Jun 15, 2021
South Florida Rabbis Travel to Israel for a Unity Mission
“When Israel is in trouble, we must show up, especially as Jewish leaders in our community.” With that in mind, Rabbi Jeremy Barras of Temple Beth Am organized the South Florida Rabbinical Solidarity Mission to Israel. Working closely with Rabbi Frederick Klein, Director of Federation’s Mishkan Miami and Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, they planned a four-day mission to Israel that took place this week. Bringing together 16 rabbis — 11 from Miami-Dade County and another five from the Tri-County area, the visit was a short but meaningful demonstration of support. “As a Zionist community, it’s critical that South Florida sets the example and shows up to let Israelis know they are not alone,” added Rabbi Barras.
The group spent a large portion of their time in Israel visiting individuals and families that were personally affected by last month's rocket attacks such as Adi, a father of four sons, whose Ashkelon home was hit by a rocket just 10 seconds after they closed the door to the safe room. Thanks to the assistance Adi received from the Fund for Victims of Terror, distributed by our overseas partner The Jewish Agency for Israel, he has already begun to rebuild his home.
In Ashkelon, 78 missiles made direct hits. Due to the proximity to Gaza, residents only have 30 seconds to run to a bomb shelter. There, the rabbis visited an Iron Dome battery and met with Talia Levanon, Director of the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC), a Federation partner, at the Ashkelon Resiliency Center. Experts in the field, ITC provides on-the-ground rescue and recovery services in Israel and around the world. Last month in Ashkelon, the rockets were flying so frequently that people were afraid to leave their homes to come to the center, so the ITC sent social workers to them. “Meeting people at the trauma center and hearing their stories was extremely powerful,” said Rabbi Barras. “There is a lot of trauma and fear. Understandably, they are very unsettled having lived through that.”
Mission participants also visited Kibbutz Kfar Aza, a community of nearly 1,000 people only one mile from the Gaza border. Chen Kotler Abrahams, a kibbutz resident, displayed the various rockets and incendiary balloons that have landed there over the years. Living so close to the border, the kibbutznikim are under constant attack and have only 10 seconds to reach the safety of a bomb shelter. Despite near constant trauma and terror, Abrahams believes in the power of resilience and is focused on the beauty surrounding her.
One day was dedicated to meeting various communities in Lod, a mixed Arab-Israeli city where widespread riots, looting and destruction occurred during Operation Guardian of the Walls including arson attacks on synagogues, private residences and cars. Open dialogue with both Jewish and Arab Israelis allowed the group to gain a deeper understanding of the complex geo-political issues in the region. While the day created more questions than answers, it underscored the importance of listening to different voices to build bridges of understanding and communal hope.
Other highlights of the mission included an audience with the President Elect of Israel, Isaac (Bougie) Herzog; a conversation with Yaakov Katz, the Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Post; discussions with leaders from the Shalom Hartman Institute and Shalva — The Israel Association for Care and Inclusion of Persons With Disabilities.
“When the violence ended, I knew there would be a lot of scars, but I also knew coming to Israel was the right thing to do,” said Rabbi Barras. “For many, we were their first visitors — due to the pandemic and then the rocket attacks — and everyone was very touched by the time we spent together. It made a big difference in them not feeling alone.”
To learn more about Federation's work in Israel, please contact Dahlia Bendavid.