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Rep. Ritchie Torres Joins Bronx UJA-Federation Leadership Mission to Israel

Pastor Thompson (left) and Rabbi Zirkind (right) leading memorial prayers at Nova Music Festival massacre site.

On Sunday evening March 31, a UJA-sponsored delegation of Bronx leaders arrived in Israel for a two-day solidarity mission. The mission included Bronx Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY-15), SAR Principal Binyamin Krauss, Amit Stern, Riverdale Jewish Center Rabbi Dovid Zirkind, Jessica Haller, Riverdale Y CEO Melissa Sigmund, UJA-Federation of NY’s Hindy Poupko and Daniel Rosenthal, Pastor Keith Elijah Thompson of the Bronx Miracle Gospel Tabernacle, and JCRC-NY CEO Mark Treyger.

Krauss noted this visit, coinciding with protests and regional tension, “offered a unique blend of political engagement and bearing witness. It was clear from the moment we touched down and in every encounter that Congressman Torres’ unwavering support for Israel deeply resonated with all we met. I felt honored to share in his experience, the Congressman’s first trip to Israel since Oct. 7, as he aimed to strengthen relationships and demonstrate solidarity during these challenging times.”

Upon landing, the delegation went directly to Tel Aviv’s Kikar Chatufim (Hostage Square). Krauss noted the square was unusually quiet, as hostage families were protesting outside the Prime Minister’s residence and the Knesset in Jerusalem. The group did meet the oldest hostage’s grandson. “It was remarkable to hear his unwavering faith despite the ongoing uncertainty and frustration he and so many other families continue to endure, at six months since their loved ones were taken,” Krauss shared with The Jewish Link.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant welcoming Bronx delegation.

He described the group’s meetings with high-ranking officials including Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, who spoke of the current military and political challenges on the heels of his recent trip to D.C. Opposition leader Yair Lapid shared a story about his family’s survival in Hungary during the Holocaust, marking the challenges then and those faced now. When asked what it’s like for him to be in the opposition, Lapid emphasized that opposition is the key to every healthy democracy. The Knesset’s United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas shared an optimistic outlook for peace, underscoring the importance of dialogue and collaboration in fostering understanding and progress.

The group traveled south to Nir Oz. Of 400 residents, more than 100 were killed or taken hostage. Krauss said, “These numbers are staggering and difficult to comprehend. As we walked through homes preserved exactly as they were left on Oct. 7, including that of the Bibas family, the haunting remnants painted a vivid picture of the horrors of that day.” Kibbutz representatives shared information about each family from every home. “It was clear how important it was for them that we bear witness to the atrocities. I continue to be struck by their strength in the face of such unimaginable loss and trauma.”

They also visited Netiv HaAsara. “We prayed together at the Peace Wall, a joint mosaic creation on the border wall dividing Gaza and Israel and a remarkable reminder of the previous hopefulness of this community which lost 16 members on that terrible day.”

Rep. Ritchie Torres praying at the Kotel.

The third stop was the Nova Festival site. Festival survivor and recent SAR visitor Ron Segev described escaping the terrorists. “There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. You just had to pick a direction and run. The terrain through which these people were trying to escape, running for their lives, had nowhere for them to go. Desert trees were too thin to hide behind; there was nothing but open space.”

Krauss said, “Being there myself, I could feel the confusion these young people must have felt as violent events started to quickly unfold.”

At the site, Zirkind chanted Av Harachamim. On his first trip to Israel, Thompson recited Psalm 23.

Hostage Oded Lifshitz’s grandson meets Rep. Ritchie Torres in Tel Aviv’s Hostage Square.

Torres observed the optimism of survivors they met, their perspective of love, peace and light after enduring such horrors, reinforcing for them the message that yes, they will dance again. “That’s the story not only of the Nova Festival but of the Jewish people. It’s a story of resilience and rebuilding, a story of dancing again.”

Krauss noted, “I have been to Israel since Oct. 7 and while we have created a beautiful, meaningful connection with the families of Kfar Aza, this was my first time seeing the devastation of a kibbutz in the south.”

Treyger reflected on the resilience of the Israeli people. “All those we connected with, shared in one form or another that they were hurt, but not broken. Bullets can pierce through flesh, but they will never be able to shatter the Israeli spirit. That was evidenced by the largest Shabbat table I have ever seen. That was evidenced by Nova survivors organizing efforts to care for those impacted under a promise they made to each other ‘to dance again.’ That was evidenced by the ordinary citizens who stepped up to help their fellow neighbors in need, regardless of their faith, during the aftermath of some of the darkest hours in Israel’s history.”

Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid (at head of table) meets with the Bronx delegation.


(l-r) RJC Rabbi Dovid Zirkind, Rep. Ritchie Torres, SAR Principal Binyamin Krauss and his predecessor Rabbi Yonah Fuld, lead an impromptu memorial to the late Sen. Joseph Lieberman, z”l, at the Kotel Plaza.

Judy Berger is a Bronx/Westchester/Connecticut community editor at The Jewish Link.

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