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Mar 5, 2024

Impressions From the Most Recent Israel Solidarity Mission

Teddy bears such as this one, posters of the hostages, yellow ribbons and other displays of grief and anguish are seen everywhere across Israel.

Thursday, March 7 marked five months since Hamas’ horrific terrorist attacks and Federation has already led six Israel solidarity missions. The most recent one took place February 26-28 with a delegation of 19 and was co-chaired by Joe Ackerman and Amanda Adler.

While each mission group itinerary included visits to sites such as the Tribe of Nova music festival, Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, Kibbutz Kfar Aza and Shaare Zedek Medical Center, just to name a few, each experienced the country to be in a different collective state of mind, given the time that has passed.

Earlier in the conflict, Israelis were feeling shock, but determined to rebuild their lives. This mission found people to be dealing with ongoing trauma and still much uncertainty about the future.

Because Israel is a small country, everyone knows someone who was either murdered, kidnapped, displaced or is serving in the military. There is much anxiety as they wait for the hostages to come home, which is a top priority.

In addition, every aspect of Israeli life is impacted  economically, politically, socially  as the war continues. “The situation is extremely complex,” said Ackerman. “It’s very hard to understand what’s happening in Israel, until you see it with your own eyes,” added Adler. “The realness, the rawness of what’s taking place … it’s not what we expected.”

The good news is that Israelis are feeling a greater sense of unity with their extended Jewish family across the country and around the world. A common sentiment while meeting with individuals and organizations is thankfulness for these visits and to receive much-needed support from Federation and our partners.

There is also a greater awareness by Israelis of the importance of world Jewry. Many Israelis expressed gratitude for the extent of support they have received, particularly from American Jews, who have collectively raised $780 million through the Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel Emergency Fund, with more than $29 million coming from Miami.

Some other impressions shared by mission participants:

  • Everyone has a story and every story needs to be heard. “It’s not just a matter of counting the kidnapped and the murdered,” said Ackerman. “Behind every casualty, behind every hostage, lies an untold story.”
  • More than 150 days since October 7, people continue to live in turmoil and are traumatized. They lost their homes, communities and livelihoods. They are fearful and feel a sense of helplessness. For example, the Mission met with residents from Kibbutz Reim, whose 130 families are living temporarily in an apartment community  a “vertical kibbutz.” They voted to stay together in the wake of October 7 and are facing new challenges as they try to decide how and where they will rebuild their lives because returning to their kibbutz is not deemed safe.
  • The families who lost loved ones at the Tribe of Nova Music Festival have bonded with one another and have created their own community of support. 
  • Previous protest groups have turned their focus from politics and judicial reform to civil aid in an effort to bring communities together.
  • Many of the mission-goers were in Israel last April for the Israel 75 Miami Mega Mission. They expressed disbelief at how they and the Nova festival participants had similarly shared joyous nights of dancing in the desert, but that their experiences ended dramatically different.
  • “It’s hard to comprehend how close the kibbutz is to the Gaza border, and it’s hard to believe the devastation, how completely destroyed and uninhabitable the kibbutz is now,” shared Adler, referring to Kfar Aza.
  • The group met with Tali Levanon, Director of the Federation-funded Israel Trauma Coalition, who said that what Israelis are experiencing cannot be termed “post-traumatic stress disorder,” but rather “ongoing trauma stress disorder,” as the situation continues to evolve every day.
  • This mission was different from so many others organized by Federation over the years. They did not go as tourists, but rather to bear witness to the effects of the atrocities committed.

As Israelis continue to experience emotional, psychological and physical challenges in the months and years ahead, Federation will be there in a wide variety of ways. In addition to the millions of dollars distributed through the Israel Emergency Fund, the Annual Greater Miami Jewish Federation/UJA Campaign is funding programs that provide vital, lifesaving support. Click here to see how the Annual Campaign is helping Israelis during this difficult time  and always.

A woman brings her grandson to Hostages Square to wave to the poster of Kfir Bibas, the youngest hostage, who turned one in captivity and whose birthday is only one day away from her own grandchild’s.

At the site of the Tribe of Nova music festival, Israelis planted trees on the holiday of Tu B’Shevat for each victim. In the background, wild red poppies grow, now symbolizing the blood spilled here.

Israelis are expressing themselves through art with widespread graffiti, like this one seen on a garage door.

Mission participants met with Israel’s First Lady, Michal Herzog, at her presidential residence, who told them, “Rape and sexual violence cannot be used as an act of war and it cannot be argued. This is not politics.”

Bracelets, handmade by students at Federation partner Lehrman Community Day School, were distributed to many evacuees and IDF soldiers, who were extremely touched by the gesture of support.

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