Michelle Elisburg
President, Hadassah Louisville, Hadassah Physicians Council

Mother to Mother: Unity, Support and Joy in the Midst of Trauma

1.	The author with Pediatric Nephrologist Oded Volvevsky at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem. Photo courtesy of the author.
The author with Pediatric Nephrologist Oded Volvevsky at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem. Photo courtesy of the author.
(Left to right), the author with Cheryl Dorchinsky and Celia Antonio during the march with hostage families. Photo courtesy of the author.
The author picking sweet potatoes with Leket Israel, Israel’s national food bank, near Rishon LeZion. Photo courtesy of the author.
Protest art supporting the hostages at Dizengoff Square Fountain in Tel Aviv. Photo courtesy of the author.

On October 7th, 2023, I awoke to news of the devastating Hamas attack in Israel with a desperate need to do something. When Momentum, an organization that empowers women to change the world through Jewish values, announced a Mother to Mother Israel Unity Mission for mothers to connect with Israeli mothers who need our support,  I immediately responded, “Hineni’ (Here I am).

We arrived at a somber Ben Gurion Airport. There were signs for bomb shelters amid photos of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas. Reminders of the brutalities of Hamas were everywhere, as were “protest installations”– giant blindfolded teddy bears, empty baby strollers and hourglasses representing the desperate passage of time.

Over the course of the week, our group of international and Israeli women joined Mothers of Lone Soldiers to cook, bake challahs, harvest produce and deliver donated supplies. We witnessed examples of communities giving whatever they had to those in need, whether to furnish a shelter for displaced foster teens or to provide breast milk for Magen David Adom’s Human Milk Bank.

We heard harrowing stories about the Hamas attack from survivors, despite their expression of despair that “there are no words.” We marched with the families of hostages from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, displaying our “Bring Them Home Now” dog tags while the families begged us to tell and retell their loved ones’ stories so the world would not forget about them.

As the Hadassah Louisville Chapter president, I made a special trip to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, one of the two Jerusalem-based nonprofit research hospitals comprising the Hadassah Medical Organization. There, Israeli soldiers, physically and emotionally traumatized by the war, were being provided with emergency care, rehabilitation and mental health services. I had brought a proclamation of support for the hospital staff from the Kentucky General Assembly Israel Caucus and my handmade, crocheted dolls for the pediatric patients.

The Israelis we met encouraged us to find time for joy and for living Jewishly — publicly. They said it gives them strength. Together, we lit candles, said prayers, sang songs and danced.

Store owners appreciated our business as there were no tourists. Repeatedly, they thanked us for coming, while expressing disbelief that we were there during a war. When I asked one merchant if I could give her a hug, she replied, “No, can I give YOU a hug?” I lost all skepticism that we were not providing enough of a service by coming to Israel.

In Sderot, one of the cities Hamas attacked, it seemed as if time had stopped, as if the exodus from Egypt had been reenacted when the people evacuated their city without enough time to take down their sukkahs. On social media the memes of “Let My People Go” mimicked this Pesach theme. I considered how removing drops of wine from our cups at the seder acknowledges all human suffering.

At the United Hatzalah command center, we heard from first responders to the Nova Music Festival, where young people were viciously attacked, and many were slaughtered on October 7th. These volunteers saved many lives, despite their own injuries. The resilience in the space of this trauma comes from their ability to hold the whole and the broken simultaneously.

Starting on Day 100 of the war, I followed the plea of hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin’s mother, Rachel Goldberg, to replace my photo of a hostage with a piece of tape showing the number of days that her son and the other hostages have been held captive. A photo is static, but the tape dynamically reveals that, each day, the length of time in captivity increases.

As story-bearers, we carry out the command in the Haggadah: “In every generation you must see yourself as being personally taken out of Egypt.” All week we sang Hatikvah (The Hope) and Am Yisrael Chai (The People of Israel Live) because this is our story, as well, and we are going to shout it to everyone and demand that they listen.

About the Author
Dr. Michelle Elisburg, a member of the Hadassah Physicians Council and the Hadassah Writers’ Circle, is a pediatrician at a community health center in Louisville, KY. She majored in religion at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. She attended medical school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and earned a Master’s in Public Health in Maternal and Child Health. She completed her Pediatric Residency in Manhasset, NY. Dr. Elisburg’s interests include breastfeeding, vaccines and immigrant child health. Dr. Elisburg is a five-generation Hadassah member, starting with her great-grandmother. After participating with Hadassah Central States Region, she rechartered the Louisville Hadassah Chapter and has been president ever since. In 2010 she went on a Hadassah Young Women’s mission to Israel. She attended the 100th Hadassah convention in Israel after traveling with the Physician’s Council for a pre-convention tour. Dr. Elisburg lives outside Louisville, KY in southern Indiana with her husband, two daughters and a grumpy rescue dog who just celebrated his Bark Mitzvah.
Related Topics
Related Posts