A Journey of Solidarity – Part 1

I had the incredible privilege of traveling to Israel with Aish during the first few weeks of the war, accompanied by a group of over 60 volunteers from across the US. It undeniably stands as the most profound experience of my life. Since then, I have grappled with attempting to articulate my journey to those who inquire, “So, how was Israel?” Describing it proves nearly impossible as I am tasked with translating emotions into words.

The closest I can come to conveying the essence of the experience is by likening it the feeling of being newly in love. Picture feeling the perpetual sense of butterflies in the stomach and all the intense emotion that comes with that constantly, directed towards every person all the time. The streets of Israel resonate with an overwhelming and pervasive sense of love and unity. This theme echoed consistently throughout our mission. When we asked individuals what message they wished for us to convey back to America, the resounding response was simple: Unity.

In Israel, the prevailing hashtag of the conflict is “Yachad n’natzayach” – together we will win – and this sentiment is actively unfolding. The people there are united, and their message to us is clear: we, too, must come together. We need to foster unity and cultivate love for one another.

I have endeavored to share my experiences in writing, aspiring to inspire others as I have been inspired. I perceive this opportunity not merely as a personal encounter but as a responsibility to disseminate what I witnessed and learned to as many individuals as possible. We are in early talks of putting together another journey and we have ongoing campaigns to support the people and places we visited during this mission. Many of the people and units we visited still have real needs that we can help with. If you are interested in getting involved and/or joining a future Israel mission, you can reach out.

Day 1 – Arrival Amidst Clouds of Glory

Embarking on our Israel Solidarity Mission at Miami International Airport was marked by a profound sense of purpose. Carrying supplies for troops, the airport staff’s gratitude heightened our awareness of the significant undertaking ahead.

As our plane began its initial descent we were surrounded on all sides by clouds. You could actually see the clouds above and below and to the sides. It was reminiscent of the Clouds of Glory that surrounded the Jewish people in the desert. Just as those clouds protected the Jewish people, I felt this was a sign from above that Hashem was with us now as well.

As we touched down, the signs of kidnapped hostages adorned the airport, a stark reminder of the challenges faced by the people of Israel.

Whirlwind of Compassion and Resilience

Our first day unfolded as a tapestry of compassion and strength. At Pantry Packers, where we packed food supplies, a serendipitous encounter with my cousin emphasized the interconnectedness of our mission. This set the tone for the days to come — a mission not of passive observation but of active involvement.

Learning about Pantry Packers to support displaced families further underscored the immediacy of our contribution.

Pantry Packers is the food distribution arm of Tzedakah Central/Colel Chabad, the oldest continuously operating network of social services in Israel — established in 1788! Every month Pantry Packers delivers crates containing the necessary foods and household maintenance supplies to Israel’s poorest families and senior citizens. Since the war began, they have shifted focus to the families that have been displaced.

The woman who spoke with us — who had given this speech hundreds of times in the past —  began to break down and cry. After composing herself she explained that we were the first group who had come to volunteer since September. She was so moved and grateful we were there.

This was not the first time I heard these sentiments. The Israeli staff at both airports (MIA and TLV), the flight attendants and the passengers sitting next to me on the plane, all shared similar sentiments of gratitude.

This was so perfect for the first day of the trip as many of us weren’t sure we had made the right decision. The emotional response from the staff, moved to tears by our presence, affirmed the significance of our decision to be there.

A Glimpse into Heroism – Rose Lubin’s Shiva

We then went to check into our hotel and after a short time headed out to the the Lubin shiva. Rose Lubin, a 20-year-old lone soldier, from Dunwoody, Georgia, moved to Israel in 2021 to join the Israel Defense Forces.

She spoke passionately about her commitment to defending Jerusalem and finding personal meaning in protecting Jews at the Western Wall.

Rose bravely defended Jewish communities near the Gaza border during the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7.

Her commander offered her time off to recuperate, but she insisted on resuming her duties and said she was more motivated than ever to protect civilians. Rose donned her uniform, grabbed her weapon and courageously protected Jerusalem’s Old City in the Damascus Gate area. Despite the horrors she had witnessed, Rose remained resilient and dedicated, continuing to safeguard civilians.

Tragically, on Nov. 6, Rose was stabbed multiple times by a 16-year-old Arab terrorist near Herod’s Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. Rose’s remarkable character, vibrant personality and commitment to her faith were highlighted by family, friends and community members during her funeral. Her family and friends eulogized her as a true heroine of Israel, emphasizing her kindness, warmth and dedication. Rose’s legacy as a symbol of love for Israel and self-sacrifice endures in the hearts of those who knew her.

The narrative of her final moments shook us to our core. Her smile and wave in a video recorded just days before her tragic end resonated with a haunting beauty.

The funeral, attended by more than 15,000 people, most of whom never met Rose, became a poignant tribute to her indomitable spirit. Eulogies painted a vivid portrait of a multifaceted individual — a warrior, a vibrant soul, and a source of inspiration. Her family, friends and even the Governor of Georgia paid their respects, acknowledging the gravity of her sacrifice.

Rose Lubin emerged as a symbol of love for Israel and self-sacrifice. Her legacy, immortalized on the grounds of Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery, serves as a reminder of the price paid by those who stand at the forefront of defending a dream.

An Evening of Inspiration

The evening continued with a visit to Aish HaTorah opposite the Western Wall for dinner. We had the privilege of hearing from remarkable figures — Rabbi Berkovits, the dean of Aish; Rabbi Burg, CEO; and a Gen. Doron Gavish from the IDF.

Their presence, a testament to the unity between the spiritual and the protective forces in Israel, left an indelible mark on our hearts.

Gen. Gavish shed light on the objectives and harsh realities faced by Israel. Israel’s aims, he explained, are to end Hamas as a military organization, rescue hostages and secure safe borders — a daunting task given the relentless rocket attacks, with thousands fired during the conflict.

The statistics on interceptions by the Iron Dome and other defense systems painted a grim picture of the daily struggle for normalcy. To put it into perspective, during WW II, 2,500 rockets were fired at Britain. In this war 3,000 rockets are fired in just one day. Of these, 1,000 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome and a few dozen by David’s Sling. More than 1,000 fell short, inside Gaza.

Day one was a mosaic of emotions, ranging from inspiration to sorrow, laying the foundation for the days that would follow — a journey of solidarity etched with the indomitable spirit of Rose Lubin and the resilience of the people of Israel.

About the Author
Rabbi Menachem Lehrfield lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, Sarah, and their five energetic children. He serves as the Director of the Jewish Outreach Initiative (JOI), a transformative program reshaping the Jewish landscape in Denver. JOI is dedicated to providing authentic Jewish experiences and learning opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds in a meaningful and engaging way. Additionally, Rabbi Lehrfield is the Co-director of SITE (the School of Integrative Torah Education), a Hebrew school alternative where Judaism is brought to life in a fun, camp-like atmosphere. He hosts the "Zero Percent” and "Dear Rabbi”podcasts and cohosts the "reConnect" podcast, further broadening his influence and connection with a global audience. Known for his warmth and genuine love for every Jew, Rabbi Lehrfield's approachable demeanor enables him to connect with people across all age groups and backgrounds. As a dynamic and engaging educator, he employs analogies and humor to make complex, profound ideas accessible and relatable to all, from novices to experts. Rabbi Lehrfield earned his M.Ed from Loyola University in Chicago and received two rabbinic ordinations; one from Yeshivas Beis Yisroel in Jerusalem, and another from Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, the Chief Justice of the Jerusalem High Court. Beyond his professional pursuits, Rabbi Lehrfield is passionate about photography, baking, rock climbing, and snowboarding. These diverse interests allow him to engage with a broad spectrum of individuals and communities, furthering his mission to make Judaism relevant and meaningful for all Jews. You can follow Rabbi Lehrfield's activities and insights at @JOIdenver on Instagram and Facebook.
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