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Kerem Shalom Delegation to Visit Bergen County

From Sunday, May 26-Wednesday, May 29, Bergen County will have the privilege of welcoming an extraordinary delegation of residents from Kibbutz Kerem Shalom. This special and deeply meaningful visit will allow the local community to continue to foster its connection with its sister community in Israel while helping raise the necessary funds to rebuild Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael.

Avital Schindler outside her home which was invaded by terrorists on Oct. 7. Her husband Amichai was badly wounded.

It was back in December when the Bergen County Unites for Israel Mission came to support the communities in Gush Katif, who suffered tremendous loss and devastation following the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas. Coordinated by Rabbi Daniel Fridman of the the Jewish Center of Teaneck, the mission included the leadership of many of local shuls, including Rabbi Daniel Feldman of Ohr Saadya; Rabbi Larry Rothwachs of Beth Aaron; Rabbi Chaim Strauchler of Rinat Yisrael; Rebbetzin Michal Goldberg of Beis Medrash of Bergenfield; and Rebbetzin Chani Krohn of Young Israel of Teaneck, in collaboration with Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon’s Sulamot organization, which helps re-establish Israelis throughout Israel who have been displaced.

Residents of Kerem Shalom have still not been able to return to their homes. Situated right next to Rafah, the fighting is literally taking place 200 yards from their homes and it was just last week when Hamas bombed Kerem Shalom, killing four chayalim. “These people literally live on the fence and our support — our material support and, just as importantly, our emotional support — is what is preventing Hamas from making Kerem Shalom Judenrein,” said Fridman.

All of the fundraising will be devoted to items which cannot be covered by the Israeli government, which simply does not have the budget to provide these essential items. They include an armored ambulance, a command center for local defense, emergency response equipment, and a playground for the children of the community.

Rabbi Rothwachs (r) and Rabbi Fridman (l) plant a tree in Kerem Shalom in memory of Amichai Schindler and Yedidya Raziel who fell while saving the kibbutz from terrorists. The tree sits equidistant from the site where they fell, Al Kiddush Hashem.

Kerem Shalom is a unique and inspiring model of true Jewish unity that was initially established as a secular kibbutz by a group of wonderful and idealistic individuals who shared a deep love and commitment to Eretz Yisrael, like all kibbutzim. However, also like most kibbutzim, there was a point where it started to struggle, and so about eight years ago a decision was made to invite religious families and individuals to come and help revive the kibbutz.

Chani Krohn, rebbetzin of the Young Israel of Teaneck, said, “Spending time with the people of Kerem Shalom, seeing their kibbutz and hearing their story was deeply impactful. It is a kibbutz where secular and religious people live together, respect each other and look for what connects them instead of what divides them.”

“I had the zechut, the merit, of entering the home of Avital and Amichai Schindler with Avital, and as she showed us the safe room full of bullet holes and burnt walls where her husband was severely injured, she said, ‘This will be my home again.’ The people of Kerem Shalom possess a gevurah, a strength that is hard to capture in words. I am so thankful that Bergen County will have the opportunity to hear from members of Kerem Shalom and experience firsthand the mesirut nefesh that they embody every day.”

“It was a tremendous gesture of achdut to open their hearts and doors to others who held different religious beliefs than theirs,” explained Fridman. “What ended up happening is they simply lived with love and mutual respect for each other and I think it’s the model for what klal Yisrael needs right now.”

Rabbi Rothwachs (r) and Rabbi Fridman (l) plant a tree in Kerem Shalom in memory of Amichai Schindler and Yedidya Raziel who fell while saving the kibbutz from terrorists. The tree sits equidistant from the site where they fell, Al Kiddush Hashem.

Goldberg also participated in the mission back in January. She shared, “In Kerem Shalom, people of different levels of religious observance live together on one kibbutz. The foundation of the community is acceptance and unity. Our group was inspired by this philosophy and by the individual residents whom we met. We felt instantly accepted by them and, therefore, instantly connected to them.”

Fridman described it as the perfect example of ‘“unity saving lives” because on Oct. 7 the rapid response team at Kerem Shalom was made up of nine residents, some of whom included the dati residents who had just arrived less than decade ago. Kerem Shalom was surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds of Hamas terrorists, and they saved an entire kibbutz at great cost of human life. “They fought together, shoulder to shoulder, and literally prevented another Be’eri or Kfar Aza. And they paid for it in blood.”

Among the delegation of Kerem Shalom residents will be Yair Weizner, who himself was grievously injured while fighting valiantly against Hamas terrorists and effectively saving the kibbutz. “He is coming in memory of two of his very dear friends who literally sacrificed their lives to save a family whose home had been taken over by terrorists,” said Fridman. Back in February, Fridman vividly recalled walking in Kerem Shalom over the site where the men had fallen, calling it “admat kodesh.

“Rabbi Rothwachs and I planted a tree that sits equidistant between where Amichai Weitzen and Yedidya Raziel, two kedoshim fell. Among the re-building projects planned for Kerem Shalom is a memorial garden right in the area where these brave souls gave their lives. It means everything to their widows, Talia and Shira, and the eight orphans of the two families.

“Visiting the members of Kerem Shalom was an incredibly inspiring experience. Witnessing their resilience and unwavering spirit despite the unimaginable challenges they faced was truly humbling. Their strength and dedication to rebuilding their community serve as a powerful reminder of the unbreakable bond and shared destiny we have as a people,” said Rothwachs.

Several events are planned throughout Bergen County in honor of the delegation and Fridman, one of the lead coordinators of the Bergen County Unites for Israel Mission, said, “It’s going to be a beautiful few days for them to really get to appreciate how deeply people here care about them.”

One of the stops will include a visit to Fair Lawn’s Congregation Ahavat Achim, led by Rabbi Ely Shestack, whose congregants were so eager to help in any way they could. “We had been holding money back since Oct. 7, trying to not satisfy people’s natural and beautiful desire to immediately jump in and help in a significant financial way. When I found out about the Sulamot initiative to rebuild the yishuvim that were destroyed on Oct. 7, I said to my kehila, ‘This is what we have been waiting for,’” explained Shestack.

Talia Weizner (r) addressed the Bergen County delegation. Her husband Yair was grievously injured while fighting valiantly against Hamas terrorists and effectively saving the kibbutz.

Another opportunity to meet and support the residents of Kerem Shalom will be at the Young Israel of Fort Lee at 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 26, where Rabbi Sammy Bergman has been so instrumental in rallying communal support for this cause.

On Monday, May 27, a benefit concert in honor of the delegation featuring Mordechai Shapiro will take place at the Jewish Center of Teaneck at 6 p.m., the day after Lag B’Omer. Finally, on Tuesday evening, May 28, a reception will be held at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun at 8:30 p.m. for the community to come and meet the heroic members of the delegation and spend some meaningful time with them.

Fridman added, “Our community understands that there is only one reason why Hamas went to Be’eri, Kerem Shalom and Nachal Oz on Oct. 7 and not Teaneck, Bergenfield, Fair Lawn or Fort Lee. It is simply because those communities are closer. As Rabbi Soloveitchik taught us, we have a common fate and a common destiny as well.

“There was so much division before Oct. 7 and Kerem Shalom was like an oasis of real shalom and achdut. We think Kerem Shalom is really the embodiment of the road map forward for Am Yisrael, the Jewish people. We will rebuild Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael through achdut, and if we do so, Hashem will send us His blessings of success.”

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