Resilience amidst darkness: a humbling exploration of Israel’s spirit

Since 7 October, as a Jewish person very connected to Israel living in Melbourne, Australia, I had felt an undeniable need to travel to Israel, to experience the feeling of the people, and to understand better how we could help and play our part from Australia. As someone said to me not long after 7 October, this war is with the Jewish people, not just with Israel. So when the opportunity arose to travel to Israel with a delegation from the Central Synagogue in Sydney, led by Rabbi Levi Wolff, I was determined to join and be part of it.

Billed as a ‘solidarity’ visit, we would visit organisations such as Magen David Adom, Brothers and Sisters for Israel, Sheba Hospital to meet wounded soldiers, the Forum for Families of Hostages and Missing People, the South including Kibbutz Be’eri and Sderot and an army base and Air Force Base. I also made plans to visit Beit Achim – the house of Brothers For Life, an incredible organisation supporting wounded combat soldiers. Through close family I was able to plan a visit to the community of around 500 people from Kibbutz Nir Yizhak that had been attacked by Hamas terrorists on 7 October and evacuated to a hotel in Eilat, as well as to meet with the IsraAID team there that had been doing incredible work setting up classrooms for all age groups and providing trauma relief.

When I arrived in Israel, and was greeted at the airport by poster after poster of the hostages, I immediately understood that this was going to be one of my most meaningful and important visits, one filled with the usual feeling of being ‘home’, but also with a sense of responsibility, with a duty to absorb the feelings of the people and their experiences since 7 October, to bring the love and support of the Australian Jewish community to our brothers and sisters in Israel, and to take back home an account of what I would see, feel and wonder.

I felt incredibly privileged to have this opportunity and to be in Israel at this pivotal moment in its history. I also knew that my experience would be enriched as I would share it not only with the group from the delegation, but also with my close family in Israel including very special new family I had gained when two wounded Israeli combat soliders had stayed with us in Melbourne in February this year as part of a healing delegation. To see the situation in Israel through the eyes of those with whom I had such a close connection added another invaluable dimension.

But despite having those expectations, nothing could have prepared me for the emotions I felt after meeting the people and hearing about their experiences since 7 October. I met people with so much pain in their eyes that it was a wonder they were able to speak at all. Eyes that reflected the horrors they had witnessed, or the unbearable reality of having a family member still being held captive by Hamas. Eyes that held a longing for a life that ended on 7 October, a relatively peaceful existence on an idyllic kibbutz surrounded by a community once whole, but now torn apart. Eyes of those who had saved lives on 7 October, and those who had not been able to do so. Of those who were tasked with collecting the bodies of the massacred, or rescuing wounded soldiers, or trying to save young children who had been shot. I absorbed all of those emotions, and they matched the feeling I had when I walked around the charred remains of Kibbutz Be’eri…darkness, despair, devastation.

However those emotions did not sit alone. They were matched, incredibly, by a range of emotions that were so uplifting that they countered some of the darkness and let the light shine through. The courage and bravery displayed by every single person we met who in their own way played a role on 7 October. Whether it was the talented and calm MDA paramedics who saved life after life in situations in which their own lives were endangered, or the civilians and soldiers who fought alone against hundreds of terrorists, the Kibbutz Nir Yizhak families who hid in a shelter on their kibbutz for 24 hours, hearing Hamas shooting all around them and knowing that they could be next, the young boy who called emergency after seeing both of his parents shot in front of him and was able to successfully hide with his sister until being rescued, the brother of a hostage who said he has faith and that his brother and the others would be brought back home, the mothers who have children in Gaza defending Israel. How do they do it, I wondered, show such courage and bravery in the most challenging of circumstances?

The other emotions that completely overwhelmed me were the resilience and humility of the Israeli people. Despite life being turned upside down since 7 October, everyone I met had found a way to continue living, to find any silver linings, the cracks of light, to help others they considered in a worse position than themselves, to give their time, their talents, their resources or even just to listen and give their smiles to those who needed it most. I witnessed a country made up of people who refused to give in to evil, who were determined to bring back the missing, to meaningfully honour the memories of those who did not make it, to make it through this period of upheaval and dare to dream of the day after. I wondered how resilient I would be in these circumstances, and I felt truly humbled by the spirit of the people I met and their ability to adapt to their new reality.

Discomfort was another emotion that I constantly felt. Not at what I witnessed or heard, but at the way everyone we met thanked us for being there and for showing our support. I knew that by turning up in Israel during a war we were showing that we really cared, and that we meant it when we said ‘Am Yisrael Chai’, but being there and hearing the stories of those who actually lived there, what they had gone through and were going through, made me feel as though turning up was not really much, it was a relatively small act, and that any support we could give was minor in comparison to what the people we were meeting were experiencing. So every time someone thanked us for coming I felt an uncomfortable sense of unease, of not deserving their thanks, of being in awe of them for so many reasons…and I tried to convey this to them, that being there was the least we could do, that we need a strong Israel too, and that we are so appreciative to them for their part in making that a reality, one that that we benefit from. All I could do in these situations was give people the tightest hugs, and explain that I was doing so on behalf of the entire Jewish community of Australia, passing on our support, our love and as a gesture showing that we are standing with them. But at the same time I knew it was not enough, and that there would be work to do once I returned home to truly show our support and deserve their thanks.

The other overwhelming emotion was that of a united family. No matter where we are from, what our political beliefs, the Jewish people in this moment feel united by the common goal of being the light against the darkness, of saving Israel because, as one sign I saw said, we have nowhere else to go. In Israel we were embraced as family everywhere we went. By actual family, new family and people we were meeting for the first time. There was a shared understanding and sense of purpose that could just be felt without any words being spoken. I had come intending to bring my love and support to the people I would meet and I feel as though I received just as much if not more love and support in return. I always leave a part of my heart behind in Israel, but this time more than ever, the people I met and the unity we shared captured even more and deeper parts of my heart. I spent two very special shabbats in Israel and as I sat and enjoyed magnificent Friday night meals with close family, I paused and noticed just how similar the Friday night ritual is all over the world, but how these dinners had an extra significance given that we were sharing this precious time together in the midst of a war, an existential fight for Israel’s very existence.

As I left Israel, I was once again greeted by the posters of the hostages. Thankfully there were fewer than when I arrived, as over 100 hostages had been released by Hamas while I was in Israel. However the poster of Elkana Bohbot, age 34, the brother of a family member we had met, was still up there, and it hit home that whilst I may be leaving, the harsh reality continues for those in Israel. But as I reflected on the visit, I thought of the resilient, inspiring, hopeful, determined, humble, brave people I was privileged to meet and I just felt so incredibly grateful.

The message from an Israeli family member said it all: “Coming to Israel when most airlines no longer come is courageous. Your journey was much more than journey of solidarity. You felt the need to be at our side, to suffer our sorrows with us by experiencing them up close, driven by a feeling of responsibility and being part of the people of Israel.” As I departed an Israel as I have never seen it before with tears in my eyes, I resolved to play my part to deserve even some of the thanks of the kindest, most extraordinary people I am proud to be a part of.

About the Author
Amanda has travelled to Israel twice since October 7 on solidarity missions from Australia. She is a co-founder of Impact Generation Partners, which advises, invests in and supports enterprises that deliver financial as well as social and/or environmental returns. She is Co Chair of Philanthropy Australia and a Director of Impact Investing Australia. In 2021, Amanda was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community through the philanthropic and impact investing sectors.