Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Am Yisrael Chai! A journal of JLI's Solidarity Trip

By Hal Simonds

On March 31 Chabad of North Orlando' s Rabbi Yanki Majesky led a local contingent to Israel for one week to take part in JLI's Solidarity Trip to show love and support to the Israeli people.

As stated, the trip was to show support to the Israeli people; so that perhaps they could draw strength to help them carry on through the horror of a heinous attack and the ongoing war against evil. It turns out the people of Israel provided us with strength. At each stop, with every speaker, we were shown the grit, determination, resiliency, and trust in G-d that the Israeli people have to defeat the evil that attacked them on Oct. 7. Israel, in seemingly the darkest of times, is a unified nation of doers to defeat evil; not just for Israel...but for all of us. Everywhere we went we thanked the Jewish people that we met for their courage and strength. In return, they thanked us for coming to Israel and showing support.

Day 1 (April 1) began at the Mogan David Blood Services facility in Ramle. Israel is the only nation that considers blood a national asset. The heroes that work there, although nearly overwhelmed with demands created by the Oct. 7 attack, kept their services active throughout, even when their ambulances were being shot at by Hamas terrorists.

We then went to the Lekat cooperative farm that grows vegetables and donates them to agencies that feed the poor. We participated in picking vegetables. After Oct. 7, there were many in need.

By late afternoon we were at the Kotel (the Western Wall) to celebrate a bar mitzvah of a young man whose family has been displaced from their home in the north due to Hezbollah terrorist rocket attacks. Their situation did not deter them. It was a joyous occasion with singing and dancing, and we were so happy to be a part of it.

Day 2 (April 2) provided an upclose view of the Gazan border and security briefing. Only hundreds of yards away from Gaza, I felt safe and secure knowing that the IDF was fighting to protect the Israeli people and Jews all over the world. We visited Sderot, a city that took on heavy casualties from the terrorists. The mayor of Sderot talked to us of his heroic day on Oct. 7, Simchat Torah. We participated in the completion of a Sefer Torah on the grounds of the Sderot Police Station that was demolished by the IDF to take out terrorists who had taken over the police station.

We then went to the Kubbutz Alumim to hear how Hamas terrorists broke into this area and killed many innocent civilians; including a number of Thai workers that were on visas to work the farm. We saw the single wall that remained of the sleeping quarters of these workers that Hamas terrorists blew up with people inside.

After our visit to the Kibbutz, we went to the site of the Nova Music Festival, where 364 Israelis were killed by Hamas terrorists. The site is now a memorial to all that died for no other reason than that they were Jewish. We spoke to family members of murdered loved ones that keep vigilance at the site. When we told one group that we came from Florida to just show our love and support, and that we care about them, one young man replied, "Thank you, I didn't think anyone else in the world cared about us."

A young woman spoke to us about how she ran for about two hours and found a ditch to hide in from the terrorists. She knew that Hamas terrorists were raping women, and at one point, she was praying that a rocket from Hamas would kill her so she would not have to live through the nightmare of being assaulted. Through a series of texts, she was saved by a heroic man that drove into the area and took her out. This man with a number of other young people, came across two or three terrorists who had taken a young woman hostage. He convinced them that he was also a terrorist from Gaza and to hand over the girl so that they could get away from the advancing IDF.

Near the Nova Festival grounds, we stopped to see a bus stop bomb shelter that holds roughly 6-8 people. Our tour guide had 16 of us enter for about 5 minutes so we could feel the claustrophobic effect of people from the Nova festival that ran for cover in this shelter and then told us that on that day 29 people huddled in this shelter for three hours! Hamas made seven attempts to throw a hand grenade into the shelter, followed with gun fire. An IDF hero kept picking up the thrown grenades and throwing them back out to protect those inside with him. The eighth attempt, unfortunately, was successful. The grenade severely injured the IDF soldier. He was taken hostage and Hamas terrorists killed everyone else in the shelter.

We ended the day with a barbecue at an IDF base with soldiers that had recently been relieved of fighting in Gaza. We thanked them with gifts and cards that we brought on the trip and from the many people that could not make the trip but were showing their love and support. We learned that each soldier carries into battle in Gaza a picture of a hostage to remind them of the importance of being victorious.

The heroics that we heard and were shown at Sderot, Alumim, and at Nova were a light that shined through the darkness of that day. The stories we heard were so horrific that I cannot forget them. I also cannot forget the stories of the heroism of the Jewish people of that same day. It is this heroism that carried me then and continues to carry me now.

Day 3 (April 3) We visited a rehabilitation hospital for wounded IDF soldiers. We got to spend time thanking these brave men and women for their heroics. Hugs and handshakes went a long way. Each soldier that we spoke to wanted to heal as soon as possible and return to their unit to fight the evil that attacked on Oct. 7.

We then toured the IDF's Shura Military Base that is home to the rabbinate of the IDF and is used to identify fallen soldiers and prepare them for burial. Sadly, it was also used to identify and prepare for burial murdered civilians. Following Oct. 7, they had to work non-stop at this facility. The personnel at this facility delicately and respectfully prepare bodies for burial. We learned that Jews who are killed for no other reason than being Jewish, are buried "as is." They are not purified because they have given their life for G-d, they are already pure. We also got to see the Torahs that are prepared (some repaired) and sent to units in the field. There was a Torah that was desecrated (torn in half), but miraculously cut right at the section of the Torah that states that we shall inherit the land from G-d. The demand for Teffilin and Tzitzit (the miracle armor of the Jewish people in IDF) has outpaced supply; but the facility is working on filling all requests.

We then went to a warehouse that had been abandoned for 20 years, but within 24 hours of the Oct. 7 attack, a young man who had been a medic in the IDF and had travelled south on Oct. 7 on his own to try to rescue his best friend (but could not), decided to honor his murdered friend by creating a program to provide clothing donations (from all over the world). With no logistics background, just a burning desire to "do something," he founded "Soldiers Saving Soldiers" and partnered with the "Israel Support Bridge" to bring an initial delivery of six tons of needed military protective equipment (vests, helmets, etc.) and clothes for Israelis that had nothing but the clothes on their back after the attacks.

We then went to Tel Aviv where a relative of a hostage told his story of the pain and anguish of wanting the hostages returned. Words cannot describe what we heard. Israel is not divided in desire to see the elimination of Hamas. Israel is not divided in their desire to want the return of all of the hostages. There were exhibits to emphasize the anguish of the people. Displays that were especially impactful to me were the small "tunnel" you could walk through to provide a feeling of isolation that the hostages must feel in the tunnels under Gaza, and the piano with a sign on it that read "You Are Not Alone." There was a duality to this message as the display was to remind us of "Alon," a hostage taken on Oct. 7. He is an avid musician and anyone who sits at the piano may play; but they are not Alon (and our hearts go out to him, and all of the hostages...so they are not alone).

Day 4 (April 4) began at the outskirts of Jerusalem for a talk by the parents of Roe Weiser, a combat soldier who effectively dedicated his life to helping others. His unit was overrun by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. He made it to the safe room and could've stayed there in safety. However, he chose to fight and in the process lost his life but save 12 of his brothers in arms and hundreds more by continuing a fire fight with the terrorists that delayed them in moving on to another area to commit murder. The IDF reinforced shortly thereafter so the delay that allowed the IDF to enter the fighting without a doubt saved many lives. It was inspiring to hear the parents of a slain soldier speak of a higher purpose. Roey was always looking out for his men and now, in Roey's memory, his parents are raising money to provide "whatever is needed" for Roey's unit.

We then went to Rachel's Tomb to pray and understand how the story of Rachel relates to Jews everywhere today.

We then went to Hebron to see the Cave of Machpelah, the burial place of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs (except Rachel). We prayed for the health of the IDF soldiers with cards we had filled out with names of soldiers at the IDF Rehabilitation Hospital. Here we were also given picture cards with the names of hostages to personally pray for.

In Hebron we also visited the "Synagogue of Abraham." Built in the early 1500s, this is a synagogue that was destroyed during the Arab uprising. A Russian immigrant from the (former) Soviet Union committed and persisted in restoring the synagogue and he did. One very emotional point made was that during the 1929 Arab uprising, a Torah was saved and hidden in hopes of the day when the synagogue was restored. When it was, the man that hid the Torah, and witnessed the 1929 massacre, was able to present the Torah to "new" synagogue.

Day 5 (April 5) was a walking tour of the City of David, which is just outside the walls of the Old City. It was a walk through history to the time of King David. We saw where his palace stood, pre-palace Canaanite fortress walls included, and later the administrative buildings of King Solomon. We also walked through the water way that was used to draw water through a secret passage. This secret passage is what David entered to conquer Jerusalem for the people of Israel.

Day 6 (April 6) began with Shabbat Services and ended with Havdallah Service at an outside area near the Jaffe Gate to the Old City. We celebrated the evening with joyous singing and dancing with many Israeli friends that we made on this trip.

Day 7 (April 7) began with our group working a Pantry Packers, part of the oldest charitable organization in Israel. We got to process and pack for distribution bags of coffee and beans. They work closely with the Leiket Farm and help feed some 37,000 Israelis.

We then visited the National Cemetery of Jerusalem for fallen heroes. We attended the funeral for a fallen hero of the IDF and then listened to the story of another young hero who, at a young age, dedicated himself to being an elite soldier as told by his cousin. The "new" section of heroes fallen during this Gaza war has too many men and women whose lives ended at such a young age defending Israel, and us, from evil.

After a farewell dinner, we headed to the airport for home to share with our families, our communities, and the world the many stories of horror by Hamas and heroism by Israel that we witnessed. It was stated, and I strongly believe, that we do not just Stand With Israel...We Are Israel!


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