Reflections from Israel: Our Member Larry Greenberg

Posted on March 8, 2024

I’ve just returned from a quick 3-day Solidarity Mission in Israel with Rabbi Marc Baker (close friend and head of our Boston Jewish Federation, Combined Jewish Philanthropies), his amazing son Maor, and many wonderful friends who joined us along the way (being needed for Kaddish minions for Zev’s father was one of many special moments).  I am so honored and privileged to have been able to experience this with Marc and Maor, who both infused such wisdom, love, and support into this emotion packed visit.

We went to Israel to stand in solidarity with our Israeli family and to bear witness to the atrocities of October 7th.  Our hope was to better understand the many challenges Israel faces today, how we can help, and to explore possible answers to these challenges. Spoiler alert: we came up short on the answers part.

While I am happy to provide a more detailed description of our itinerary if people are interested including some of the amazing organizations CJP is funding, in summary there is simply no place on earth like Israel and no people like the Israelis. The resilience of the Israelis never ceases to amaze me.  Even as war continues in Gaza and deadly rockets are being fired against the north every day where there are still 80,000 displaced citizens and world sentiment seems unfairly but loudly against every move Israel makes, the people appear to be coming together in a way that they have not been for a long time and somehow have a confidence that Israel will not only win the war, but that a more moderate government will follow, and better times are ahead. They are way better at this than we are.

10/7 was just such a horrific day.  We have all read the stories, but as we met with the lone returnee of Kfar Aza Kibbutz in her home with burned and destroyed houses all around us (we also visited Kibbutz Reim’s temporary Tel Aviv home), the tragic stories of so many families devastated on October 7th were right in front of us.  In Kfar Aza there were an unimaginable 67 deaths and 9 residents taken as hostages (one still remains in captivity).  With over 1200 deaths on that day plus 136 hostages still in captivity, there is no question that emotions are still raw and opinions about peace have changed, at least for the moment.  Comments from the president of one kibbutz expressed their eagerness to get back to their homes, but that is despite where they are located, not because of it.  There is no question that many kibbutzim no longer see any partners in peace and many are having a hard time sympathizing with the plight of the Palestinians at this moment.  Despite all of this, people are slowly moving back to the south and the kibbutzim are as determined as ever to live on the land they love the way they want to live.

House after house of people murdered or kidnapped at Kfar Aza

In the south we also visited Sderot where the police station was taken over by terrorists and we visited the Nova festival site where 367 beautiful souls were murdered.  In Tel Aviv, we visited hostage headquarters where hundreds of volunteers help hostage families every day with all their challenges.  We visited Hostage Square which so beautifully recognizes each hostage an individual and not a number and we met with a hostage family who unbelievably had 9 family members captured with 8 having since been released. We heard powerful stories from the frontlines directly from recently injured IDF soldiers, and we met with soldiers already part of Brothers for Life (a wonderful organization with wounded soldiers helping other wounded soldiers). The reality is that every Israeli you speak with has their own personal stories of friends and family members murdered or taken hostage on Oct. 7, AND injured or killed since.

Nova Festival Site

When many of us were last in Israel in May, we were impressed then by the coming together of Israeli society despite the polarization of the government. What we heard on this trip was a true sense of optimism over the further coming together of the people both civically and politically. At the same time, there is a growing majority becoming increasingly frustrated with not only the leadership of the government, but also its mishandling of the challenges this war has brought on. Despite the utter failure of the government and IDF leadership to foresee the Oct. 7th massacre, the soldiers are determined to defeat Hamas and rescue the hostages. When reservists get sent to the North, they are actually disappointed they are not going to the south (unfortunately their time will probably come soon enough).

We visited many remarkable organizations, including several recipients of CJP’s Emergency Fund (CJP has raised over $56mm so far since 10/7), who have all rallied to provide sorely needed services in the absence of help from the Israeli government. Israel never used to be a very philanthropic society, but that is changing. The “Startup Nation” tech entrepreneurs who first began contributing significantly to the protest effort over judicial reform have now switched that support and added significantly to help deal with the challenges brought on by the war.  Brothers and Sisters for Israel, started on 10/8, has raised $110mm (40% from Israelis), is being led by the tech entrepreneurs and is doing absolutely everything that a government should be doing but that Israel’s is not. Volunteerism is at an all-time high, supporting the soldiers, displaced citizens, and all people affected by 10/7.  We had lunch at Gilat Junction, where 300 volunteers are providing 135,000 meals a day for soldiers getting a break from Gaza as well as delivering meals inside Gaza. These volunteers, like so many others, have left their jobs for 4 months and remain resolute about continuing to do their part.

Our updates from Miri Eisen (a retired Colonel in the army and military expert who has been a long-time friend of our community) and other active members of IDF leadership did not bring many surprises. The threats are across all fronts orchestrated by Iran.  While the IDF continues to make progress in the south, the north is looming.  The IDF is doing an amazing job of limiting civilian casualties and making progress against Hamas, but the two ever-increasing, conflicting goals – defeating Hamas and saving the hostages – remains a tough topic. Tragically, soldier deaths are up to 237. This war against Hamas is also very hard to fight when we don’t know the end game. Yes, Saudi Arabia is more incentivized than ever to help support a two-state solution, but we are no closer to understanding who is on the other side.

We met with Michal Cutler-Wunsh – the Israeli antisemitism envoy and the answers here are not any easier.  She spoke about the 3 d’s of dehumanization, delegitimization, and double standards.  She spoke about reclaiming intersectionality that Jews were at the forefront of as we walked along side MLK.  The term genocide was created to describe the horrors of the holocaust, but now these concepts are being used against us.

In closing, there are no answers for who is going to be the peace partner after Hamas is defeated and the north remains a huge threat.  There is also no clear path to how we get rid of this government despite a growing desire for new leadership, but it seems pretty certain nothing is going to happen in the middle of the war.  The one thing we have going for us is the continued strength and resiliency of the Israeli people.  They will prevail, but they cannot do it alone and we must continue to find ways to help.


P.S.  a special thank you to Rachel Grandberg Weinstein who always makes sure every detail is perfect!