Reflections from President & CEO Rabbi Aaron Lerner

Israel Today: Bearing Witness

To understand the difficulties facing Israel today, you must visit the country. That’s why I participated in a recent Foundation-Jewish Federation mission to Israel so capably led by Federation Chair Orna Wolens. It was sobering and shocking, yet gave me hope for the future.

We saw ongoing pain and trauma, including meeting with a hostage family and feeling the agony they were experiencing while hoping for their loved one’s return. We visited the Nova musical festival site with a young attendee who shared her harrowing story of survival and recounted her friends’ deaths. Evacuees from the south and north shared with us how their lives have been completely upended. And wounded 18-year-old soldiers shared their pain alongside immense gratitude to be alive.

And then there was our visit to Kibbutz Kfar Aza, which is immediately adjacent to Gaza. 

The scope of devastation was overwhelming, like a pogrom, with destruction everywhere. Terrible odors lingered from all the burnt homes, many of which were pocked with bullet holes. It’s hard to imagine that if not for the bravery of the kibbutz’s security team that fought back so valiantly, the carnage would have been even worse. 

Yet, in spite of all the tragedy and trauma we witnessed, I was inspired by the determination and resilience of Israelis—and the solutions they are developing to address immense challenges.

For example, the Nova festival survivor created a nonprofit to help other survivors cope with their trauma. Participants on our mission donated on the spot. 

Leaders of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council in the Gaza “envelope” shared bold plans for rebuilding their communities and attracting more small businesses to the area. 

Teachers are implementing an innovative educational program for evacuee children to recover together and rebuild their lives and communities. Everywhere we turned, we saw ingenuity and grit, albeit mixed with sadness and shock.

Six months after that tragic day, we know it will be a difficult road ahead and take years to address the fallout.  The Foundation’s family is making a tangible difference to help, with more than $10 million of grants directed to Israel’s urgent needs since the conflict started. And we are joined by countless others across America and worldwide whose outpouring of support for our people is unparalleled in recent history.

Israelis we met repeatedly told us that our presence, support, and concern for their wellbeing meant so much to them. We shared emotional moments of kinship and love for one another at the same time as we brought financial support. Our visit epitomized “Kol Yisroel arevim zeh bazeh; All Jews are responsible for one another.” This is why I wholeheartedly encourage – even urge – you to visit Israel in the coming months. 

While the recent Iranian drone and missile attack that Israel miraculously deflected might deter some people from visiting Israel soon, there are other ways to show your support. Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel Independence Day – occurs on May 14, and it would be an ideal time to enthusiastically attend community celebrations and make a virtual connection with the country. 

In the meantime, please continue to access our online funding guide. It’s updated regularly based on in-country advice from Israel staff to help you most effectively respond to the continuously evolving situation on the ground.