Participants from around the world saw firsthand the results of the attack by the terrorist group Hamas, spoke with survivors and families of hostages, and met with top officials, including President Isaac Herzog.
From November 6-8 global Masorti/Conservative leaders gathered in Israel for the Masorti Leadership Solidarity Mission. The initiative, organized by Masorti and MERCAZ Olami together with the Masorti Movement in Israel, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, aimed to give leaders a better understanding of what happened on October 7 in the populated areas of Israel near the border of the Gaza Strip, the subsequent war against the terrorist group Hamas, and its impact on the Jewish people in Israel and the diaspora.
The 35 participants from the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Germany, UK, and Israel had the opportunity to see firsthand the chaos and destruction left behind by terrorists; talk to survivors and hear their painful stories about what happened to them, their families, and friends; hear from families of the hostages about their heartbreaking reality and help honor the stories of each of the hostages; meet with IDF representatives and learn more about the military actions carried out since the first attack; and share with elected officials some of the struggles the participants are experiencing in their communities and hear about these very challenging times facing Israel.
The Mission's main goals were to provide accurate information about the reality on the ground and the real situation of the population affected by the war; connect the Masorti/Conservative global family by providing a space for leaders to share the struggles communities around the world face regarding antisemitism and to learn ways to deal with them; and guide them on how to report back to their communities and organizations on how to support Israel and her population.
With fully scheduled days, the Mission started at the Masorti Movement in Israel’s offices with a meeting with Major General in the reserves, Yair Golan who on October 7 headed south and managed to find and rescue many of those who had fled the music festival, saving their lives.
The meeting was followed by a visit to Ahim LaNeshek (Brothers and Sisters in Arms), the heart of Israel's main civil operations room, where participants donated thousands of dollars worth of donations and supplies for soldiers; and a talk with Ayelet Hashachar, mother of Naama Levy, who was taken hostage by Hamas. After introducing her daughter and telling us about the day she was taken, Ayelet asked people to keep talking and sharing, and not to forget the brutal attacks and the hostages who are still being held captive.
They later joined a prayer and singing circle led by the Masorti Movement in Israel in the renamed “Hostage Square” in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. In an incredible moving moment, the group was accompanied by everyone present, regardless of their religious identities.
Sarah Lipsey Brokman, CEO of The Honey Foundation for Israel, shared: "I thought I understood what it felt like to be in Israel during times of war and strife. I was wrong. There is a heaviness in the atmosphere that is indescribable. Upon landing in Israel, there is a famous ramp taking you into the airport, this ramp was filled on both sides with pictures and ages of all of the 239 hostages. This was a devastating sight, but it also filled me with relief, I was finally home, with my people, in a place dedicated to my and my family's survival and ultimate thriving in this world. Together with my colleagues, I was bringing support and love to my people, and while there, I was imbued with the strongest sense of Am Yisrael Chai I have ever felt.".
The relevance of the mission also lies in the fact that leaders could interact directly with the individuals and groups most affected by the current situation: survivors, families of hostages, and evacuees from the south and north. In addition to scheduled visits, the group stayed in the same hotel as some of the evacuees in Jerusalem, which gave them the opportunity to talk and hear their stories. They shared their concerns, showed their support, and even played with the children, bonding over the mutual heartbreak.
Senior Rabbi of New North London Synagogue and Masorti Judaism UK Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg shared: "I’m deeply appreciative of the opportunity Masorti and MERCAZ gave me to feel close to the heart of my people. Listening to the families of hostages and grief-stricken parents, brought home the deep, multi-faceted trauma, but also the resilient strength of spirit of our people. We prayed as one world-wide family for the return of the hostages, for hope, safety, justice and peace".
The second day began with the group heading south to the Gaza envelope where in kibbutz Kfar Azza they met with police spokesman Dean Elsdunne, who described the massacre that occurred in the area in detail and were exposed to the barbaric destruction caused by Hamas on October 7.
In Ofakim they met Robert Tiviaev, a survivor who took them 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 Olami Board member and Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies Chair Debbi Kaner Goldich shared: "Visiting Kibbutz Kfar Azza and seeing the annihilation and hearing the stories of heroism in the city of Ofakim were difficult to hear but necessary. I bore witness to those stories and will give testimony.
For me, the spirit of the Israeli people was what I will remember most from this trip and share in my testimony. Israelis have no doubt they will win the war and destroy Hamas. That is the strong part of their personality. At the same time, they publicly mourn the deaths of those whose lives ended on October 7 and they continue to demonstrate and pray for the release of the hostages.
I met a displaced civilian family on the last day in the hotel lobby. She was a young woman who was a physician with a six week old baby, and her grandmother, who was an elderly woman from Yemenite ancestry. They had no idea how long they would continue to have to live at the hotel. They did not complain, and understood that they needed to do their part by leaving their home, so Israel could win the war. This was a display of amazing strength and country loyalty".
After bearing wittiness to the horrific incidents, chaos and destruction left behind, they held a memorial ceremony in Sdot Negev in honor and memory of the victims and hostages of the massacre and praying for the safe return of the soldiers defending the country.
Masorti AmLat President Mirko Lebl shared: "As hard as it was to hear the horrific personal stories and see the indescribable scenes, it also shocked me how deeply October 7 affected the life of each and every Israeli. I pray that sometime soon we will reach a lasting peace in our eternal homeland, and I strongly believe in our unwavering resilience as Jews".
In the late afternoon, the group visited the Shura Military Base, the main station for identifying and processing civilian and military victims and met with the IDF Rabbinate to hear about the difficult processes and cases they have to deal with. The limited stories that were shared with the group about what went on in Shura on that day are truly horrifying. Behind each heartbreaking story, there’s an incredibly heartwarming story about heroes (both civilians and soldiers) that didn’t hesitate for one second that day – and these stories must be shared. The group also had the honor of meeting and hearing personal stories and reflections from Gadi Perl, MERCAZ Olami’s Senior Representative in KKL, who is currently serving in reserves at the Shura Base.
Rabbi Gesa Ederberg of Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue in Berlin, Germany, shared: "Coming to Israel at this difficult time was especially meaningful because I could feel how much colleagues and friends appreciated us being back home.
Besides the more obvious things, like seeing the destruction and meeting family members of the hostages - what was very moving for me was meeting the young soldiers at the various sites who had seen all the atrocities, done their duty, worked to save lives and bring back the bodies of the victims in an honorable way for their burial. I can only imagine how these experiences will shape an entire future Israeli generation, and my heart goes out to them. Meeting the survivors put faces to numbers and I think this is the most important thing.
There are 1,500 people killed and 240 hostages, and each one of them, not only themselves but also their families and friends, weaves us all together in a network us in a web of pain and sorrow".
Another important aspect of the Mission was to work on the coordination of efforts as a global movement to strengthen and support communities in Israel and the diaspora. Through this Solidarity Mission, we helped provide means for congregations and organizations to remain well informed about what is happening in Israel, so that they could maintain a cycle of supportive actions: listening, sharing, speaking and reaching out to their local elected officials.
Encouraging people and guiding them on how to donate is another way the movement can help. In addition to causes that support soldiers, victims, evacuees, and families of soldiers on reserves, a good way to help is to support the Masorti Emergency War Campaign. The campaign targets areas of action for which the Masorti Movement in Israel is best positioned: spiritual and emotional support for community members and leadership; guidance, support and strengthening the resilience of young people; defense of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; and providing information to Masorti/Conservative Jews outside of Israel.
On the third and final day the group visited Hadassah Har Hatzofim Hospital. After being welcomed by Barbara Goldstein, Deputy Executive Director and former National Vice President of Hadassah, they met with Hospital Director, Dr. Tamar Elram.
There they heard about the hospital’s efforts since the start of the war and their rehabilitation center which is currently nursing many victims back to health. They also heard the heartbreaking stories from patients who had been injured in the first attacks and their stories of strength and heroism, and the group was then able to visit the underground ward that was set up within the first week of the war, should there be a need to move patients underground.
Participants then headed to the President's House, where President Isaac Herzog and the First Lady, Michal Herzog, greeted and spoke to them. The President spoke about his work and efforts in talking to other Presidents and Politicians and trying to push forward the issue of hostages and all the other things that the country is dealing with at an international level. And then he asked to hear from the participants of the Mission about the situation in their communities and what they are experiencing. The group shared their concerns, the antisemitic situations they face in each community, and their experiences welcoming Israelis, not just in congregations, but also schools that opened their doors to Israeli children.
It was like a personal conversation, especially when some participants mentioned that they have family members serving in the IDF. President Herzog stopped talking to ask about them and write down their names. He, who has always been a friend of the Masorti/Conservative movement, was thankful that the leaders came to Israel at a time like this.
The fact that the President stopped in the height of the war to meet the Masorti/Conservative delegation reinforces the notion that regardless of being in Israel or the diaspora, we are one nation. Since it doesn't matter where we are, and as all Jews are being affected by this, it's important that we learn how to get through this with each other, as one People. Our strength as a People lies on being together.
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.
After lunch, they left for the World Zionist Organization headquarters, who were essential partners in organizing this Mission, to meet 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.
The Masorti Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel reflects the אַחְדוּת (unity) vision of the global Masorti/Conservative movement: strengthening the communities by facilitating learning and sharing with one another, and supporting each other.
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We are Masorti Olami, the official International Movement of Masorti/Conservative Judaism, based in Jerusalem, Israel.