June 25, 2024
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June 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The grave of Adi.

At the ending dinner of our three day mission, Rabbi Chaim Strauchler asked us to share in one word our reaction to the Mission. I had already summed it up in two words: enlightening and devastating. But here’s the thing, for every devastating event we shared, there also was the positive. We saw and heard many upsetting things but we also heard and saw so many positive things. As Ira Bauman said to me, “It was an emotional yo-yo “ of an experience.

Sitting at home in Teaneck, I was already aware of stories of sadness and loss but being here in Israel, I was able to see and hear for myself and personally meet the people I’d been reading about. It was an honor to be in the same room with them and hear their experiences myself. Despite the devastating stories we heard, many of the spouses and parents also shared pride and hope and love for their kidnapped or deceased loved ones. Jacqui Valin told us about her daughter Adi who was killed by terrorists on October 7 in one of the attacked settlements. The portrait of Adi that emerged was of a lion-hearted woman, a wonderful person who loved her two young boys and protected them. As she waited for the terrorists in her safe room, she told her husband to stay safely away but to instruct her in the use of the rifle which she used to kill one of the terrorists. Outnumbered, she succumbed herself but her sons survived. Though the boys were taken to Gaza with a nearby neighbor, they were quickly released to return home. After he himself was freed by soldiers, her father, Doron, went looking for Adi. He entered the house and was told later by soldiers that the door was booby- trapped with a grenade which miraculously did not explode. Later, I asked Jacqui how she could talk about her daughter without breaking down. She said with a smile that it was her greatest joy to be able to share information about her special daughter. And, indeed, she had been beaming as she earlier showed us a film clip of Adi who had been full of life and love for her husband and sons.

There was sadness and pain for the losses, but we also shared other happy times. Our group sponsored many special events for soldiers and their families and evacuees. We had barbecues and a music concert with Ishay Ribo and 600 soldiers and their families who had just returned. It was heartwarming to see their wives and children there with them.

An especially wonderful night was the barbecue with Rav Rimon and the soldiers on the base. We danced in separate circles of men and women and the ruach and sense of being together was strong and powerful. Those women soldiers could really dance! Their enthusiasm was infectious and we all had a wonderful experience.

We had a sweet visit in the hospital with a female survivor of the killing fields at Nova. Despite injuries which had kept her in the hospital all these months, there she was, able to stand and still doing rehab, smiling and so warm we couldn’t help but give her hugs and gifts and wish her well.

One of my favorite parts was doing activities with the evacuated children. I was part of doing this twice at different sites. After a visit to Kerem Shalom, a community on the very border with Gaza and Egypt, we were given a tour by residents and learned more about what happened there on October 7. The individuals involved that day walked us through what they experienced and how they successfully defended themselves. The widow of one of the lost men spoke about that day. They are not living there now due to the danger, but are hoping to return. We later visited Ashalim, where they are presently residing, and did activities with their young children. I don’t know who had more fun, the children, their parents or us! It was very successful, especially with the ending science show from a Yavneh science teacher. A similar scene was repeated the next day at the Dan Panorama hotel with the evacuees living there. Although we occupied a hotel room right next to them, this was the first opportunity I had to be able to speak with them and spend time with them. The next day, at breakfast, I was able to approach a woman who had been jumping rope with the children and tell her how well she could jump. As I approached, she looked wary, but as soon as I explained who I was, she beamed and immediately clasped my hand to thank me.

Even in different languages and across cultures, shared experiences bridge the gap. We can’t change the war or the horrible, dreadful things that have happened, but we can reach out and bear witness and become one in sharing and being part of Am Yisroel.


Diane Fogel is a Teaneck resident and a retired school librarian who loves Israel and has two daughters and their families living there.

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