solidarity mission to Israel

The indomitable spirit of our people

This moment marked the beginning of a journey that would deeply etch the stories of resilience, trauma, and unyielding hope.

The delegation outside the offices of The Joint in Israel.
The delegation outside the offices of The Joint in Israel.

As I stepped off the plane into what was an eerily empty Ben Gurion airport, merely 10 minutes later, I found myself outside, a stark contrast to the bustling welcome one typically expects. This moment marked the beginning of a journey that would deeply etch the stories of resilience, trauma, and unyielding hope into my heart – a solidarity mission with Caulfield Shule and The Joint Australia to Israel.

The next very telling reminder of the deep pain felt throughout Israel is the photos of hostages posted everywhere, confronting in their silent plea. Signs of hope and determination also abound, reminding us that the only way through this is together, encapsulated by the phrase “Beyachad nenatzeach, together we will be victorious,” posted wherever we went.

I had determined before leaving Australia to listen to the stories, to engage with people willing to talk, to try and understand the reality they are facing.

My first morning revealed the harsh reality of families still displaced, our hotel serving as an “evacuee hotel”. The dining room was filled with families, backpacks hanging on chairs, parents, and children filling up their lunch boxes from the buffet. Every evening and on Shabbat, the usually very formal and elegant lobby was now the lounge room for these families. Board games, conversations; it was a beautiful yet deeply sad sight to behold.

We had a chance to talk with Shiran, a young mother evacuated from Yachini (a small moshav near Gaza), who had been living in the hotel for the past four and a half months. She described in harrowing detail her ordeal on October 7, mentioning that she first heard lots of rocket alerts but said, “This wasn’t a big deal, we have been living with this for the past 20 years.” With deep trauma and tears in her eyes, she told us she didn’t know how she could move back home.

Another superhuman was Tamar Chaimov from Eran’s Angels in Tel Aviv. An entire parking lot had been converted into a donation centre, and Tamar quickly orientated us and put us to work. It was mind-blowing to see the unity, generosity, and care that was being displayed. While there, I was tasked with packing an order submitted by an IDF unit with 80 soldiers, requesting blankets, toiletries and other supplies.

We met a beautiful human being, Moshe, who also runs a not-for-profit serving 6000 meals a month to soldiers and others in need. He described a story from a couple of days after October 7. His small village near the Gaza border eventually got rescued by the IDF. They escorted the residents, including many children, about 1km from the town towards buses which would take them to their hotels. As they neared the buses, a siren went off, but with no shelter nearby, he described the soldiers ordering the children to lie down, and the soldiers lay on top of the children to protect them if a rocket or shrapnel landed nearby. This, he said with tears in his eyes, is who we are as a people.

We were truly honoured to meet with soldiers, both those who were sadly injured and those still on the front lines. Elad, currently rehabilitating in Ichilov Hospital, shared his traumatic story of being hit by an explosive device. He couldn’t move his body for days but was recovering well. I asked if he would go back to join his unit, and without hesitation, he said, “They are my brothers, we are fighting for our people, and there is no question I will go back.”

We met Rabbi Bentzi and Rebbetzin Noa, two remarkable people who work at the Machane Shura, the IDF rabbinic base. Both described the absolute horror of October 7 and beyond, working at the IDF Chevra Kadisha. The visions they both saw are indescribable, but they both spoke about the sanctity and care for the bodies and, of course, for the families.

There were many other stories we heard and places we saw. The destruction at Kibbutz Nir Oz, Hostages Square, and the determination to bring back our captives, MDA Blood Centre, to the Natal Trauma Centre. We got to see how both Shaare Zedek and Hadassah hospitals have built entire ICU wards underground, fortresses of healing ready should things escalate. Funded by generous donors, these sanctuaries are not just medical facilities but symbols of preparation and strength.

As I walked back from the shuk before Shabbat, there was a group of people who had gathered at the corner of the sidewalk and began singing “Am Yisrael Chai”. Soon, people were joining from all sides, and I joined with tears in my eyes – a poignant reminder of the indomitable spirit of the Jewish people.

This mission was a profound journey of understanding, connection and solidarity. It has reaffirmed my belief in the power of community and the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people. As I reflect on my experiences, I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude for the lessons learned and the stories shared, which I will carry with me always, a beacon of hope and resilience in the face of adversity.

Rabbi Daniel Rabin is rabbi of Caulfield Hebrew Congregation in Melbourne.

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