“It’s been hard and emotional, but at the same time it’s been uplifting,” Jonny Pillemer told The AJN from Jerusalem.
Pillemer has joined Rabbi Levi Wolff and other members of Central Synagogue on a solidarity mission to Israel, where they have visited injured soldiers, families of hostages and have made an emotional trip to Kibbutz Be’eri.
A delegation of UIA and ZFA leadership are also in Israel. They plan to visit the south and meet with victims of terror, regional councils and politicians, visit the main volunteer hub and other activities.
ZFA president Jeremy Leibler arrived late last week to deliver a message of solidarity to the people of Israel.
While paying tribute to soldiers who have been killed, Pillemer said the group found a soldier sobbing at the grave of another soldier, his closest friend.
“He had come straight from Gaza because he missed the funeral and the mother of the soldier who had passed away was also there,” Pillemer said.
“He told us the story of how his friend protected his village and killed terrorists, enabling kids to get out and families to live. Even through the grief, his mother had a smile knowing we were all hearing the story of her hero son. Everyone was crying.”
Pillemer also described meeting injured soldiers in hospital, some who had lost their legs, and one soldier who had tragically lost his twin brother.
“Being there gives us a chance to tell them we are here for them, and how much we appreciate that they’re protecting the State of Israel and Jews all around the world,” Pillemer said.
Israeli football player Tomer Hemed and his wife Shunit have also accompanied their group, while last Shabbat a number of Australian lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF were granted leave to join them for a moving dinner.
“If you have the means to come out and support in person, don’t underestimate the strength people get from you being here on the ground,” Pillemer said.
“The message from everyone on the ground is that over time people won’t forget October 7, but Israelis are now going through a huge rebuilding process.”