,” said Levy. “Seeing it firsthand was startling and remarkable.” Diamond was convinced many of the residents would not return to their homes under any circumstances and some labeled themselves and their children as “broken.” But on this Mission, which was Diamond’s second visit to Israel post-October 7, he noticed a marked shift in morale and a new determination among Israelis in general. “The dominant feeling had changed from fear and shock to anger and resolve.”

Paying respect at the site of the Nova Music Festival massacre
Bearing witness at Kibbutz Be’eri
Breathless at Kibbutz Kfar Aza

The overall impressions of the Mission participants were profound. “We bore witness to the horrors of October 7 and saw firsthand the powerful impact we have as a Federation in helping Israelis recover as they move forward,” said Federation Chief Development Officer Jeff Levin, who led the Mission. “We learned, yet again, that we remain one people with one heart.”

“I believe each person who attended feels more anchored in Miami now,” noted Diamond. “It felt strange,” Bonwitt shared. “The last time I was there was for Israel’s 75th anniversary and there was so much pride and joy.” But despite a prevalent sadness and worry about the future of the country, he left gratified that, “They really appreciated us coming to visit and show our support.” Cited Levy, “The Israelis were effusive in their appreciation. We heard this a lot, ‘Without the United States and the American Jews, we’re not sure where we’d be today.’ I encourage every Jew in America to go to Israel and show your support because it means a lot to them.”

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