Crisis in Israel

WZO: The Jewish People Challenges Conference

This February, I was invited to attend The World Zionist Organization’s  “The Jewish People Challenges: Post October 7th Global Leadership Meeting” in Jerusalem. There were a variety of topics discussed, with the main focus on how diaspora communities are managing in the wake of the events of October 7th. I attended this meeting along with Mercaz Canada President Stan Greenspan.
I looked forward to being back in Jerusalem again. It had been about 10 months since I had last been there. I arrived in Jerusalem to find a familiar city with a different atmosphere. Stores were open and Israelis had returned to their daily lives, but without the usual tourists, who are no longer coming, things were different.  The bustling crowds were missing. There were seats available on the light rail, I had room to walk and move around on a Thursday afternoon in Machane Yehuda.

Day one of the meetings focused on antisemitism, social media and college campuses. Discussions were held on how Israelis can find resilience and move forward in the future. We heard from authors, influencers and politicians. The day was packed and moved at a brisk pace. I kept my simultaneous translator close at hand, as sessions were held in English and Hebrew and I didn’t want to miss a word! We were honoured to hear from the President of Israel, Mr. Isaac Herzog. We also were privileged to hear from Yonaton Perez, the father of Daniel Perez, who was taken hostage on October 7th.

It was inspiring to be part of a meeting like this. Hopefully we can all bring what we have learned back to our home communities and inspire others and help foster resilience in our communities.

Day 2 was scheduled to be a tour of the Gaza envelope communities and the Nova festival site. As frequently happens in Israel, especially now, plans had to change, and we were only able to tour Kibbutz Be’eri. Kibbutz Be’eri lost over 100 members on October 7th , about 10% of the population, and at least 30 were taken hostage.

We drove down Highway 232, now known as the Highway of death. It was on this road that terrorists chased concert goers from the Nova festival, ending so many innocent lives. We passed the procession of family members of Nova festival victims, who were on a march in memory of their loved ones who had died or were taken hostage.

Our tour guide for the time that we were in Be’eri, Nilli, was a senior woman who was in Be’eri on the day of the attack. Nilli wanted very much to show us the Kibbutz as she remembered it before October 7th and spent much of the time showing us homes that were intact and taking us to the kibbutz museum. Even here, signs of the events were everywhere. After the events of October 7th, the military, police and Zaka, the search and rescue teams that recover the remains of the deceased, searched every building on the kibbutz and marked each building after it had been checked for victims and for booby traps, with spray paint. Even buildings untouched by terrorists, by necessity of safety and a thorough search, showed signs of the devastation of the day. Here we saw people who were beginning to move back to the kibbutz and start the process of rebuilding. I cannot imagine the pain experienced every day, by these brave individuals, walking into homes, marked by signs of that terrible day.

After taking us through the relatively untouched areas of the Kibbutz, we went to the area which was the main focus of the attack. Here we saw homes that were reduced to rubble. Burnt husks, that we could see mimicked the outlines of the home that once stood in that place. At each home, the members of the kibbutz had hung a sign, telling of the person who had once lived in that home and who had died there, or who had been taken hostage. These makeshift memorials are the beginning of what will one day be a more permanent memorial that will be built to all of the victims of this painful and devastating day.

Following our tour of Kibbutz Be’eri, we drove to the town of Ofakim, which had also been invaded by terrorists on that day. There we met with 3 survivors of the attack on the Nova festival. The described in detail their harrowing experiences and how they managed to narrowly escape from the terrorists.

I am sure that it was a horrible experience to live through, and difficult to relive as these brave young people recounted their stories to us. It is important that they share these stories so that the world knows what happened that day and that we all remember and tell these stories so that we can combat the deniers and face the inevitable antisemitism that has arisen in the aftermath of the attacks.

I always say that each trip that I take to Israel is different that all the others. This trip was one of the most special and difficult trips that I have taken. I feel privileged to have gone and to have heard that stories of the people who have been most affected by the events of October 7th. I hope that I am able to find strength to help out in whatever way that I can from my community, and I hope that you join me.

Nola Lazar
Vice President Mercaz Canada

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