I returned yesterday from a frenetic four days in Israel. Half a day was spent in dialogue with Israeli political leaders together with the Conference of Presidents. I spent most of the rest of the time visiting and listening to Israelis. The word that best describes Israel at this fraught moment is “intense.” The pain and trauma of evacuees and families of hostages is devastating and intense. The chesed being performed for friends, neighbors and strangers across the entire political, cultural and religious spectrums is almost surreal in its thoughtfulness, professionalism and dedication. The hakarat hatov of the recipients of chesed is inspiring. The anxiety of regular Israelis, whose lives have been turned upside down by the absence of relatives called to military duty, school closures and constant races into bomb shelters, is palpable. And the resolve of people is firm, united and… intense.
I attended the funeral of Omer Balva Hy”d, an American-Israeli soldier (and OU-JLIC alum) killed in the north on Friday. Hundreds were at the funeral. Most were strangers, strangers who have become family. I visited the family of Moriah Suisa Hy”d, whose father told me with pride that his daughter never spoke lashon hara. He was overwhelmed by the number of Americans and other foreigners who had come to the shiva for nichum aveilim. I spoke with dati and chiloni evacuees from Sderot, Netivot, Netiv Ha’asara and other southern communities, whose stories of loss, survival and escape were harrowing. I sat with my friend Doron Perez, whose son Daniel (Daniel Shimon ben Sharon) is a tank commander who has not been heard from since Simchat Torah. Doron and Shelly’s faith and bitachon are otherworldly, as are their pain and fear. Finally, I spent several hours in Tel Aviv with Rabbi Joe Wolfson of OU-JLIC, who overnight organized a team of over 600 volunteers that is responding to – and anticipating – the needs of soldiers and their families, evacuees, mourners and countless others. The chesed is spectacular, and the care with which it is performed is… wow.
One takeaway is that people desperately want to share their stories and to be heard. They greatly appreciate phone calls, texts, WhatsApps, emails, and check-ins. Their spirits are raised to know that people are thinking about them and praying for them. This applies to olim, and possibly even more to native Israelis who are not as accustomed to hearing from Jews from abroad. Friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances are strengthened by our expressions of concern, support and solidarity.
May Hashem quickly return all the hostages to their families in good health, may He support those on the front lines and on the home front through this terrible period, and may He bring us victory and everlasting peace.