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Steven Bayar

I spent a year in Israel over three days

The El Al security guard at JFK proudly showed his Israeli flag pin, which marked him as a Druze. “We are all together,” he said.

Disembarking at Ben Gurion, we were greeted with a sign pointing to the nearest bomb shelter. As the only flight arriving at the time, we went through passport control and retrieved our luggage at lightning speed. It felt like COVID all over again.

There were 70 of us, on a mission from SAR Academy in Riverdale, where my granddaughter is a student. We went south to a border town, just 800 meters from Gaza. We spoke to survivors and watched video of the Oct. 7 massacre (taken by traffic cams that recorded everything in horrifying detail).

I will never forget the deadened eyes of the IDF soldier as she recounted for almost an hour in minute detail everything that led up to the murder of her squad. With eerie calm, she recounted her survival despite over six bullet wounds as she was covered with the dead bodies of her friends.

She told us how each soldier called parents and loved ones to tell them how much they loved them — and then died. In the last moments of her monologue, she became animated as she ordered us to tell the world “of the animals that perpetrated the rapes and burnings around her.” Her sudden manic explosion filled us with tears for her, and for the pain in her father’s eyes as he sat next to her and heard her story for what must have been the hundredth time.

There are signs and billboards all over saying, “we will win” and “together we will prevail.” The country is unified in its resolve. And while there are serious problems, and there will be an accounting of how this could have happened, for now the priorities are clear: make sure this never happens again.

Whatever you have read and whatever you have seen does not capture even a fraction of the atrocities or the pain.

There is a sad recognition that for the survivors and those displaced from the towns and kibbutzim at risk, government support is slow in coming. So, in Israeli fashion, hundreds of volunteers have thrown themselves into the system.

We met with a children’s trauma therapist who left her Jerusalem practice to spend weeks at a Dead Sea hotel where she works with the children and their parents, helping them to begin the slow process of recovery and acculturation back into the world. They immediately inserted themselves; unless someone dealt with these families now, the trauma could become irreversible.

Thousands of volunteers have bought clothing and equipment for the hundreds of thousands of IDF reservists who have come home to fight, and in the process, swamping the ability of the IDF to provide them with the necessities.

And we tried to do our part. We joined with an NGO to pack underwear, battery packs, hats, goggles, etc. for soldiers. We took to the fields and picked avocados.

We have all lost. But we have all gained. If nothing else, we have gained perspective. Those who hate us have come out of the closet. We have learned the identity of our friends and enemies.

More importantly, many have learned that the luxury of basking in the self-denial of the prevalence of antisemitism is no longer an option.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Bayar recently served as Interim Rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio, TX. Ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, he is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, NJ, where he served the pulpit for 30 years, and teaches at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbis Without Borders, and has trained as a hospice chaplain, a Wise Aging facilitator, and a trainer for safe and respectful Jewish work spaces. He’s the co-author of “Teens & Trust: Building Bridges in Jewish Education,” “Rachel & Misha,” and “You Shall Teach Them Diligently to Your Children: Transmitting Jewish Values from Generation to Generation.”
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