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Nir Buchler

A Piece of Paradise in the Galilee, A piece of Hell in Western Negev

A Piece of Paradise in the Galilee, A piece of Hell in Western Negev 

Hope and Despair During our Journey at the Board of Governors 

Written by Nir Buchler, Haley Trager & Gil Selinger (both National Young Leadership Cabinet’s 2023-24 Vice Chairs for Israel and Overseas)

The dissonance in Israeli life is palatable. There is nationwide grief that can be felt everywhere, but there is also a contrasting resilience and determination that is visible at every corner. “It’s 95% heaven here, and 5% hell.” Those were the introductory words of Tali Roitman as our group walked around Kibbutz Nir Oz. Tali is a Jewish Agency employee who manages the partnership between the Erez region, Northeastern New York, and Mexico. As we walked, Tali explained that her mother-in-law, Ofelia Roitman, was abducted on October 7th and held captive by Hamas for 49 days.

We joined this site visit as part of 21-member delegation from Jewish Federations of North America’s National Young Leadership Cabinet to the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Board of Governors (BOG). As Board Observers, we participated in committee meetings, encounters with top leaders, and bearing witness.

Cabinet Board Observers following a high-level briefing with Chairman of the Executive Major General (Res.) Doron Almog

Throughout the experience, from the poignant words of Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin – parents of Hirsch Goldberg-Polin who remains kidnapped in Gaza – to the stories of Jewish Agency employees mourning family members, October 7th was omnipresent.

At the site of the Nova Music Festival, the dissonance screamed out at us, as we walked through a field and beautiful wooded glade that had hosted peaceful, music-loving attendees from many different backgrounds and cultures, but was now a makeshift memorial to hundreds of slain concertgoers and hostages. Hamas’s destruction of a protective sphere of music, friends, and a celebration of life in such a beautiful place was unconscionable and made no sense.

As the meetings ended, our group headed North, to the village of Harduf. From afar, we could see Haifa and its Dan Panorama towers surrounded by green. In the valley below us there was a Bedouin village and behind us the beautiful Kibbutz.

Amidst the despair of the prior days, in Harduf we found hope. We met volunteers of the Jewish Agency for Israel: Israelis doing a gap year, all 18 years old, including 2 Israeli Arabs who never spent meaningful time with Jews before, one Israeli Jew from Mefalsim (a Kibbutz that was attacked on October 7th) a Christian Israeli of Ethiopian descent, and Israelis from the center.

Next to them, in the second row: volunteers on TEN, a Jewish Agency for Israel program bringing Jews from around the world to do Tikkun Olam, including Jews from South Africa, United Kingdom, and the United States. Some identified as straight, some gay, some have a Rabbi for a parent, some are half Jewish.

The group of Cabinet Board Observers with volunteers in Harduf on 2/28/2024

“I am afraid of what I would have become if I had stayed in the United States,” tells us one volunteer, a university student studying in Colorado in the United States taking a gap year from her studies. She tells us she may have been one of those “ceasefire now” people bashing Israel had she not come, but now she understands and appreciates the complexity of Israel. For 20 minutes in this piece of heaven, we watched Jews and Arabs, progressive Diaspora Jews and Israelis engaging, teaching, sharing and volunteering in a Bedouin village as well as Jewish Kibbutzim. We asked how they were able to emotionally deal with October 7 and its aftermath, and one participant responded that it was only once they were back in Arab and Bedouin schools teaching English and reconnecting with their young students, that they felt they could start to heal from the events of that day.

We felt their connection and joy, once again dissonant from the world outside this Kibbutz and this town, and the conflict raging in Gaza, as one of the Israeli Arab girls laughed that the Ashkenazi Jews don’t know how to use spices when cooking and one Israeli Jew responded that she should come for Shabbat to see her mother’s Sephardic cooking and teased them back for putting ketchup on everything. These young leaders are also having conversations and grappling with October 7th. Behind the humor and the anecdotes, they are engaging, understanding that this conflict is complex and are not using slogans but instead living their values.

As we departed Harduf and headed to the airport, we left a little bit more hopeful knowing that heaven exists in Israel, that the peace and harmony we all dream of for Israel is right in front of us. We just have to build it one person at time. If only we could put all of the detractors of Israel and Zionism on a sunny hillside in the Galilee with these youths, they might see the light, hope and heaven that is Israel and what Israel could be for everyone.

About the Author
Nir Buchler is the Regional Director of the Southeast of the US for the Jewish Agency for Israel. He was born and raised in Paris, moved to the United States at 19 and is a graduate of the Hornstein program at Brandeis with an MPP/MA as well as a Wexner Graduate Fellow/Davidson Scholar. Nir has previously worked for Large City Jewish Federations and works closely with Jewish Federations on their Israel impact strategy.