Since 2016, I’ve been to Israel four times. Those trips are among the most inspiring and educational experiences in my life. I learned about the history of the land and its ties to my deep Catholic faith. These trips have fed my spiritual yearning. On each one, I’ve evolved as a human. I’ve walked the roads of Jerusalem, felt empowered in Tel Aviv and nurtured at the Sea of Galilee.
My most recent visit was in January for a political fellowship. We were there for a briefing about the state of Israel. But we were also there for a unique cultural experience. I was part of a group of 14 community and political leaders who formed an incredibly tight bond and now see each other as family.
When I woke up Saturday and learned that Israel was under attack, I immediately thought of people like my Jewish mentor (and now big sister) Debbie Rudy, who has deep ties to the country. My friend Nate, whose parents are snowbirds in Israel. The families who hosted me for Shabbat in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I also thought of the teachers and guides who’ve educated me since 2016 on the nuances of the country’s history, the beauty of its people, and how they still have hope despite living in turmoil.
While I understood that turmoil was all too real, never did I imagine that we would be witnessing what we are today. You can imagine the chaos that has been in my head over the past few days as I wonder whether those people who taught us and gave us so much are safe and healthy.
On Sunday, I learned about what one of our guides from January was enduring. She was out of the country when the attack happened. But she couldn’t reach her family on the Kfar Aza kibbutz.
Immediately, I was mentally transported to Kfar Aza as it had been when I visited: Peaceful, beautiful. Children playing on the basketball court. Our guide shared stories of growing up on the kibbutz, playing with her friends and feeling safe there, despite being on the border with Gaza. She loved watching her nieces and nephews grow up in the same idyllic way that she had.
But there were also reminders that this peace was precarious. We could see the gates of the border. And, in one home, we visited a safe room where the family would run if they heard sirens.
I’m still struggling to put into words what I felt when I read about the devastation at Kfar Aza. When I saw images of bodies and of hostages being taken from the kibbutz, I prayed that those I met there are alive. We now know children were beheaded on the property. While at the Kibbutz just this past January, we took video and pictures of these kids playing basketball. I show you their faces so we can remember they are joyful, beautiful humans. Today, I pray that they are alive. Bless this Earth!
As I’m writing this, my health, safety and comfort all feel like a luxury. I am trying to resolve feelings of fear and worry. I didn’t sleep a wink last night because my mind raced with thoughts that awful things could happen to any of us. To be frank, I feel a little selfish.
I am also frustrated with those who are using this moment to display the dark side of political rhetoric. As someone who has worked in politics for two decades, there will be a time for that conversation. How we got here is an incredibly complex history. What is on the agenda today is compassion for humankind, and creating a plan to heal and repair the world.
I also deeply grieve for the lives lost in Palestine. There are families today preparing for funerals of their loved ones, and my heart also breaks for them.
I am looking for hope. If you’re like me, you want to know how you can help. That’s why I wanted to share this list of ideas from REALITY Israel, one of the groups that sponsored my educational trips.
- Reach out to family, friends and colleagues in Israel, as well as those connected to them throughout the world to express your concern and solidarity.
- Use your channels and networks to share expressions of support, information about the hostage crisis in Gaza and stories from Israel. (If you share information, please confirm it is from credible sources.)
- Provide support to organizations addressing urgent needs in Israel. A few to consider include Jewish Federations of North America , Israel Trauma Coalition or NATAL, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and IsraAID.
Read More About Israel
- REALITY recommends staying informed about the war by reading the Times of Israel or listening to their daily briefing podcast.
- Journalist Amir Tibon gives a harrowing account of escaping another kibbutz.
- Earlier this year, I wrote about the Israeli nonprofit organization Save a Child’s Heart. ACH’s mission is to save the lives of children who have heart problems and who live in places where it’s difficult or impossible to access the cardiac care they need.
- I also shared about a personal epiphany I experienced on my last trip to Israel.
Thank you to my FRamily and trip mates who graciously shared their pictures with me. The pictures in this blog were all taken at Kibbutz Kfar Aza. I also want to share some of their thoughts about our time in Israel:
“Resilient and triumphant describes the Israeli spirit.” My friend Adrienne White’s account of a trip to Israel that we were both on is so beautiful and thoughtful.
“10 months later, and I’m still processing my experience in Israel. The trip allowed me to see and hear from many sides, and it confirmed that peace in the Middle East is complex, delicate and volatile.”
— Sherry Martin
“A few days ago, I learned there was a massacre at the kibbutz I toured. My heart hurts. I will continue to pray and long for peace.”
— Dina S. Leroy
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