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Israel Solidarity Delegation Last Report

04/10/2024 10:11:33 AM

Apr10

Rabbi Rudin

Our trip to partner community Ofakim

Resilience, Hope, Solidarity- Final Thoughts

Our group in front of the memorial mural of October 7th when fifty citizens of Ofakim lost their lives, many in the acts of defense that eventually drove the terrorists out of the city.

The shelter of anonymity of social media is a conduit to some of the darkest places of the human spirit.  The horrors that the Hamas terrorists proudly posted on Instagram on the dreadful night of October 7th were accompanied by their chilling narrative and their grisly desiderata.  We will do this again and again, they promised.  Until the Jews flock to the airports and ports and flee in terror. Such is the grim ambition of the bands of murderers whose absolute barbarity and cruelty blazed a path of blood and fire across the kibbutzim and small towns of the Negev.  An ambition they share with all of the extremists who reject any recognition, any co-existence, any peace.  

 

But the reality of Israel blows these dark fantasies away like smoke.  Israel is neither fragile nor a transplant.   The famous statement of Golda Meir that Israel’s secret weapon is that “we have nowhere else”, as powerful as it is, doesn't give enough credit to the reality. Resilience, hope, refusal to hate and a hand open to peace and co-existence, Israel isn’t going anywhere.

 

Thriving cities, blooming communities, innovation, culture and maybe most inspiringly, people who are profoundly connected to each other and to their land. 

 

Yonina, the American/Israeli husband-wife duo, put their feelings about Israel now into the words of the classic song, “I have no Other Country”, penned back in the days of the First Lebanon War in 1982, as missiles rained down on the Galilee.  Give it a listen- it’s their finest work I think.  

I have no other land

By Yonina

Ofakim in 1972… Lots of possibilities…

Ofakim nowadays… a dynamic city of 35K plus just an hour's commute from Tel Aviv!

 

That is what we found in our last stop in the town of Ofakim.  Once called “development towns” cities like Ofakim were considered the hinterlands and populated by Jews from Morocco, Iraq, Algeria and other countries in the levant.  People who were perhaps not well understood or appreciated by the Ashkenazi Jews who had come earlier by a few decades and set up the institutions and infrastructure of what was known as HaMedina She’b’derech- the State on the Way, as pre-1948 Israel was called by those living in the Yishuv, the renewed Jewish settlement. 

 

But the immigrants who arrived in the Negev were filled with energy, dreams, visions, a deep spirituality, a deep love of their restored homeland, roots in the region- many of them are fluent in Arabic as well as Hebrew- and in their heritage that modernity had sometimes stripped away from we Jews who came from Europe. 

 

Our security guard, Yitzchak, told me late one night that the periphery had become mainstream.  Ofakim and the other former development towns have become centers of high tech, cuisine, education- great places to visit and especially great places to live and raise families.   And not for nothing, MetroWest Greater Jewish Federation has partnered with Ofakim since 1996.  And since then, and especially now, folks from MetroWest have been arriving steadily to visit, volunteer and spend time.  The two communities grow closer every day.

 

The visit to the Amirim School in Ofakim is a case in point.  We met children who share interests, passions, perspectives, knowledge and youth culture with our own seventh graders.  We saw a community that despite the fascinating differences, was at the same time so familiar to us as Jews and as Americans- an excitement, a youthfulness, a sense of possibility, of dreams ready to take root. 

So what did we do during our visit to the school?  Well, we held a little party- it was the week of Purim after all.  We brought Mishloach Manot baskets from the Adath Shalom seventh graders, handed out cards and letters and spoke with a group of fifteen or so charming, curious and open-hearted middle schoolers and their talented and creative teacher, Danit Shmuelis.

 

There are great challenges that the world Jewish community faces.  Challenges that, despite our long history, our people has never faced before.  Israel truly was a different country than the last time I visited a year ago. 

 

But we are all in this together.  When we visited Rabbi Rafi as he sat Shiva, an older gentleman approached me and shook my hand.  “Tell the Jews back in your Kehilla that they are in our hearts always,” he said, his voice overflowing with emotion.  “That they live here with us just as they live in New Jersey.  I want them to know that.”   Rafi told me later that the man was his elementary school teacher. 

 

Not me, but others in our group asked Israelis during the course of the trip, “Do you ever think that we will live in peace with the Gazans?  Do you see them every being allowed back into Israel?”  In every case, the addressee of our question would get a wistful, hopeful look in their eye.  Sometimes they would answer in words and sometimes in just that look- but that look said it all.  To be able to go through what they had gone through and still dream of peace– to me that transcended the moment.  The heavenly Jerusalem, the Messianic vision of peace, still calls to the Jewish heart- G-d willing it is a call that all of Abraham’s children will yet hear. 

 

I cannot wait until my return to Israel-  see you there, G-d willing!

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784