April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Bringing Out the Community in Union

Colonel Mufid Marie, former member of Knesset, of Hurfeish.

In the months following the atrocities committed on October 7, 2023, opinions on the war initiated by Hamas have spread like wildfire worldwide. Here in the United States, public figures such as politicians, Hollywood actors and media personalities have taken their stances, and many have unabashedly shared their thoughts with their audiences. It has become abundantly clear that this war has infiltrated our colleges, our streets, our public institutions, our homes and our communities. Through this time, community lines have been drawn, even to go as far as bringing support to the public in Super Bowl commercials. And through it all, the word “solidarity” has quickly become a part of everyday vocabulary.

What I have quickly understood in my time as the director of programming at the Union Y is the power of community engagement. Since the horrific acts of October 7, the Y community has taken it upon ourselves to strengthen involvement from all areas of Union County and our constituents beyond county lines in support of Israel. From charitable acts to families making cards for Israeli soldiers, our local communities have brought Y members and visitors together to shine a beacon from the Union Y—a beacon that exemplifies the light of hope. When you walk through our halls, you will see our banner proudly displaying Am Yisrael Chai. When you are welcomed by our staff for programs that bring members of different communities together, you feel Am Yisrael Chai. And on February 22, 2024, when the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest’s partner delegates from Israel joined us for an unforgettably emotional evening, we truly felt Am Yisrael Chai.

Rafi Tvizer of Ofakim

The Union Y was honored to have the opportunity to welcome a group of Israeli delegates to our community center the evening of February 22. Ordinarily, people who are geared to speak have had time to prepare and to rest up before addressing an audience. However, our group of delegates, who arrived in the U.S. at 5:30 a.m., had very little rest and had been traveling widely before their scheduled visits to several local community centers and institutions. (And we were the first on their list!) But with diligence and warmth from the Federation’s Martén Yafé, director of global connections, and Maya Lior, rishonim leader and community shlicha, the floor opened for our guests to introduce themselves and relate personal accounts from their respective communities in Israel. Some came from Hurfeish, a community up north near the Lebanese border, while some others came from Ofakim, about 17 miles from the Gaza border. The tales of our esteemed guests stirred a number of emotions, and I will be the first to say that I, myself, became teary-eyed hearing these accounts.

Following introductions, attendees were divided into four groups with two delegates assigned to each group. Here, stories were shared more in-depth. Delegates passed around family pictures from home, and intimate discussions ensued. The power that emanated from these groups and the air that filled the room was that of awe and empathy. Many audience members shared their feelings about having their own children studying in Israeli yeshivot during this time; they told of their own visits and how they were affected being in Israel during these frightening times. One delegate, Tal Siboni from Moshav Gilat, brought pictures of her nephew, Naor Siboni, z”l, who was killed protecting the Nachal Oz army post on October 7. We invited Tal to put a sticker of Naor’s picture, as well as a QR code that pulls up a video of his story, on our map of Israel in the Union Y’s Israel Center. His name and picture will be displayed for all future visitors to see and for his memory to be a blessing to all the nation of Israel.

(l-r) Jacob Savitt, Rabbi Yossi Kenigsberg, Rochel Kenigsberg, Tal Siboni, Michael Belfer and Vered Shpirer. Rabbi Yossi Kenigsberg holds a memorial sticker of Tal Siboni’s nephew, Naor.

What was truly remarkable about the evening was the eclectic nature of the group of delegates and how all of them came together in solidarity with similar stories. From a former colonel and member of Knesset to schoolteachers from Arad and Ofakim, the Y was blessed to host this wide array of individuals and to feel the emotion of their accounts. These stories, so different in individualized context, were all connected by the passions these guests have for their communities, and therein lies the true essence of what it means to be a community. The power of a community brings people from all walks of life and from all aspects of belief and religion together in a common bond. Community ties people together internally, bringing forth unique and special passions and emotions. Community is not just an opportunity to physically show up for our brethren; it is a beautiful opportunity to share ideas, concepts and messages with people we may have never even thought to have met. Our delegates brought out the best in the Union Y on the evening of February 22, in that they cemented the aspect of mutuality in our community center.

“Solidarity” will never be a word that is just another synonym for “unity” or “oneness”; now, after the terror perpetrated on October 7 and since, “solidarity” is the ever-strong, inseparable unit that is the Jewish people. We need to stand together against oppression, and just as we left Egypt with one heart and as one people against tremendous odds, we stand as one today. Just as, against tremendous odds, we vanquished Haman and his followers who sought to kill us purely for being Jews, we will do the same, as one. Just as, against tremendous odds, the Maccabees defeated the Greco-Roman Empire in battle and restored our Temple, we kindle our menorahs today and keep the fire of hope alive, as one.

Participants.

You see, we’ve always had tremendous odds against us. But we cannot forget, at our Pesach seders or while having a sufganiyah, that we were once at the darkest and lowest periods of Jewish history, yet we overcame those odds every time. Today, we once again face this war, and while we in the United States are not physically in Israel, we soldier on in the battle of the Diaspora, maintaining a bond to one another in the face of antisemitism. As such, the Union Y looks forward to hosting events and programs that continue to bolster local communities and encourage unity and solidarity.

Perhaps one day, the Jewish people will look back at this time period in reverence as the turning point for another great miracle to happen, and another holiday will be born.

Dotan Dror of Kibbutz Erez

Jacob Savitt is the director of programming for the YM-YWHA of Union County. He received his bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s of social work from Kean University.

Individual group discussions.
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