Judy Shereck
Hadassah Zionist Advocacy Chair

My Visit to the Gaza Envelope

Hadassah Medical Organization's surgery team treating victims of the October 7th terrorist attack.  Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
Hadassah Medical Organization's surgery team treating victims of the October 7th terrorist attack. Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
Nova Music Festival Memorial Site. Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
Photo of the Kibbutz Nir Oz terrorist attack site courtesy of Hadassah.

Recently, I was fortunate to be in Israel as a Hadassah representative to the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization meetings. After the October 7th massacre of Israelis by Hamas, I knew I needed to return to Israel as soon as I could.

When I awoke to the news about the massacre, I was overwhelmed with grief. Preparing to go to Shabbat services, I found it difficult to function. Once in the synagogue sanctuary, I cried during the entire service. To this day, I am finding it difficult not to be depressed over all the murders, sexual violence and mutilation of Israeli women and the taking of so many hostages.

I was raised in a home with very little Judaism and no Zionism. My father was Russian and very busy trying to be American. When I was 15, a friend invited me to a meeting of Junior Hadassah. I was so impressed by the organization that I wanted to learn more. I told my parents that the Jewish people were a “big-tent” family and I wanted to go to Israel. They thought that I was crazy and told their friends that I was becoming a zealot. Despite their reaction, I became very involved in Junior Hadassah and eventually served as president of its Northern New Jersey Region.

Every trip to Israel is emotional for me, but this one, post-October 7th, was especially so.

Typically, during Jewish Agency meetings, there are site visits to organizations supported by the Jewish Agency. This time, our visit was to the Gaza Envelope. During the bus ride there, our guide received a warning about a possible incoming missile. We were given instructions that, if an alert followed, we were to leave the bus, lie flat on the ground and cover our heads with our hands. Luckily, the alert did not come.

Our first stop was Kibbutz Nir Oz, which had been brutally attacked by Hamas on October 7th. As we entered the kibbutz, we saw flowers, trees and shrubs blooming, a stark contrast with the homes, which had been reduced to rubble. We entered two of the burnt-out homes (they had been burnt with residents still inside). We had to be very careful not to touch anything as the slightest touch could bring the beams down upon us.

The woman who led us around had been a member of Kibbutz Nir Oz. Her mother-in-law and father-in-law are still members. Her father-in-law was not home on October 7th because he was in a rehabilitation center; her mother-in-law was taken hostage. Fortunately, she was in the first group of hostages to be released.

We walked past homes whose residents had been taken hostage. Their pictures were on the front door – pictures, for example, of the Bibas family, with its two red-headed children. Their toys were outside the house,  just as they had left them.

Most of the people living on Nir Oz, near the Gaza border, were living there because they were “peaceniks”–they wanted to promote peace with their neighbors. Two of the kibbutz women routinely entered Gaza to drive Palestinian patients to the Hadassah Medical Organization’s two hospitals in Jerusalem. They did it because they cared. And yet, both women were killed. In fact, one in four Nir Oz kibbutzniks was either killed or taken hostage.

Palestinians had been working regularly on the kibbutz. Apparently, some of the workers were there on October 7th.

Our next stop was the Nova Music Festival site, where we witnessed memorial poles displaying pictures of those who were killed and those who were taken hostage. It was truly devastating to see the smiling faces of those young victims who had gathered to enjoy music and to promote peace. We managed to say Kaddish (the prayer for the dead).

It was so overwhelming to absorb what happened there that I could not contain myself and broke down crying.

We drove down Highway 232, now known as “Death Highway” since music festival participants had run for their lives along that road, being shot as they ran. We passed the shelter where several participants had hidden to save their lives. Hamas terrorists threw grenades into the shelter. Those who were not killed were taken hostage.

You may be familiar with the story of Hersh Goldberg Polin, who lost a part of his arm when a terrorist threw a grenade into the shelter. He was taken hostage.

We then traveled to the town of Ofakim, which had been overrun by terrorists on October 7th. We visited the home of a woman who wanted to share her story, though she did not speak English. An interpreter sat next to her to translate.

On October 7th, she heard shouting in the street. When she looked out her window, she saw two men in uniforms; one seemed to be a soldier and the other a policeman. They were firing at each other. She soon realized that the soldier was really a terrorist. He probably was wearing a dead soldier’s uniform. She and her family ran upstairs in an attempt to leave their home through a window that would take them to a neighbor’s roof. The last person to attempt the escape was her son. The others made it out, but he was killed.

Needless to say, the residents of Ofakim were devastated and asked us not to forget their story.

In speaking with Hersh’s parents, Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin, the day before our visit to Ofakim, Rachel told us that Israel had failed them on October 7th. The hostage situation is dire, she said, and must be resolved to save Israel and the Jewish people. The return of the hostages, she added, will come at a heavy price, but not returning them will come at a heavier one and prove devastating to the Jewish people.

Hadassah will not forget and will not let others forget what happened on October 7th — especially the sexual violence perpetrated against the women that day, the violence that continues to be perpetrated against the women who remain hostages. Hadassah’s “End The Silence”campaign is speaking out for those who can no longer speak for themselves.

My love of Israel and Zionism has only deepened through my work with Hadassah. My daughter and son were raised in a Zionist home and Israel has always been a very important part of their lives. We took a family trip to Israel in 1985 and they both returned to Israel with Young Judaea (YJ). My daughter served as national president of YJ and spent a year in Israel on the Young Judaea year course.

I am proud to be part of a three-generation Hadassah family now, as my daughter, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters are life members. I pray every day for peace and the hostages’ return.


About the Author
Judy Shereck is the Zionist Advocacy Chair and a member of the Honorary Council of Hadassah. She is also on the Volunteer Operations Committee and is a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle and the Young Judaea Scholarship Committee. Previously, she was Past National Secretary, a member of both the National Board and the Executive Committee of Hadassah. She has also served as National Chair, Zionist Affairs, and the NY Metro Area Organization Chair in the Member & Unit Services Division. She is a former National Vice President and is Past Chair of Israel Zionist and International Affairs, and Past Chair, Jewish / Zionist Education in the Executive Division. Judy and her husband are Founders in the Young Judaea Division. She has served as National Young Judaea Coordinator in the Young Judaea Division; Chair of Young Judaea in the Philanthropy Division; Chair, National Young Judaea Camps, and Chair, of Volunteer /Staff Advocate in the Administration & Finance Division. She represents Hadassah at the World Zionist Organization. She was a past treasurer and a current board member pf the American Zionist Movement. She formerly taught Spanish at Frisch Yeshiva High.
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