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A life-changing and light-spreading week

Ramona Chrapot bearing witness to the destruction in Kibbutz Be'eri.
Ramona Chrapot bearing witness to the destruction in Kibbutz Be'eri.

Before going to Israel on the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Young Leader’s Mission, many told me that I would return a changed person. They were right.

From the moment I stepped off the plane, everything felt different. I felt the heaviness in the air. When I walked down the famous ramp at Ben Gurion Airport, which usually brings me so much joy, I felt anger seeing posters of the hostages. When I picked up my suitcase, I felt frustrated that this is Israel’s reality. When I looked into the eyes of the security guard I felt the sadness in his eyes. But when I saw the Israeli flag, I felt at home.

The first stop was the Arava. There, we saw the compassion of the people, who, since 7 October, have helped their brothers and sisters who were evacuated from their homes. The Arava has opened its homes, created schools, and built additional bomb shelters.

While I was privileged to have a packed schedule, I think the most impactful experience for me was my day in the communities shattered by October 7.

At Be’eri, none of us spoke – we took it all in silently. Yet, the silence was loud. I could hear the screams of young children, the pleading of parents and their cries. The once beautiful and green kibbutz was destroyed. Houses were burnt to the ground and kindergartens were littered with bullet holes.

One building struck me. A building without a roof and only partial walls remaining. A building that even after four months, still smelt of smoke, a building that was no longer a home. Our Australian tour guide, Danny Mazjner, whose sister Galit Carbone was murdered, told me that a family of five once lived there. On 7 October, Hamas massacred the entire family. The family was left with an impossible choice. They could either stay inside this burning house or they could run outside and be murdered by the terrorists. They could either be burnt or shot.

Later, we travelled to the Nova Music Festival Massacre site in Re’im. What shocked me most was the fact that it was a massive open field. Where could they hide? How could they get away? How long could they run before being hunted down? It was an open field, with a sealed destiny.

I did my best to appreciate whatever positives I could. Re’im is filled with the smiling faces of 364 people and Be’eri is filled with Israeli flags. It gave me strength, it gave me resilience, it gave me hope. It reminded me I come from a people who do not know defeat.

Yet, we are still fighting for the return of all the hostages – their now-faded photos still plastered all around Israel. We had the opportunity to meet with Dalia Kushnir, whose two brothers-in-law Eitan and Yair, are still held hostage by Hamas terrorists. Dalia told us stories about them and their love for Hapoel Beer Sheva and the Rolling Stones. I met the cousin of Elkana Bouchbout who is also held hostage and he told me of Elkana’s love for music. We walked through Hostages Square. We spoke with the families. We understood, no matter what, Israel must do everything to bring them home now.

As well as witnessing the devastation, I had the privilege of meeting Israelis from all walks of life, including Ayesha Zaidna, a Bedouin Israeli who lost family members on 7 October and has others still in Hamas captivity. We met Eylon Levy, who has inspired us with his proud Israel advocacy and David Chester, who left his young family to join the IDF as a reservist in protecting Israel. Despite their heartbreak and fear, they stand tall and strong.

But the person who made the biggest impact on me was Keren Elian. Around a month and a half ago, Keren’s brother, Yaakov, an IDF soldier, was killed in battle. Yet, Keren’s constant smile beamed on her face. I asked how she could smile, and she said, “Hamas has taken enough from me, I won’t let them take my spirit or my smile.” I realised that is the greatest act of revenge, ensuring we lift our heads and continue to strengthen a thriving Jewish community.  Keren showed us love, compassion and empathy. To me, Keren is the embodiment of Jewish resilience.

I, and the other 16 young leaders on the delegation, have gained that spirit of resilience from Keren and the people of Israel. Now, we must spread that resilience here in Australia.

Australia was known for its kangaroos and barbeques and now it’s making headlines for its antisemitism. Jewish schools are denied the hire of play equipment because of their “Zionist blood money,” a member of parliament has said vile antisemitic slurs and hundreds chanted “Where are the Jews” and “F*ck the Jews” at the Sydney Opera House.

But despite the unprecedented levels of hate the Jewish community is experiencing, we must draw on the resilience we gained to fight against antisemitism and its perils, together and not alone.

As young leaders, we know and understand that we all have a role to play. Whether it is speaking with our peers, to our university lecturers, posting on social media or educating ourselves. For me, it is my Israel advocacy account @_didjewknow and in my role as a leader of our community at the ZFA.

It is our responsibility as current and future Jewish leaders. Whether we are torchbearers, advocates or educators, it is our responsibility to be unapologetically proud Zionist Jews. And that responsibility is a gift. We are now committed to turning that gift into an investment for our community.

About the Author
Ramona Chrapot graduated as the School Captain from Mount Scopus in 2020. After completing her studies at Scopus, she spent a year in Israel engaging in a mechina and leadership program. Currently, she is studying a Bachelor of Law and Arts at Monash University. Ramona, driven by her passion for Judaism and Zionism, established and manages the Instagram account @_didjewknow and is a part of the Zionist Federation of Australia team.
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