My Solidarity Trip to Israel: An Experience Unlike Any Others

Hello and Shalom, my name is Helen Taubman. I was practically born at the JCC, having been in the first 3 year old preschool class when the doors opened in 1989.  I am now an early childhood educator in Pozez JCC’s Early Childhood Learning Center for the past seven years. Recently, my family and I took an inspiring trip to Israel to lend our support. Although we have been to Israel many times before, this was an experience unlike any others. It is important to me to share our story.

The week-long solidarity trip was organized by the Chabad Jewish Learning Institute (JLI). We traveled with a group of 170 people from all over the US and Canada. This was the largest solidarity mission to Israel since the dark days of October 7th. We went to strengthen those in Israel in this time of war… they strengthened us even more. Israel needs our full-throated support now more than ever, economically, spiritually and emotionally, and we were proud to oblige. 

For us, this trip represented both the highs and the lows of the current wartime situation.

It was with difficulty that we: 

  • Heard from hostage families and families of those who were brutally and cruelly murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7th, as well as from heroic soldiers and first responders who helped save hundreds of lives on that horrible day and for days immediately afterwards.
  • Went to the Nova Festival site and K’far Aza to witness what remains of a modern-day pogrom that few civilized people could imagine.
  • Traveled twice to Har Herzl (Israel’s equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery) to pay tribute to recently fallen soldiers and those from past wars, and we attended the solemn funeral of Sgt. Illai Tzair, a 20-year-old soldier who lost his life in Gaza protecting Israel and its people.
  • Paid a shiva call on the widow of Yossi Herskovitz, a 44-year-old school principal and father of five who insisted on going into harm’s way in the army even though he was exempt based on his age and parental status.  He gave the ultimate sacrifice for the Jewish people, and we honor him.
  • Visited Hostage Square in Tel Aviv to see what grieving families have created as they wait and pray for their loved ones to return. More than 130 hostages are still enslaved in tunnels by Hamas, from babies to grandparents, with no word to their families or reports on their condition.
  • Visited the Shura army base, which was turned into a morgue on those dark October days, a place where volunteers performed tahara and ensured decent Jewish burials for hundreds of soldiers and civilians.
  • Visited brave wounded soldiers at the Sheba Tel Hashomer rehab hospital and gave them gifts and wishes for a complete healing.

These were often somber visits, but they renewed and strengthened my bond with the Jewish people and the land and people of Israel. Especially after we returned and Passover arrived, I was able to see the deeper meaning of so much of our liturgy and traditions, including the much quoted verse from the Hagadah “Vehi Sheamda … Not in one generation but in every generation they rise up to destroy us.”  As a result of this visit, I am more determined than ever to support and defend our collective homeland, the State of Israel.  

The trip also provided moments of joy and pride as our group:

  • Packed lunches for soldiers and wrote notes of thanks and encouragement that went into each lunch bag.
  • Celebrated in Hebron with the Jewish community and baked challahs for the soldiers who protect us.
  • Happily witnessed a bar mitzvah at the Kotel of a boy whose family had to flee the north of Israel due to Hezbollah/Iranian rocket attacks. We enjoyed a dinner celebrating his bar mitzvah in the evening, along with celebrating the bat mitzvah of a girl whose father, a police officer, was murdered on October 7 defending Sderot.
  • Visited the new Magen David Adom National Blood Bank. This high-tech building is a modern miracle of Israeli ingenuity funded in large part by American philanthropists Bernie Marcus and Sheldon Adelson.
  • Got our hands dirty picking kolrabi (a root vegetable) with Leket, an organization that runs food banks and provides meals to those in Israel who are in need.
  • Hung mezuzot at an army base two miles from Gaza, and sponsored and cooked a barbeque for hundreds of combat soldiers, complete with live music. We gave those soldiers the cards and notes that ECLC children and Pozez JCC community members had written. (Thank you to those who wrote cards, as every soldier appreciated them and smiled.)

We are so blessed to have been able to go to Israel and to do so many mitzvot, to give and receive strength and encouragement. It was wonderful to see Israelis of all stripes volunteering and working together, even in tragic times like these, to care for one another and to ensure victory over cruel adversaries. 

Am Yisrael Chai. עם ישראל חי!

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