‘We cannot thank you enough for coming here’

Rabbi Eli Schlanger says he came back from a quick trip to Israel with one mission.

Rabbi Eli Schlanger (right) with an IDF soldier. Photo: Supplied
Rabbi Eli Schlanger (right) with an IDF soldier. Photo: Supplied

Chabad of Bondi’s Rabbi Eli Schlanger says he came back from a quick trip to Israel with one mission.

“And that is to tell the Jewish people of Australia, ‘thank you’ on their behalf.

“Thank you for the strength, the courage and everything that you’re doing here in Australia to support us. With you we don’t feel alone. With you we feel that we’re part of something much larger, we’re part of Am Israel,” he paraphrased.

Rabbi Schlanger was part of a delegation of Chabad rabbis, mostly from North America, who travelled to Israel last week to show solidarity. The group visited injured Israelis in hospitals, spoke with families of hostages who are being held in Gaza and paid their respects to surviving members of Kfar Aza, who are staying at a hotel in Kibbutz Shefayim.

“We literally went into a war zone. We had sirens and we had to duck for cover and we had Iron Dome on top of us. Even when I got to Ben Gurion Airport at the end, there was a missile coming towards the airport,” he said.

He described the sense of unity in Israel in the wake of October 7.

“It’s just one nation. You feel it from the moment you arrive,” he said.

He told of visiting soldiers at a base near the Gaza border where the troops were “literally ready for that call to go in”.

“We made a massive barbecue for them and pounding music. We just shvitzed the entire night dancing with them, hugging them, and they were so grateful that we came all the way from overseas to be able to give them that strength,” he said.

“They all said together, ‘We cannot thank you enough for coming here.'”

At the hostage coordination centre in Tel Aviv, Rabbi Schlanger said, “They welcomed us in and spoke to us as if we are their voice in the Diaspora.

“They were begging us, ‘Please go back and talk to your politicians. Tell them to do whatever they can to free our kids and to free our parents.’

“But having said that, there was no crying,” he said. “It was strong. These people are incredible.”

He said the Kfar Aza survivors at Kibbutz Shefayim “were so embracing, it was just amazing”.

He told of one survivor whose mother had been his father’s carer for five years while he had dementia, only to then be murdered by Hamas terrorists three months after his death.

“The son got up and he just said, ‘You know, we’re just devastated. And when you guys, 28 of you, just walked in with the sole purpose of giving us a hug … I struggle with faith in God, but it’s given me faith in Israel and the Jewish people,'” Rabbi Schlanger recounted.

“‘And I want you to go back to your community, and I want you to tell them that Am Yisrael is strong. And we appreciate everything that you’re doing for us and for the captives.'”

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