In late October, we received an invitation to join a Masorti Movement Leadership Mission to Israel. The trip would be very short, leaving North America on Sunday November 5th and returning on Thursday, November 9th. We would psend two nights on El Al and just two nights in Israel. El Al was the only airline flying from western nations to Israel at the time of the mission.
Rabbi Steven Wernick of Beth Tzedec in Toronto and I were the only two Canadian residents to be invited, along with 28 other movement leaders.
We were in Israel as witnesses for the Conservative Masorti Movement. There were 29 of us on the trip, from Germany, England, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, the US and two of us from Canada.
Most of us came with our luggage allotment full of thermal socks, underwear and hand warmers at the request of the Masorti Movement in Israel.
We began by visiting the collection warehouse run by the group "brothers and Sisters for Israel, which, prior to October 7th, had been organizing the ongoing protests to the Judicial Reform. They immediately cancelled all further protests and began to collect items for the reservists called up as the war began. The sheer volume of numbers, over 130% of the expected numbers arrived to join their units, caused the IDF to run out of uniforms, bullet proof vests and other items. Collection efforts pivoted to supply all of the items of life for the 300,000 displaced Israelis who have been evacuated to the centre of the country from the Gaza envelope and from the northern border with Lebanon. The evacuees were placed in hotels, but there may not have been enough time to gather everything they needed. School supplies, winter clothing, car seats, cribs and children's games were among the incredible amount of donated items in the underground garages of the Tel Aviv Convention Centre.
We then met with the mother of Naama Levy, who is seen in the much-played video of a woman being taken out of the back of a jeep and then pushed into the back seat. She was obviously sexually abused, and was continuously physically abused in the short video as the surrounding crowd in Gaza cheered and yelled Allu Akbar. "You can't go around not seeing that footage somewhere because they kept showing it in a loop," said her mother, Ayelet Levy Shachar.
We saw the Shabbat table in Tel Aviv, set up and waiting for the 242 hostages. The posters of the hostages are available here: Please be aware that the download is 78.1 mb https://m-docs.ca/mercaz/Hostages_English.pdf
We began by going to one of the closest communities to the border, Kfar Aza, which is within a kilometre of the fence. The destruction was unbelievable and savage. We were required to wear helmets and bullet proof vests and told not to stray from the group and the soldiers guarding us. Kfar Aza is close enough to the border that we could be in danger of being shot at from Gaza.
There are still Hamas terrorists on the loose, two were captured in the area that day. There are undoubtably more to be found.
Inside Kfar Aza, the destruction was wonton. An RPG hit to a clearly marked clinic. Houses sprayed with heavy machine gun fire both inside and out. Burned homes. The looting and “party” that went on after the attack and killings. There were beer bottles strewn everywhere and unbroken, which meant that they were left after the destruction when the terrorists raided their victim's refrigerators and liquour cabinets.
While we were there a young woman and her husband came to see the family home that she grew up in. She is a surgeon, and her husband was in uniform. She showed us the house where her parents died, and the houses across the street where her cousins were killed. She pointed to one house and told us that was where the twins Ziv and Gali Berman were taken hostage.
There are 240 other hostages still in Gaza, who have not been visited by the UN, Red Cross or even UNICEF.
In Kfar Aza, 80% of those killed were tortured first. Some of the bodies were mutilated and others burned, and the living and dead were left with booby-traps in an attempt to kill the first-responders.
The terrorists were joined by looters from Gaza who came through the holes in the fence. Please watch the video below, a description of the devastation by an Israeli-Moslem who volunteers for Zaka.
It was absolute destruction. It took longer than expected to “clean” things up, as every single body had been booby trapped in attempt to kill first responders. I know many details I will not tell my family, at least not at this time. Maybe not ever.
First came the destroyers, then came the looters.
It was a true “pogrom.”
We then travelled a short distance to Ofakim, where pensioners successfully stopped 2 pick up trucks with heavy machine guns on a street like one you would find in Thornhill, Richmond, Laval, Winnipeg or Edmonton. There are still marks on the pavement where the grenades exploded, and a dark splotch on the interlocked driveway where one of the terrorists was stopped.
The people in Ofakim, retired people who had been in the army 30, 40 or 50 years ago, came together and used what they had to defeat the terrorists.
Ofakim was the furthest east that the terrorists were able to penetrate.
In Ofakim we met Robert Tiviaev, a survivor who took us to his and his brother's house, where terrorists infiltrated and attacked the family. Robert shared his personal story of coming face to face with the terrorists and how his neighbors, some of whom he never met before, saved his and his families lives that day. The group then had the honor of meeting with members of the Masorti/Conservative community of Moshav Sde Nitzan who shared their experiences of that day, and how their lives look now since they have been evacuated.
- Masorti Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel, Special Report
We visited a parking lot in Netivot, where they had brought all the cars from the Nova Festival. They were full of bullet holes and broken glass, many with the children’s car seats still inside, waiting for the babies who will never return to parents killed while at a peace festival.
It wasn’t just Jews that they killed. Bedouin communities throughout Israel are in mourning, along with the families of Thai and Filipino workers, Israeli Arabs, Druze, Christians and Jews.
While davening Mincha at the IDF Memorial at Netivot, we would hear the nearby artillery battalion firing shots into Gaza.
I was struck by the title over the memorial, L'Z Kor Olam, "remember the world."
Day 2, November 7, 2023, IDF Shura
We know to well about being victims of a genocide and it will never happen again. We will deal with this no matter how long it takes.
My friend Gadi Perl is a lawyer who is a Phd candidate in the Legal Ramifications of AI, but his reserve duty is as a major in criminal investigations. He is serving at IDF Shura, the "processing facility" (morgue) and is tasked with collecting all of the personal effects of everyone in this conflict, and reuniting them with the owners or families. He works at the IDF morgue where all of the dead are brought for preparation for burial.
All of the dead, not just Jews, but Arabs and Christians and even terrorists.
All are treated with proper respect. Gadi told me details that left me crying, but he warned me first.
The things that have happened are far worse than you will have heard.
Shura is also the location of the IDF's Torah warehouse, "the world's largest Aron Kodesh" with over 300 Torah scrolls awaiting inspection before being delivered to units in the field.
During this war, so many units who have never requested a Torah before have done so.
Day 3, November 8, 2023, Hadassah University Hospital-Mt. Scopus
On Wednesday morning, we began our day with a visit to the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. During the years from 1948 to 1967, the hospital was Israeli territory surrounded by Jordanian occupied Jerusalem.
On our way in, we passed the sign commemorating the Hadassah convoy massacre that took place on April 13, 1948, over a month prior to the end of the British Partition. Of the total 105 doctors, nurses and patients and their military escorts, 78 were killed in the ambush along with 1 British soldier. The convoy had the permission of the British to proceed, yet they did not intervene and stop the massacre.
We met with the medical director and executive director of the hospital, who began by telling us that as a result of the current war there would be a huge need for rehabilitaion. They estimated number of treatment spots required to be in the tens of thousands in the coming months and that they were ramping up their facilites to accomodate the incoming patients. We met with two women who were injured severly in the October 7th attack, and they described the rehabilitation programmes that they were taking part in.
We then moved to the newly created emergency underground hospital that Haddasa had built inside the lowest levels of the parking garage. A fully equipped hospital with 135 beds where previously there were only cars. One of the groups members remarked that while Hamas was building terror operations under their hospitals, in Israel, all the hospitals have been constructing hospitals under their hospitals.
We listened to a nurse, and mother of ten, who was at an army base on Black Shabbat, October 7th. Her husband was a rabbi on an army base in the south and was there to bring Simchat Torah to the soldiers. Instead she wound up tending to a soldier who was shot, and was tricked into thinking the other soldier who came to help was part of the IDF, but instead it was a Hamas terrorist, who shot the nurse in her back and arm. She used her head covering as a tourniquet. She shared her story with us when we visited Hadassah Hospital. We listened attentively to the woman who was on a crowded bus when a missile hit, but it was so crowded, no one could hear the sirens to warn them to go into a shelter. She had shrapnel in her leg, and was undergoing extensive physical therapy. But she was one of the lucky ones; better off than the murdered owners of the hundreds of cars we saw in a parking lot in Netivot; cars which were shot and demolished and burned. There were car seats and baby carriages in those cars, and I wondered, where are those children now? Are they orphans? Captive? Is someone saying Kaddish for them?
- Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, WLCJ Executive Director
Day 3, November 8, 2023, President Isaac and Michal Herzog
We proceeded to our scheduled visit with President Isaac herzog and his wife Michal at the president's house in Jerusalem. Mr Herzog spent nearly an hour with our delegation and spoke to us as a friend. He has extensive experience with our movement having worked at Camp Ramah while living in the US.
He has many close friends among our leadership, and thanked us for coming to Israel at this time. He spoke of the need to expand the scope of the Masorti Movement in Israel and asked for our help in overcoming the current crisis.
He spoke to many of us after the "official" part of the programme and met with the parents of "lone soldiers" who were with us, taking their names to have a mishaberach said for their safety.
While this article is not directly connected to visiting the President, Mr Herzog spoke of the unity of all of the people of Israel and it is important to recognize all citizens at this time.
Day 3, November 8, 2023, Foreign Ministry of Israel
The group then went to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs where they met with Emanuel Nachshon, Chief of Public Diplomacy, and Shuli Davidovich, Head of Diaspora and Religions Division. They spoke about the behind-the-scenes process of working to free the hostages and the work with their families.
Ambassador Nachshon explained to the group that the government now realizes that there is a significant role for Jews in thr Diaspora, and that will require the State of Israel to rethink it's relationship with all streams of Judaism, including funding for Masorti kehilot in Israel. He made several promises to advance the role of our movement and told us we could "write it down."
Day 3, November 8, 2023, WZO Headquarters
At our final stop on the the Mission at the World Zionist Organization headquarters, who were essential partners in organizing this Mission, we met with Leah Solomon, Chief Education Officer at Encounter, a nonpartisan educational organization; and with Amira Ahronoviz, Director General and CEO at the Jewish Agency for Israel. With Leah they talked about the challenging and complicated topic of coexistence today and the 'day after' the war, and how we can approach the sensitive subject; and Amira spoke about the response and relief provided by the Jewish Agency for the Jewish people around the world during this time.
During the meeting, MERCAZ-Canada and Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism presented a bank draft in the amount of $24736.30 made out to Netzach Israel, a synagogue damaged by Hamas rocket fire, to Rakefet Ginsberg and Rabbi Mikkie Goldstein. We were quickly followed by Rabbi David Englander, Senior rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Voorhees, NJ, who presented two cheques, one for $10,000 and a matching grant, also for $10,000. All of this took place in the hoistoric office of David Ben Gurion.
Day 3, November 8, 2023, Ben Gurion Airtport departure
As we were waiting for our flights, we joined in a small siyum as we participated in MERCAZ-Canada's weekly Talmud Study. Rabbi David Golinkin, an old friend of Beth David in Toronto happened to join us in the study and the ma'ariv that followed. We were also joined by random Israelis on their way to travel, who seemed very happy to discover a Masorti minyan in the airport.
Our cards, letters and gifts get to the troops
I hope you and your loved ones are all safe.
It was heartwarming to meet you all in Israel.
Some of you left me envelopes with letters from the school kids from your countries.
I passed the letters on to a regiment up north, comprised of reserve soldiers, some with kids of their own. They were moved from your letters and took these pictures to say Thank you.