Sally Abrams
Here's How I See It

Israel of anguish and endless spirit

As seen at Hostage Square, "Waiting for you"
Photo: Courtesy
As seen at Hostage Square, "Waiting for you" Photo: Courtesy

If you visit Israel these days people may ask, “Why now, of all times, in the midst of a war?” Visiting Israel requires a hunger to be there, to believe that love means showing up.

That’s why I came to Israel a few weeks ago. It was a visit unlike any other.

Visiting Israel now means bearing witness to what has happened there, trying to comprehend the ongoing trauma. Bearing witness begins the moment you step off the plane and are met by pictures of the hostages. From Hostage Square in Tel Aviv to the ever-present yellow pins and hostage dog tags, one is surrounded by the anguish of this ongoing nightmare. Even a restaurant receipt bore the words- “Bring Them Home Now”.

Photo: Courtesy

Visiting Israel now means seeing yellow ribbons everywhere.

Photo: Courtesy

Visiting Israel now means conversations with loved ones who have stories they need and want to tell, stories that unfold slowly, over hours spent together.

Visiting Israel now is an expression of love and support.  I had the privilege of speaking to students at two schools about what it means to belong to Am Yisrael no matter where you live. The students found comfort in the outpouring of Diaspora solidarity with Israel the likes of which we haven’t experienced for decades.

Visiting Israel now enables one to stand in the place of nightmares. I’d seen many photos and videos of the Nova festival site, now turned memorial. Same for the destroyed kibbutzim and the mountain of burned-out vehicles. But standing in the places where these horrors occurred, hearing the stories of those who survived it, this was something else altogether. It drives home the many shades of meaning for what it is to bear witness. To affirm what happened, yes. But to bear something is to also carry a heavy load, to withstand something difficult, to be responsible for sharing what one has seen.

Photo: Ethan Roberts

Visiting Israel now can shake you to the core. Can a heart be broken and strengthened simultaneously? Mine was. I toured Kibbutz Holit, which was overrun with terrorists on the morning of October 7. Fifteen people were murdered, seven were taken hostage, two remain in captivity. Against the backdrop of incinerated homes, a young woman recounted in harrowing detail how she managed to survive and saved the life of her elderly neighbor. The kibbutz is largely empty now, most of its residents living in other parts of Israel until it can be rebuilt. The kibbutz member who guided us concluded the tour in front of this mural, on which is written a line from a song by Erez Halevi.

“This is how nature created you, with a bit of imagination and free thought”.

Photo: Courtesy

Then he told us about the line that comes next in the song, words that can be read as an expression of hope and determination, words that read like a prayer:

אז תן לזה לגדול מהתחלה בבקשה

“So let it grow from the beginning, please.”

Visiting Israel now means encountering extraordinary people like this man, people of uncommon courage, faith, and strength.

Visiting Israel now means listening. It’s knowing that every story of loss is its own unique tragedy and that listening to those stories is a holy act. Such a tragedy struck the Ben-Hamo family of Rehovot, a community with whom the Minneapolis Jewish community has a deep bond through the Partnership2Gether (P2G) program. The father of Sergeant Michael Ben-Hamo z”l recounted the story of his remarkable son who was killed on Oct. 7 while defending Kibbutz Kissufim. He shared excerpts from Michael’s journal, in which the 22-year-old expressed a clarity of life’s meaning and purpose far beyond his years.

Visiting Israel now means coming to an Israel unlike any Israel you may have been to before; wounded, resilient, devastated, hopeful.  I was at a social gathering with Americans and Israelis, including Israelis who had suffered enormous losses on October 7.  As we sang and danced together, it was the Israelis’ spirit and fervor that was so profoundly moving, so unforgettable.

Visiting Israel left me shredded and replenished for the work that lies ahead as an educator, a community leader, a Jew, and a human being. Sitting on my desk is a memento of Sergeant Michael Ben-Hamo z”l, given by his father. It’s a sticker with this quotation, words that inspire and give strength:

״עשה ואז עשה עוד כי המנוע לא עשוי מחומר, אלא מרוח לא נגמרת״

“Do, and then do more, because the engine isn’t made of matter, but of endless spirit.”

Which brings me to the extraordinary June 8 rescue of four hostages kidnapped from the Nova music festival. The bravery of the soldiers and their achievement of the near impossible are a fulfillment of Ben Hamo’s words.

May all of Am Yisrael be infused with this endless spirit, and may the rest of the hostages return home at last.

About the Author
Sally Abrams is Director of Judaism and Israel Education at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. She has taught thousands about Israel and/or Judaism in churches, classrooms, civic groups, and Jewish communal settings.
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