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Geoff Winston

Coming Home: From Destruction to Redemption

Two weeks ago, while guiding a solidarity mission comprised of members of the Stephen Wise Temple of Los Angeles, I received a phone call from an officer of the Home Front Command in the Western Negev. He told me about the plans for Moshav Shokeda – located six kilometers (four miles) from the Gaza border – to return home after being evacuated four months ago.

Although we thought we would be working in abandoned agricultural fields, being that our solidarity missions are meant to support Israel and Israelis in any way possible, we jumped at the opportunity to help with replanting this community.

Thanks to Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback who led the trip, we were able to find and purchase dozens of Israeli flags and poles which we would use to decorate the entrance to the village.

We travelled from Tel Aviv in the morning, arriving at Shokeda.  There we met with some of the village leaders to learn about the village, the residents, the aftermath of October 7th, and our mission.

We were told that about 100 of the 120 families were evacuated on October 7th to a couple of hotels in order to keep the residents safe from the war due to their close proximity to the Gaza border. But now that the security fears from Gaza were dwindling, they decided it was time to come home.

We obtained a couple of very tall ladders that would aid us in hanging flags on the very high lampposts, we hung “welcome home” signs around the moshav, we set up the tables onto which the celebratory food would be served, etc.

Once we finished preparing for the celebrations, the group returned to the bus and traveled but a few kilometers to Kibbutz Kfar Aza. There we met a local resident, who took us on a heartbreaking tour of the kibbutz to see the enormous tragedy of October 7th. Over 60 people from the kibbutz were brutally murdered that day – including the mayor of the regional council, with whom a group I was guiding met last year – and nearly 20 were taken hostage. Walking through the ruins of this once-beautiful kibbutz, one could only imagine what the members of this kibbutz have gone through from October 7th until.

When our time at Kibbutz Kfar Aza ended, we returned to Moshav Shokeda. We were greeted by excited residents and soldiers ready to celebrate their return.

Accompanied by loud music, hundreds of people gathered outside of the front gate of the moshav. When the DJ announced the beginning of the celebrations, we al entered the village underneath the chupah (canopy) of a huge Israeli flag.  We paraded into the moshav and were brought to a park, where we stared with a delayed tu b’shvat tree planting ceremony.  The moshav was able to give their thanks to those who deserved it, including the local mayor, the brigadier general in charge of the area, and even our very own Rabbi Yoshi, who organized the donation covering the expenses of the celebration. Yoshi was even asked to give a speech – in Hebrew! – which he did flawlessly.

From there the moshav “finished” their hakafot – dancing with the Torah – that they had started on Simchat Torah on October 7th but were unable to finish.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we were so happy to be able to take a part of.

To see the gamut of destruction to redemption was something I will not forget.

About the Author
Geoff has been living in Israel for nearly 30 years. He is the Programs Director at Keshet Educational Journeys and is a licensed tour guide through the Ministry of Tourism. Previously, Geoff was a founding staff member of the Keshet (no relation) Democratic School for secular and religious students in his home town of Zichron Yaakov and before that an educator at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. He is a husband and father of five.
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