June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Hello from Israel,

I am sharing my thoughts while here with Rabbi J. Kroll to hopefully offer some chizuk to our SAR family, friends and students.

Rabbi Binyamin Krauss (AC ’84)

Principal, SAR Academy

 

Day 1

Fifteen days after the Shabbat that devastated us all, I am boarding an EL AL flight to Tel Aviv. My son Ariel is with me, returning to yeshiva where he would like to remain for the rest of the year.

Why am I here? My job is at SAR, and my primary responsibility is the students and staff at our school. We spent the last two weeks davening, fundraising, writing letters, advocating, crying and connecting. I learned that the things we were doing mattered. Small gestures and minor support, but many small things add up and we have received much feedback about the role we have played and the impact we have been able to have. So I hope that spending three days on the ground will allow for more of that, while the davening, advocating and support continue at home.

Last week, after discussing with Rabbi Harcsztark and Rabbi Kroll at SAR High School, and thinking about it privately and with colleagues, I wanted to be there in person. To bring chizuk personally, and to represent our students, teachers, and parents.

Our primary objective is to visit our chayalim. We have over 75 SAR alumni actively serving. And there are others who are current and former teachers, and current and former parents. We intend to go north when we land tomorrow, and south on Tuesday. We don’t know how many we will reach, but we will try and we hope to see as many as we can—to deliver energy bars and beef jerky as they requested and our community handily delivered.

Finally, we hope to visit those who are suffering or grieving, to let them know that Jews around the world are grieving with them, and with the hope that this knowledge will bring an ounce of relief and of hope.

On the plane, who is here with me? One gentleman introduced himself. He’s from Denver and knows Rabbi Yitz and Blu Greenberg, and reveres them. He boarded the plane with 16 duffel bags and told me, “Instead of crying more I am coming for three weeks to see if I can help.” The young man on the other side of me is from Great Neck. “I am going back to my unit. I served in 2019-2020, but I’m joining them and I’m going back. I can’t wait to be with them tomorrow.”

As we landed, the pilot thanked us for being here and concluded with a somber but hopeful message: “We pray for quieter days.” Amen.

Directly from the airport, we went to visit Medison Pharma in Petach Tikva, where former SAR parents Gal and Shlomit Naor, and their partners, Meir and Tzila Jakobsohn, transformed their business into a logistics operation servicing chayalim across the country. Quickly, efficiently, and with a smile. Thank you to the SAR community for helping to support this effort.

From there, we made our way up north. Yossi Ben Harush, who taught at SAR High School, joined us, and we picked up former Academy staffers Gili Mor and Yosef Frankel on the way. Our first stop was in Zemach at the bottom of the kinneret, where we met SAR HS teacher and parent Gilad Bargil, who just returned to Israel after four years at SAR HS. He has been active nonstop since two weeks ago, and he was able to get away for a few minutes for some hugs, some letters and some energy bars.

We made contact with Yair Slasky (AC ’13, HS ’17), an SAR alum who is serving now. His wedding was scheduled for last week, and needed to be postponed. We arranged to drop off a package for him as he was unable to meet us this afternoon.

We made our way further north and were so happy to see Alex Katz (AC ’08, HS ’12), who returned to serve just over a week ago.

Tonight, we had a remarkable gathering in Raanana at the home of Esti and Itai Schwartz. SAR Principals Rabbi Yonah Fuld and Rabbi Joel Cohn joined us from Jerusalem. We were joined by alumni who are currently serving, families who had been teachers and parents in SAR, and it was invigorating to come together to share and reflect. Esti and Shlomo, from Kfar Aza, came and shared their harrowing story. Esti had visited SAR as a preschool teacher a number of years ago and has remained connected since. It was incredibly sad to hear their story, but also inspiring to witness their strength. Liron Damri, also a former SAR parent, discussed his work managing thousands of volunteers at the Tel Aviv Expo, and spoke of the ray of light he has witnessed around the country and the world, with people responding.

It was great to see so many members of our SAR family. We will be gathering tomorrow night in Modiin and in Yerushalayim on Wednesday—please come and say hi if you can. Spread the word!

 

Day 2

A Laundry Dilemma—Solved

Yesterday, while traveling to visit chayalim in the north, we picked up a friend at a yishuv called Hoshaya. He shared with me the touching story of how 160 residents from Sderot, who had been evacuated from the south, had now moved into the yishuv. While these new arrivals were warmly welcomed, they faced some everyday challenges. In particular, laundry was a concern because they had only one washing machine for the entire group. They also lacked a television to stay up-to-date with the news. I was texting a friend in Riverdale and told him the story, and he responded simply: “Can I get the things they need? It would be an honor.” The delivery arrived today.

Hotel Row: A New Reality in the Dead Sea Resorts

The Dead Sea’s resort area is famous for its scenic beauty and a row of hotels. We visited there this morning, and found that all of the hotels are now housing residents from different communities. Leonardo Plaza is housing residents from Kisufim, Enjoy Hotel is sheltering those from Kibbutz Magen, and Hotel Nevo has welcomed residents of Kibbutz Saad, including our own Keren and Eran Ginzberg and their family.

While the weather was beautiful, the pools full of kids, and music playing, the environment was completely different with signs of the times evident. Death notices lined the walls, and shivas were taking place in hotel rooms. Health clinics relocated to the lobbies, and school classes were being held in the executive lounge. We met a remarkable woman, Galit, who is leading a team of children’s trauma specialists who have relocated from Jerusalem and elsewhere to provide critical support, one of the projects this community supported last week.

We were not sure how many of our chayalim we would actually be able to reach, if any. We did our best to gather information, without asking anyone to reveal secure locations online, and understanding that things change by the hour, people don’t have their phones. So we were thrilled to make it to one base in the south and find four “local” chayalim (three SAR alumni and one from New Rochelle) on one base! Daniel, Raanan, Shaya and Ilan.

This moment made me so proud. They seemed calm, ready, positive and determined. We left them with a lot of beef jerky and love from you all. Am Yisrael Chai.

From there we made our way to a base on the edge of “the retzua.” To be on roads and pass signs pointing to places that will forever be associated with the massacre of 2023 was jarring. I felt what Esti, our guest last night from Kfar Aza, described, which was how the same physical space can be both Gan Eden and Gehenom, depending on the time.

We made it to a very large base, and met up with Eitan and Matania, two soldiers from the Peace of Mind group who visited SAR just this past spring, as well as Shai, a current SAR parent who returned to Israel last week to be with his unit.

We then went to the beit midrash of Yeshivat Shaalvim, where Rabbi Kroll gave “divrei chizuk” to the American students learning there for the year.

In Modiin, David Glazer and Yardena Osband hosted a wonderful mix of students, alumni, former teachers and Israeli families who spent a year or more at SAR, for a nice evening of song and words of inspiration from Yonah Rossman, a chayal who had a few hours off to be with us. Once again we felt both the sadness and inspiration that has characterized this brief trip.

As the day ends here, it brings me so much pride to see pictures from Seton Park, where over 800 SAR students, and many others, are gathering to support and express appreciation to our congressman, Ritchie Torres, for his consistently strong voice of moral clarity, always, and especially these past few weeks.

 

Day 3

I began the day in Tel Aviv, at the Tel Aviv Expo, a massive convention center that has been converted to one of the largest nongovernmental operations centers in the country. Hundreds of volunteers are manning a very large warehouse with rows of toys, supplies, gear for soldiers, and clothing for those who lost their homes and were resettled. Another building has a “WeWork” feel, with teams of hi-tech entrepreneurs working on logistics, hasbara, resettlement and more. Retired Air Force generals and other senior officials sit together, coordinating and envisioning a massive support system. Liron Damri, a former SAR parent, is one of the leaders of this effort and is working day and night to provide relief in an efficient and dignified manner. See https://www.hamal.org.il/ to learn more about their work.

Then I visited Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva, a place our community supported in the very early days of the war. Soroka, with 1,100 beds, is the only major hospital in the south, and 1,200 people were brought in on October 7.

I was joined by SAR parent Ilan Slasky, whose son Yair was supposed to get married last week but postponed the wedding and is now serving. While there, we met some police officers and a soldier from Kisufim who were both, Baruch Hashem, on their way to recovery. The soldier was moved when I played him some videos from my phone of the Tehillim we recite on the steps daily, appreciating the care expressed by children from around the world.

Then we met Yossi Urim, a high school teacher from Sderot and a father of 10. He was on his way to shul that Simchat Torah when his son, who had gone ahead, warned him that something was happening, but neither of them fully grasped the situation. Yossi continued to the nearly empty shul and soon realized the gravity of the situation, but it was too late. As he decided to return home, a terrorist shot him from 10 meters away, and a bullet went through his back. Remarkably, he managed to walk back home to his wife, enduring intense pain, but fortunately, escaping the terrorist who fled in the opposite direction. After securing their children in their miklat, Yossi’s wife cared for him for hours, unable to reach anyone, quickly understanding help could not make it to them.

Finally, two men from Gedera arrived at their home, explaining that they were good, and they were there to help. They broke down a bedroom door to create a makeshift stretcher and transported Yossi to Soroka Hospital in the back of a jeep, under fire along the 40-minute ride. Yossi considers his survival a miracle, all thanks to Leon Bar and his son, Omer, the heroes who arrived at his door that morning. Tragically, the very next day, Sunday, Leon was killed as he continued, heroically, to save others. The Urim family visited the shiva home to express their gratitude to Leon’s family for saving Yossi’s life. Leon’s wife mentioned that as soon as he came home that night, Leon told her he needed to go back to the Urim home the next day to fix the door he broke to carry Yossi out.

When I asked Yossi what we could do for him today, he asked that we please remember Leon Bar. So I share with you this article written about Leon by his son. https://www.inn.co.il/news/616209

Tonight, we gathered at the home of SAR Principal Rabbi Joel and Mrs. Shulamith Cohn, capping off three evenings of chizuk, three evenings in different cities, each providing a place for SAR community members spanning generations and locations to come together and comfort one another in this challenging time. We were joined by Rabbi Yonah and Mary Fuld and many dedicated teachers, parents and graduates—Shira Irwin, Debby Schloss, Tamar Benovitz, and Harvey Bennett, a Salanter graduate—to name a few. Dr. Adam Ferziger (AC ’78) poignantly shared his memories of living through the Yom Kippur War when he was a student at SAR. The heart of the evening was the exchange of divrei chizuk and divrei Torah between Rabbi Fuld and Rabbi Cohn.

With over 40 people in attendance, the gathering served as a great reminder of the connections, memories and experiences we all share as an SAR family. No matter where you are, you are part of the SAR family, one which will always provide strength and support during times when people truly need each other.

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