April 8, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Shaare Tefillah Partners with Pittsburgh Shuls on Mission to Israel

Participant Yossi Muszkat with a picture of his cousin who was killed on Oct 7 at Nova.

Rabbi Kenny and Rebbetzin Shira Schiowitz of Congregation Shaare Tefillah in Teaneck (CST) led a three-day mission to Israel from January 1 through 3. Partnering with two Pittsburgh shuls whose Rabbi Yitzi Genack and Rebbetzin AnnaYolkut participated along with congregants, the group consisted of 45 men and women. Guided by professional tour guide Yossi Sausen, the mission provided the participants with many memorable experiences and many opportunities to provide and receive chizuk.

Arriving in Israel a week before the mission began, the Schiowitzs spent time in Yerushalayim where they experienced a bustling city almost fully returned to normalcy. However, you could not miss the signs, flags, banners and slogans that adorned the buildings with signs of unity, such as “B’yachad N’natzeach,” together we will win, and prayers for the return of the hostages, “Bring Them Home Now!” Rabbi Schiowitz pointed out that the Hebrew version of that slogan is “Machzirim otam ha’bayta achshav,” we are returning them home now, a more determined and proactive version of the same prayer.

In attending a funeral for a young soldier on Har Herzl and paying a shiva call to a Russian couple who had lost their lone soldier son as well as meeting other parents who had lost soldiers, the Schiowitzs were incredibly inspired by the courage and resiliency of these families. CST sponsored a very special ongoing event in the Pat Bemelach restaurant in Efrat. On Sundays and Wednesdays, the wives of soldiers serving on the front are invited to the restaurant for a few hours of relaxation and most importantly an opportunity to share their stories with other women who are “holding down the fort” during these trying times. Efrat residents and cousins of the Schiowitzs will keep this chesed ongoing. While in Jerusalem, the Schiowitzs spent a warm and wonderful Shabbat with former members of CST.

Picking clementines under a helicopter.

On Monday, January 1, the group headed South in the direction of Netivot to a huge clementine grove where they were to pick the fruits. After October 7, the number of farmworkers dwindled from 160 to six.

The overseer of the grove, Yaakov, praised the group’s filling of 1.5 crates in three hours but did mention that the average pre-war worker filled three crates a day! Participant Carly Teichman admitted that the intermittent booms heard during their picking were somewhat concerning but their fears were allayed when they were told that these were the sounds of soldiers in combat and helicopters circling above on alert for injured chayalim.

After three hours of picking clementines, the group headed to the yishuv of Tushia. Empty of its residents who are currently living in the Leonardo Hotel in Jerusalem, they fortuitously knocked on the door of a family that came back for the day. Tushia resident Orna told the group the miraculous story of their Yishuv on October 7. On that day, a helicopter had to make an emergency landing as it had been hit by an RPG. Landing at the gate of Tushia, the soldiers managed to confront and eliminate a band of 60 marauding Arabs on their way to the yishuv. Orna showed the group her backyard with the sandbag barrier where soldiers had camped out for a month fighting off approaching terrorists. Leda Rockoff shared,” Even as we heard the constant artillery fire from Gaza, we could feel the chizuk we both gave and received from Orna.”

Proceeding to an army base between Urim and Parish, the group sponsored a barbecue for the soldiers. They shared laughs and stories and distributed greeting cards made by children in Teaneck. Participant Ashley Klapper shared, ”I told my daughter afterwards that her small act of making greeting cards made a huge impact on the soldiers who were fighting for Am Yisrael!”

Tel HaShomer with Mia Schem.

Back in Yerushalayim, a group of participants headed for the Kotel. At the back of the kotel plaza there was a glass case of yahrzeit candles lit in memory of the fallen soldiers. While standing in front of the display, they met a young soldier Nehuray Buzlago, 25, who had just returned from Gaza and had come to the kotel to recite Mizmor l’Todah as he had been spared the fate of his commanding officer in the Givati troop. Natan Cohen shared, “It was clear to us that he was still processing what happened in Gaza and we were the sympathetic ear that he needed. We spent 30 minutes with Nehuray, giving strength to each other.”

On Tuesday, the group visited the infamous car park outside of the Nova Festival grounds where cars that were left on the road were brought to be cleaned out for human remains. The sight of many layers of burned out cars piled up was painful. On the huge field of the Nova Music Festival they saw the hundreds of posters of those murdered during the attack. A memorial garden is being planned for the location.

Next stop was Kibbutz Be’eri where a couple from the CST mission lost a cousin in his 80s. On October 7, 400 terrorists overran Kibbutz Be’eri and murdered over 100 residents. In touring the Kibbutz for close to two hours it was evident that this was an especially beautiful area, the guide Yardi actually referring to it as “a paradise.” Many homes were untouched but just as many were torched, riddled with bullets and destroyed. Yardi shared that his brother fought off terrorists and saved many lives from inside the dental clinic until he ran out of ammunition and was murdered. A dedication to the memory of brother Shachar Tzemach was written on the outside wall of the house in which he fell. Incredibly, the beautiful Shul at which the group davened Mincha was untouched. After the sobering visit to Be’eri, the group completed the second day of the mission at an uplifting kumzitz with Rav Shlomo Katz on an army base outside Efrat.

On the third day of the mission, the group visited evacuated families at the Jerusalem Ramada Hotel. They got on the floor with the little ones in the makeshift gan and distributed toys. On to Hostage Square in Tel Aviv where they went to the tents of the various Southern communities to hear their stories from October 7. For the most part, the residents of these decimated kibbutzim are eager to return and rebuild. They made several visits to grieving families in the tents of Hostage Square who expressed gratitude for their words of comfort and support. The next stop was at Tel Hashomer Medical Center where the group brought gifts and words of chizuk to the recovering soldiers and received as much chizuk in return. Finally, the group visited released hostage Mia Shem who was sincerely touched by their good wishes.

Returning to Teaneck and Pittsburgh, participants in the mission spoke of their trip to their shuls and schools. Rebbetzin Shira Schiowitz addressed a student audience at SAR High School in Riverdale at which she serves as a Tanach teacher and co-director of Professional Development. As part of her presentation, she shared, ”At Hostage Square we met Chen Avigdori, a comedy writer. Chen lives in Tel Aviv but on October 7th his wife Sharon and his 16-year-old daughter Noam were visiting Sharon’s brother in Be’eri where they were taken hostage.Thank God they have been released. In response, Chen has become an activist on behalf of the remaining hostages. One theme he spoke about is the importance of the unity of all Jews. Chen, who identifies himself as secular, was incredibly moved by the 7-year-old boys from the Satmar community who took upon themselves an additional mitzvah in the zechus of the hostages still being held. He was deeply moved when the families of the hostages marched to Yerushalayim large groups of Satmar chassidim stood along the march route in solidarity with the marchers.”

Visiting an army base.

On a personal note, Schiowitz added, “When my Grandmother’s family was wiped out by the evil Nazis, they had nobody to save them and nowhere to go. When you visit the sites of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, they are frozen in time. On October 7 we were once again stricken by evil. But this is a very different story. There is a State, there is Tzahal, and there are people to stand up for us. We must thank Hashem for this every day.”

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