Danny Hakim

Scarves for scars: Sharing grief and hope

Rabbi Ben David, Kibutznik, Rabbi Nagen and Bedouin Shiek (Courtesy)
Interfaith discussion between Rabbi Yaacov Nagen and Bedouin Shiek (Courtesy)

Imagine 3 Jews – an Orthodox rabbi, a Conservative rabbi’s wife, and a Reform emissary at a Muslim funeral.  This isn’t the start of a joke, but the beginning of a profound journey that brought these three diverse Jews together on a sunny January morning in my car.

Setting the tone for the trip, the Orthodox rabbi gave a Zoom Torah lesson to his Raanana congregation about today’s Jewish festival Tu B’Shvat – celebrating the planting of trees.

Rabbi Ben David giving a Zoom Torah lesson  on the way to Rahat

Their mission was threefold. First, visit the Bedouin community center of Rahat. Second to offer condolences to the family of Sanei Al Dini, one of the 21 Israeli soldiers who fell that week. Third, to deliver handmade scarves to two Bedouin hostages who had returned home from Gaza.

Our journey began in Rahat, Israel’s largest Bedouin town, housing 80,000 of the estimated 200,000 Bedouins in the Negev. At the Rahat community center, we witnessed a tapestry of life: Bedouin mothers learning to read, a youth robotics class, a children’s puppet show, and a judo club that embraced both boys and girls. This vibrant center, hosting over a thousand people weekly, stood as a beacon of non-formal education and well-being in the community.

Rabbi Ben David, Yael Cohen, Danny Hakim, Foad Alzeadna, and the Rahat Community Center management (Sefi Shalem)

The head of the community center Mr Foad Alzeadna who experienced Hamas’ barbarism firsthand, as four members of his family were abducted on October 7 shared his vision of hope and cooperation with other sectors of Israeli society.

Al-Zeadna believes that the Bedouin community should be seen as partners of the rest of the population.  He reiterated:

“It is important that people see the Bedouin community as part of the solution and not as part of the problem.

The next leg of our journey painted a different and more complex picture with tones of sadness, love, pride, and hope.  We arrived at a mourning tent for Ahmad Abu Latif, a 26-year-old Bedouin Israeli soldier, a poignant reminder of life’s fragility and unfulfilled potential.

The crowd lining up to pay condolence calls was diverse: high-ranking IDF officers, religious Jews, rabbis, professors, kibbutz farmers, and long-standing friends of the deceased’s family. The deep respect for the young soldier and his family underscored the respect and harmony between Jewish and Arab societies.

Ahmed wrote extensively about his feelings on coexistence and collaboration between Israeli’s various populations. In a poignant social media post in October, he wrote:

“For me, the people I live and work with are my brothers and sisters, and we all live together and respect each other in our land. I am proud to be a Bedouin who served in the IDF… I had the privilege to defend and protect in a meaningful service that I will never forget.” 

Ahmad’s social media posts reflected his belief in unity and cooperation, emphasizing the importance of these values in times of conflict and everyday life. Ahmed’s death left behind a powerful legacy through his last words and actions. His 19-year-old widow, now facing the reality of raising their 11-month-old child alone, symbolized the enduring strength amidst sorrow.

Interfaith dialogue

Rabbi Ben David, a Kibutznik, Rabbi  Nagen, and a Bedouin Sheikh ( Courtesy)

Sitting opposite me in the tent was Rabbi Yaakov Nagen, a renowned figure in interfaith dialogue. He is a member of the Abrahamic Reunion, a group of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders dedicated to promoting a dialogue of all faiths and races in Palestine and Israel. They believe that coming together to eat, walk, pray, and talk will develop empathy, trust, and friendship with each other. Rabbi Nagen believes that as religion is at the heart of the problem in the conflicts in the Middle East, religion must also be part of the solution.

Ahmed’s father with Rabbi Ben David, Yael Cohen, Danny Hakim, with many senior IDF personnel ( Sefi Shalem)

The presence of such diverse communities that came to pay respects to Ahmed’s family was an embodiment of the spirit of shared grief and hope.

Even Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu came to pay his respects.

PM Bibi Netanyahu paying respect to Ahmed’s father, Tawfik Abu Latif ( Credit Haim Zach)

SCARVES OF LOVE – a heart-warming project from the Jewish diaspora

Scarves of Love project
Packaged scarf

The third part of our mission took us to a makeshift farm on the outskirts of Rahat, home to the family of the two recently released Bedouin hostages from Gaza.

The scarves we carried, knitted by Jewish mothers from the US, Canada, the UK, and South Africa were more than mere gifts; they were symbols of solidarity and compassion. Coordinated by 3 women from Raanana, Shawna Goodman, Saven Hilowitz, and Kate Gerstler, the goal of the initiative was to connect diaspora Jewish women with the hostages, embodying a heartfelt desire for their safe return.


Hostage billboard at the entrance of Zaidna village in the Negev ( courtesy)

Navigating to the home of the former hostages for our special delivery was an adventure. We traversed off the highway to a dirt track following the posters and flags of the 2 remaining Bedouin hostages until we arrived at a maze of scattered makeshift sheds with donkeys, cows, chickens, sheep, goats, horses, and many stray dogs.

Sitting with Bilal’s uncles ( Sefi Shalem)

We spotted half a dozen men sitting in a semi-circular formation smoking and serving each other Bedouin coffee. They were the uncles of the hostages. We sat and drank coffee with them, listening to each one of them tell us their version of October 7.

One of the uncles walked us to the yellow house of Bilal Alzeadna, the 17-year-old hostage who had returned with his younger sister, Aisha. They were sitting with their aunts and their mother who was sobbing the whole time.  Yael Cohen Paran, the wife of the conservative rabbi and a former member of Knesset ceremoniously explained the goal of the project while performing the handover. Our small gesture and effort to hand deliver the scarfs was deeply appreciated.

Rabbi ben David with Bedouin children from the Alzeadna family in the Negev ( courtesy)

Bilal, clearly scarred from his traumatic experience accepted the scarf. His head bowed and eyes looking down, he represents a complex tapestry of emotions: sadness, trauma, but also hope. Hope that young Bedouins will grow up with dignity and pride as Israelis. Hope for the IDF to secure the release of the remaining hostages like his father and brother. And hope for a future where different communities, united in their grief and resilience, can forge a stronger, shared society.

Danny and Bilal with the poster of his father and brother still hostages in Gaza ( courtesy)

The day was a testament to the complex relationship between the Bedouin community and the Jewish State of Israel. The shared mourning and compassion highlighted on our visit during Tu Bshvat offered seeds of hope for a more inclusive and empathetic future.

About the Author
Danny Hakim OAM is a 2 times world karate silver medalist and holds a 7th-degree black belt from Japan. He is the founder of Budo for Peace and chairman of Sport for Social Change. He is a board member of The Azrieli foundation, MWU ( Maccabi World Union), ALLMEP (the Alliance of Middle East peace), and Kids Kicking Cancer. In 2017 he was inducted into the Australian Maccabi Hall of Fame, and in 2019 was the recipient of the Bonei Zion award for Culture, Art, and Sport. In January 2022, he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for service to the international community.