July 23, 2024
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Congregation Brothers of Israel Experiences Moving Mission to Israel

Photo taken by a mission participant at Kibbutz Nir Oz. A quarter of the kibbutz members were murdered or kidnapped and more than half of the homes were burned to the ground.

Despite the risks and uncertainty of traveling to a country at war, many Jewish community members have felt compelled to visit Israel at this time to show their support, hear stories of survivors and hostage families firsthand, and to volunteer. Community members have gone on solidarity missions organized and run by individuals and organizations.

One example of a shul-run trip was the four-day mission by Congregation Brothers of Israel (CBI) in Long Branch, New Jersey from Dec. 18-21. The congregation had already distinguished itself as a passionate supporter of Israel in this time of crisis. A private effort to collect funds to purchase equipment for Israeli soldiers, conducted by the shul’s program director Roz Ben David and her husband Dor, “went viral” and raised $1.9 million for vests, helmets, ceramic plates, goggles and other supplies.

In early December the shul partnered with the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ to host a community forum with Rep. Frank Pallone, at which many attendees emphasized the importance of standing strongly with Israel in this conflict. The shul also sent a bus to the Stand for Israel Rally in November and hung thousands of Hostages Held by Hamas posters all over their area.

Rabbi Braun speaks at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv after hearing from the families of the hostages who are still in Gaza.

So when Ben David started working with congregants Alan and Hanna Bresler and CBI’s Rabbi Nasanayl Braun in late November to organize a solidarity mission to Israel the next month, the response from other congregants was very enthusiastic. In a couple of weeks, 26 people in the shul signed up to participate.

In tandem with the plans for the trip, the shul raised close to $150,000, including money to purchase presents for the children of evacuees, make donations to all organizations that mission participations met with, and to get supplies for the 45 members of the Sayeret Golani army unit (One of the members of that unit is Avi Braun, son of Rabbi Braun.)

The mission they created was thoughtfully planned and top notch throughout. The group stayed in the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem and all “on the ground” logistics were managed by Goinspire, an Israeli tour group.

Rabbi Braun with his son Avi at a base in the south where the Congregation Brothers of Israel mission arranged a barbecue for
Avi’s unit, Sayeret Golani.

The itinerary included a visit to the World Mizrachi headquarters and a talk by the organization’s executive chairman, Rabbi Doron Perez, whose son Daniel was taken hostage by Hamas and whose other son Yonatan was injured while serving in an IDF paratrooper unit on Oct. 7; a barbecue dinner with an elite IDF unit at an army base; a visit to Kibbutz Nir Oz; conversations with members of the displaced community of Shlomit and shopping for toys with the children at Toys “R” Us.

Mission members also prepared sandwiches for soldiers and then had lunch at Crave Restaurant in Machane Yehuda; visited Hostages Square in Tel Aviv and met with family members of a hostage; visited wounded soldiers at Tel Hashomer Hospital; toured the forensic center at the Shura military base, where hundreds of dead bodies have been identified; met with Menachem Bombach, whose vocational institutions for Haredim encourage them to sign up for the IDF; and visited Hatzalah headquarters in Romema.

Asked about the highlights of the trip, Roz told The Jewish Link she had many. “The barbecue dinner for 250 soldiers which we sponsored for soldiers from Rabbi Braun’s son’s unit — Sayeret Golani and other similar units. The food was delicious, the music was fun and the camaraderie was uplifting.”

Congregation Brothers of Israel (CBI) members with Sayeret Golani soldiers at a barbecue sponsored by members of CBI, which included a DJ and dinner for 250 combat soldiers.

“Our visit to Sheba/Tel Hashomer Hospital, with singer Yonatan Razel, where we met with soldiers badly injured on Oct. 7 after multiple operations and now in major rehab. We spoke with them, heard their stories, sang with them and gave gifts. Youngsters 19-23 years old with missing limbs, damaged faces, but amazingly positive attitudes. They were really grateful to meet with us and willing to tell their incredibly dramatic and traumatic stories,” she continued.

She next spoke about Shlomit. “We went to Cramim Hotel outside Jerusalem where families displaced from the town of Shlomit (on the Sinai border immediately south of Gaza) are being housed. We heard from Noria, who told us the story of how her husband Bechor, HY”D together with a few other young men of the kibbutz, received a call for help from a neighboring settlement as they were under attack. Bechor drove off to assist and was found three days later in his car with terrorists’ skin under his fingernails — he had fought to defend his fellow Jews even to the point of a physical struggle with the terrorists. Four men from the town were killed defending Israel and the new shul they are building in Shlomit will memorialize them. We distributed toys to the children, from Toys “R” Us, which everyone was very excited to receive.”

The trip was very meaningful for everyone who participated. Hanna Bresler told The Jewish Link, “The question should not be why we went on a mission to Israel, but how could we not go and bear witness to our brothers’ pain, devastation and overwhelming bravery. Jews the world over, religious, secular, Haredi, in galut and in Israel, are one. We feel the pain of Oct. 7 and know in our hearts that with Hashem’s help, united we will triumph over our enemies and emerge stronger than ever.”

(l-r) Hannah Freilich and Roz Ben David at Crave Restaurant in Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem as they prepared 200 sandwiches for soldiers in Gaza.

Deborah and Cary Glastein stated: “The mission was announced one Shabbos morning, we committed on our walk home and were booked that night. This is our war. It was clear and apparent at every stop that we made that we are all fighting for the same outcome. We are going to win the fight against Hamas and the hatred of Jews. The family of Israel is much larger than this small country and, although they are on the front lines, we will win this war together. Am Yisroel Chai!”

Rabbi Braun shared that “We went on a synagogue mission to Israel to demonstrate our support for the people of Israel during a difficult and traumatic time. While impossible to capture the meaning of our trip in a few sentences, one of the most meaningful aspects of the mission was connecting to people and recognizing how meaningful our gesture of friendship and support was. It enhanced our experience and pushed us to continue supporting and giving to the people that we met upon our return to New Jersey.”

Jeff and Lori Moskowitz at Cramim Hotel giving out gifts for kids who were evacuated from their homes in Shlomit, a village in southern Israel.

Harry Glazer is the Middlesex County editor of The Jewish Link. He can be reached at [email protected]

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