April 8, 2024
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In the Merit of Righteous Women

Reflections from the OU Women’s Initiative Mission to Israel.

Women who represented the Young Israel of Queens Valley on the OU Women’s Initiative Mission to Israel from February 19-22.

בזכות נשים צדקניות נגאלו אבותינו ממצרים, it is in the merit of righteous women that our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt. This is a concept I have learned many times since I was a young girl.

But like many things learned at an early age, I did not really comprehend what it meant. Now that I have been in Israel during a time of war, I am convinced that בזכות נשים צדקניות אנחנו נגאל מהגלות הזאת, in the merit of righteous women, we will be redeemed from this long exile.

From February 19 through 22, I participated in a mission to Israel with the OU Women’s Initiative. Along with many influential women from across the United States and Canada, I was privileged to hear from and meet many righteous and resilient women, including Ditza Ohr, the mother of Avinatan Ohr, currently a hostage in Gaza; Jen Airley, mother of Binyamin Airley, HY”D, who was killed in Gaza; Rabbanit Noa Lewis, a member of the chevra kadisha in Tzahal, and many more women who live in communities in Otef Aza (the area surrounding Gaza) and other locations. These women do not ask why; they ask, “What can we do?” They live with the confidence that Hashem is with them, watching over them, and taking care of them, and this gives them the strength and ability to move through life’s most difficult challenges. These women keep pushing forward and doing as much as they can for Am Yisrael. It is these women and others like them who will bring the ultimate geulah.

On Purim, we see that Queen Esther hesitated when Mordechai asked her to go to King Achashverosh and beg for mercy for the Jewish people. “If you don’t do this, someone else will,” says Mordechai. You might be lost, but our people will never be, as Hashem will never abandon us.

It was easy to feel abandoned on October 7 and in the days that followed. With the murder of over 1,200 Jews and more than 200 people kidnapped to Gaza, we all felt devastated, vulnerable and scared.

Rachel Hercman of Teaneck with one of the נשים צדקניות at Asa’el.

Yet just a few short months later, the country, while still suffering, is also moving ahead.

Ironically, it is many of those who have lost the most who are spreading the message that we have not been abandoned. Hashem is here, Hashem is in control, and He will see us through This.

Ditza Ohr shared a remarkably positive message with us: Every story will have a happy ending; if it’s not happy, then the story isn’t over. She is grateful that the neshama of her son, Avinatan, chose such a difficult path in his life, as his way to serve Hashem. She davens continuously for his release, doing mitzvot such as tzedakah and melave malka in his merit. And she shares her message so we can all join with her in this undertaking, to accrue enough zechuyot for the release of Avinatan and the other hostages.

Jen Airley stressed that we must identify and focus on the purpose of this war. The Hamas rockets and the terrorists’ headbands have pictures of Yerushalayim. This is a milchama labayit—literally, a war for the house—nothing less than a fight for the Beit Hamikdash. And we must win; we have no choice. As the Israeli government works to widen the roads, build tunnels and high-speed trains to Yerushalayim, they are working, unwittingly, for the time of mashiach. So must we, through intense tefillah. Her son Binyamin was not scared to go into Gaza, and was willing to give his life al kiddush Hashem. What are we willing to do?

In Kfar Maimon and Shuva, two dati yishuvim in the south that were miraculously saved from the brutal terrorists on October 7, we met women who were thrilled to return after spending months evacuated from their homes. They insist on continuing to live meaningful lives in their family homes. Hamas cannot take that away from them.

In the community of Asa’el, in Harei Chevron, the hills of Chevron, we spoke with women whose faces were glowing with purpose. They know they are fulfilling the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz at a very high level. Most of their husbands were called up to the army on October 7.

These 90 families, with over 400 children, were left with no men and no protection.

Therefore, the women became the protectors of the yishuv. They now wear guns along with their mitpachot, and they are protecting the settlement until their husbands return. In Sderot, we were taken to the cheder milchamah, war room, where the security of the city has been monitored since the morning of October 7, when the Sderot police station was destroyed by Hamas. When asked why they allow people into this room and tell them about the events of October 7, the chief said that we all must bear witness, and that we all must take the message to the world that Am Yisrael will never be destroyed.

At the site of the Nova Festival, we heard from two survivors, Eden and Shira, who described the complete chaos and their escape from terrorists who were shooting at them as they tried to escape. They suffered the devastating loss of two of their closest friends that night. We recited Tehillim together, and they told us that now that they survived, their lives must have a higher purpose. They speak to groups about their experience, and they have established an organization to provide mental health services to survivors of Nova.

A few short kilometers from Gaza, we had the zechut of providing a barbecue to chayalim on the very evening they were returning to Gaza. After they finished their meal, we watched these men transform from lighthearted young adults, laughing and joking with their friends, to serious soldiers, outfitted in full gear and determined to complete their mission. As they were driven away into Gaza, a group of Jewish mothers (myself included) recited the misheberach la’tzahal and Tehillim on their behalf. May Hashem grant their speedy return.

OU WI participants from California, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania at the Plaza.

הם רוצים להרוס ואנחנו רוצים לבנות, they want to destroy and we want to build. As we witnessed massive destruction, we also internalized the message that our people will not be stopped.

This trip was not about “tragedy tourism,” a term I heard from one of the participants during the closing ceremony; it was about the rebuilding of what was lost on October 7. From people moving home with their families, to defending the land, to picking up the pieces of what has been so brutally torn from them or irreparably broken, the spirit of achdut, unity and determination to ensure the nitzchiyut of Am Yisrael was palpable wherever we went.

It was heartbreaking to witness the destruction to lives and families, to body and soul. At the ame time, we heard the resounding message of Am Yisrael Chai. This will not be the end of us. Recovery and rebuilding are going on everywhere. Those who can, do. Those who are in need receive help from those who can give it. There is a powerful sense of unity and determination to come out of this stronger than ever. The women are a large factor of this rebuilding force.

Their determination to share their experiences and guide their families to thrive on our holy land will ultimately herald the final geulah. ביחד ננצח! Together, we will be victorious!

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