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Rabbi’s Blog: Missive from the Mission

02/22/2024 12:57:15 PM

Feb22

Dear OZ family,

For the first time in a week I have a moment to collect my thoughts with enough time to reflect in print, about our amazing mission to Israel.

First of all, a great Yasher Koach to Chad Hopkovitz our Executive Director for arranging everything in advance with such precision and care on short notice. A lot of preparation went into this mission and every part of it was suffused with meaning and inspiration.

I arrived Friday and connected immediately with a student I taught at YU almost 40 years ago, who has arranged for over 500 pairs of Tefillin to be delivered to soldiers who never had a pair, who would commit in writing to start donning them. Our community has partnered with him and we hope that the soldiers who received the Tefillin will be able to don them in shul and not in Gaza.

I spent Shabbos speaking at the beautifully renovated Pinsker shul, where Murray and Veronica Zucker used to daven when they were in Israel. I also spoke at the Chovevei Tziyon shul and our group received warm OZ hospitality at the Turner’s, Comet’s, Debora's, and Sperling’s. 

The week’s activities were mostly described on our WhatsApp (https://chat.whatsapp.com/L7MmLjDZcDsDMhyumYiWdF) and you’ve been sent pictures and videos. It is nothing short of amazing how many Jews are able to put their lives on hold to help others in so many ways. This is nothing compared to how the lives of so many Israelis have been uprooted. We hope we offered some small degree of comfort and assistance. 

We heard countless stories of heroism and selflessness. We laughed and cried as we listened to miracles and losses, young soldiers who suddenly lost so many of their best buddies, and those who would fight on another day to help 200,000 displaced Israelis return to their homes.

We visited heroes in rehab, who are determined to make a life for themselves and their families. These young kids used to be called the Tik-tok generation, but in reality they are beginning to look like Israel’s greatest generation. They are determined to win this war, and we told them that they are fighting for the safety of Jews around the world. The last time Haman is mentioned in Megillat Esther, he is called, “Tzorer kol Hayehudim, the enemy of all the Jews. Hamas, like Hamas, is out to kill all Jews. Most of the Jews they killed were their most ardent advocates in Israeli society. That doesn’t matter to them.

Young Israelis know that for them to have a peaceful future in Israel, Hamas must be eradicated. Israel is starting to build back. Even in Be’eri, the hardest hit of all places on Oct. 7, they are beginning to reconstruct. Israel will build back better and she will do it quickly, with the great assistance of Diaspora Jewry. We will hear reflections this Shabbat and next, at Seudah Shlishit, from participants of our mission. Some are staying over this Shabbat and we’ll hear from them next week. 

We also had a terrific reunion dinner at our hotel, and so many OZ alumni came to hear a brief shiur and an inspiring presentation from one of our Alumni, who had a few days off from his service. He and his wife were recently blessed with a baby girl, and they all came to the dinner. (Many pictures and posts understandably left off names or images of the soldiers and their bases at their request).

I thank all those who donated to our special Israel fund for the amazing places we visited. A special mention goes to the Arbesfeld family who dedicated the Tuesday Night BBQ on a Base at Dolev just outside of Gaza, and to Nechama Rosenberg, who spearheaded the fundraiser that purchased the e-bike that was donated to United Hatzalah.

I look forward to seeing you all on Shabbat and sharing additional reflections.

Stay safe and healthy.

Rabbi Allen Schwartz 
Sat, April 13 2024 5 Nisan 5784