Stepping off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport, I immediately sensed a profound difference, foreshadowing one of the most challenging days I've ever spent in Israel. Our Richmond group of five joined forces with 13 others from our Partnership2Gether southeast communities. Our destination was Kibbutz Be'eri, the site where Hamas terrorists brutally killed over 120 people and took many more hostage. Pictures fail to convey the gravity of the situation; the deliberate and strategic targeting of innocent children, families, and the elderly was unmistakable. The planned horror of burning homes to extract those inside, only to execute them, left a lasting impact.
Lotad, a kibbutz resident who lost his mother and father-in-law, and numerous friends that day, shared his heartbreaking story with a plea: be our ambassador, share these stories, and ensure the world knows the truth. After walking through countless burned-out homes, with pots still on kitchen stoves and toys amidst the rubble, he concluded the message in a uniquely Jewish and Israeli manner. Lotad spoke of rebuilding, the challenges ahead, and the significance of education and community. "We will need your help, but we will rebuild."
We then visited the site of the Nova music festival, where over 400 lives were lost, and many hostages were taken. An impromptu memorial displayed pictures of those in happier times. The names and ages, mostly in their early twenties, serve as a poignant reminder of a generation forever changed. "It is okay to be angry"; it is impossible not to be.
The day concluded with our participation in an event involving over 1,000 Golani Brigade soldiers completing their three-month tour in Gaza. These highly decorated and respected soldiers embraced long-lost friends, received thanks from their generals, and commemorated the 93 brothers they lost while defending our homeland. The message was clear: go home, recharge, and we will see you again soon. There is still work to be done.
Throughout this emotionally challenging day, it became evident that each of us in the Diaspora is a part of the collective "we." By contributing our resources, sharing these stories, amplifying the voices of the victims in the halls of Congress, and standing in solidarity, our support is felt. They hear us, they know we stand behind them, and we acknowledge that there is work yet to be done.
Despite the immense difficulties, hope for the future remains.