On Tuesday, February 20, a large group of individuals from Bergen County will fly to Israel for three days as part of the Bergen County Unites for Israel Mission. What makes this particular mission unique is that it will feature a delegation of representatives from the numerous shuls in Bergen County. Among the mission’s participants are Rabbi Daniel Fridman of The Jewish Center of Teaneck and TABC, Rabbi Daniel Feldman of Ohr Saadya, Rabbi Larry Rothwachs of Congregation Beth Aaron, Rabbi Chaim Strauchler of Congregation Rinat Yisrael, Rebbetzin Michal Goldberg of Beis Medrash of Bergenfield and Rebbetzin Chani Krohn of the Young Israel of Teaneck.
This mission is open to the entire community and Rabbi Fridman emphasized that it’s not just about the record number of people who will be embarking on this mission. “We want it to be about achdus, which is such a big part of what the Jewish people need right now, because it’s a source of strength for us.”
Part of the mission’s itinerary includes volunteer opportunities at various types of facilities, visiting with soldiers on bases, and comforting bereaved families.
The Bergen County Unites for Israel Mission will also continue broadening its partnership with Mizrachi and Sulamot, the organizations spearheaded by renowned posek Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon, who came to Teaneck back in December to raise funds for the displaced residents of the south.
“We are going to be focusing on preparing Kerem Shalom, which is one of the yishuvim in the Otef Aza region, for the return of its residents,” Rabbi Fridman said. The mission’s participants plan on meeting with the many displaced families of Kerem Shalom who have not been back in their homes since October 7, and ‘adopt’ these residents on a county-wide basis, in part, by raising the money that will be needed to help them return and reestablish their lives.
Rabbi Fridman explained that the Israeli government and the IDF have been doing their part to help prepare the region for the return of its residents. However, in the latest budget that was just released by the Israeli government, the amount allocated to defense is more than twice what was originally proposed, which means that the amount of money available to assist residents of Otef Aza has been greatly reduced. “Unfortunately, that also means that there are still many critical items required by the yishuvim of the Otef that simply will not be covered under the terms of this new budget and without these critical items.” Some of those items include an armored ambulance, as well as an intelligence center. “The residents simply cannot safely return unless these certain security provisions are put into place.”
Rav Rimon is working with six other yishuvim, which he is hoping will be adopted by other communities both in Israel and the United States, so that everyone can play a role in ensuring that all the displaced people can safely return to their homes as soon as possible.
Kerem Shalom is home to about 200 residents—of which approximately100 are children—who fall on all different levels of the religious spectrum, and yet everybody lives there in harmony, respectful of everyone’s different levels of observance. “That’s why we wanted to partner with them—because we felt that Kerem Shalom is a model of what it means to have achdus in klal Yisroel. We have very bitter enemies from the outside and we must therefore be united amongst ourselves. Together we have the strength to confront the true enemies of the Jewish people.
“That’s why we decided to run this as a unity mission, involving the many synagogues in our neighborhood. Kerem Shalom represents what we should all be thinking about, which is how to have achdus with each other.”
Rabbi Fridman called the people of Kerem Shalom “righteous and special Jews in terms of what they are doing for the land of Israel. Their organizing principle is that there is mutual respect despite differences in religious observances and practices, and everybody who lives there is filled with a love for the land of Israel and the people of Israel.
“They understand something that we have to understand as well, that if there aren’t Jews in Kerem Shalom, then there aren’t going to be Jews in Ashdod and Ashkelon,” Rabbi Fridman continued. “And if there aren’t Jews in Ashdod and Ashkelon, then there aren’t going to be Jews in Tel Aviv. Somebody needs to be there and the people of Kerem Shalom are doing something very important just by being there.”
While it is expected to be a powerful, emotional and meaningful three days in Israel, it is also about establishing a long-term role in the recovery of this war, “and making sure that God forbid, Hamas does not get the victory of having destroyed the Jewish town in the land of Israel, which is their goal,” Rabbi Fridman added. “So we know we have a very big role to play.
“Kerem Shalom is a place where the people have truly come together. It’s one of 22 communities in the Otef, and the needs are so great that it really does necessitate a Bergen County-wide effort to make sure that the funds are there to help the community return, which cannot be done by one shul alone. If we do our part to adopt one yishuv, and other communities adopt other yishuvim, then we’ll have done something important for the Jewish people, and this is our responsibility.”
There are still slots open for those who wish to join the mission. The base price for the mission is $500, not including hotel and airfare. To register or learn more, email Rabbi Fridman at [email protected].