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Dec 19, 2023

Federation’s Third Solidarity Mission to Israel: Pain and Promise

Viewing the massive destruction at Kibbutz Be'eri

“If we learned anything from our few days in Israel, it is that the Israelis will prevail. They have the heart, the spirit, the resilience and the capability,” said Federation's Women’s Philanthropy Chair Elise Udelson, who led the Greater Miami Jewish Federation Solidarity Mission to Israel earlier this month. It was the second such mission to Israel by Federation leadership in the span of a few weeks. They were able to see how Federation's overseas partners, with the support of the Annual Campaign and the Israel Emergency Fund, are helping Israelis cope during this crisis and rebuild their lives. Ten participants spent three days bearing witness to the devastation, both physical and emotional, wrought by the Hamas terror attack of October 7. They also encountered the courage and the determination of the Israeli people to emerge from this war triumphant and with the soul of their nation intact.

Preparing to enter the Gaza Envelope: Miami Lions of Judah with Israeli Lion Chair Sigal Bar-On

In Otef Aza (Gaza Envelope), the group surveyed the desecrated site of the Tribe of Nova music festival massacre where an installation of photos of those murdered or abducted has been erected, a poignant tribute to the innocence destroyed there. They also met with Rami Davidian, a farmer from Moshav Patish located 10 miles from the Gaza Strip, who, unarmed and “fearless,” saved the lives of hundreds  of festival-goers.

Rami Davidian, center, who saved hundreds of people at the Tribe of Nova music festival massacre, with members of the Miami Solidarity Mission

In Kibbutz Be’eri, mission participants observed the utter destruction. “I didn’t have to see it to believe it,” remarked Tammy Woldenberg. “But what I saw, I couldn’t believe.” They heard the firsthand testimony of the bloody battle on October 7 from Lieutenant Colonel Ilan and spoke with residents of the kibbutz, including Lotan Pinyan, whose in-laws were murdered and who, along with his wife and two children, sheltered in their safe room for 30 excruciating hours. “From all over the world, Jews know how to hug each other from over the sea,” Lotan told the group, affirming, “We feel the hug.”

Kibbutz Be’eri resident Lotan Pinyan in front of the destroyed home of his in-laws, who were murdered in the October 7 attack

The mission itinerary also included a strategic debriefing at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv with Ilan Mezushan, Principal Deputy Director of the Policy and Political-Military Bureau, and Brigadier General Dr. Daniel Gold, creator of the Iron Dome and Director of Defense Research & Development, for an overview of the technological cooperation between Israel and the United States. The group had the opportunity to tour Sheba Tel HaShomer Medical Center, where participants heard from physicians who treated patients wounded in the attack and learned about preparations for receiving released hostages.

Visiting with a wounded soldier at Sheba Tel HaShomer Medical Center

The Miamians were also greeted by Gigi Levy of Achim Laneshek (Brothers in Arms), the 100-percent volunteer organization comprising IDF reservists, which changed its name after October 7 to Brothers and Sisters for Israel and refocused its efforts to become the largest aid organization in Israel. Other mission highlights were an introduction to Achim La’Chaim (Brothers for Life), founded by injured Israeli veterans to help others like them; a meeting with Tali Levanon, Director of the Israel Trauma Coalition; a special stop at an Israel Air Force base to speak with pilots who participated in air strikes on Gaza; and a Chanukah candle-lighting ceremony in Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, where Israelis gather to hold vigils for the release of the hostages in Gaza.

Meeting with Israel Air Force Captain Yonatan, who has been flying missions into Gaza

But perhaps most impactful, suggested Udelson, was hearing from survivors of the savage Hamas attack themselves. She cited the bravery exhibited by IDF soldiers, former hostages, hostage families and civilians as “nothing short of heroic,” adding, “Three people we met in Israel last week stand out in my mind and will forever remain in my heart.”

Kibbutznik Doron Admoni from Kfar Aza shared his pain and his resolve to rebuild.

Those Israelis are:

  • Doron Admoni, from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, who lost his wife and 25-year-old son on October 7. Admoni spoke about rebuilding his life and rebuilding his kibbutz, where 25 percent of the population was murdered or taken hostage. Admoni said he is “living in blackness,” yet each day he puts one foot in front of the other and stoically soldiers on.

  • Nadav, a 20-year-old lone soldier from Boca Raton whose unit helicoptered in from Jerusalem and were the first ones on the ground in Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7. When his commander ordered him to shoot, Nadav recalled, “I was so afraid that I couldn’t aim. All I could do was shoot.” To Udelson, he was “a young man in uniform fighting a grown-up war.”

  • Tali Levanon, Director of the Israel Trauma Coalition, who manages trauma care across the country. Despite being overwhelmed and impacted by the attack herself, she is devoted to easing the trauma of others, a monumental task given the breadth and severity of what survivors – and indeed all Israelis – are experiencing.

“Listening to each of these incredible individuals tell their story brought me to tears,” Udelson recounted. “I felt their raw emotion. I felt their tremendous pain. I felt immense admiration for each of them. I pray for better times for each of them, all of Israel and Jews everywhere.”

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