April 19, 2024
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YINR Takes Second Mission to Israel

YINR delegation at Missiles Menorah outside Yeshivat Sderot.

On March 18-20, Young Israel of New Rochelle (New York) members participated in YINR’s second solidarity mission to Israel. This mission, organized by Adina Garbuz and YINR Executive Board Chair Rachel Berger, was led by Rabbi Reuven Fink and Rebbetzin Yael Axelrod.

Berger noted, “The second trip was an opportunity to let more people experience what we experienced the first time. Wondering how I would feel going again on another mission, it was a completely different experience. Many people shared their experiences with us. This time, people wanted to talk to us about what happened to them on Oct. 7 and since then.”

YINR Rabbi Reuven Fink lights memorial candle at the site of the Nova Music Festival attack.

On the first day, heading south to the Gaza Envelope, the group visited the yeshiva in Sderot, YINR’s sister city Netiv HaAsara, Re’im (site of the Nova Music Festival) and Tkuma, with burnt-out cars, mostly of Nova festival goers. The last stop was Shuva Junction’s pop-up area. Originally a field hospital, it’s now a soldiers’ hospice/relief area. Delegates presented the soldiers with supplies and letters from their community. Garbuz noted, “There were fewer soldiers than other times. We felt a sign of hope, that we’re getting to an end of this very bad story.”

The second day centered around the Tel Aviv area. At Leket, the group separated vegetables for distribution to Israelis. Some placed avocados on conveyor belts, while others separated carrots. Visiting Shura base, where dead bodies have been brought for identification following Oct. 7, Garbuz reflected, “I can’t emphasize how incredibly heart-wrenching it was to see the beautiful job they do, to give respect to the fallen and their families.” Garbuz quoted their guide, “This isn’t chesed shel emet, chevra kadisha’s work. It’s hakarat hatov. They’re defending us, saving us and all died Al Kiddush Hashem.”

Before visiting Hostage Square, the group met Golan Vach, head of Israel’s National Rescue Unit, known for rescues in Turkey; Surfside, Florida and other disasters around the world. The unit is now in charge of clearing out the southern kibbutzim. Vach fought side by side with Yossi Herskovitz and brought the tune, written by Herskovitz while fighting in Gaza, to his family. The day ended with a barbecue for soldiers.

Rebbetzin Yael Fink coordinating distribution of duffel bags filled with supplies donated by the New Rochelle community.

The third and final day centered around Yerushalayim. Garbuz stated, “Every day when you think it couldn’t get more heart-wrenching, it does.” Starting the day in Beit Shemesh volunteering at “Beef Up Our Boys,” they helped pack beef jerky and wrote notes for chayalim. At Magen David Adom headquarters, a dispatcher described the gruesome details she experienced on Oct. 7. She explained she “couldn’t possibly answer all the calls and be even-keeled, unemotional and simply send ambulances. There weren’t ambulances to send to these people.”

Garbuz relayed how the group made a shiva call to the mother of a soldier named Matan who had just fallen. “We walked in and she just didn’t have words. She was completely broken.” From there, the group went to Har Herzl. “We saw freshly buried graves. Even the graves from a few months ago seemed old comparatively,” described Garbuz. “We saw the grave of Matan, whose mother we had just visited.”

Axelrod reflected, “I thought it was super important to physically be there, not only to learn about what happened but to show the people of Israel that we are with them; to take a week out of our lives and to go and hear their stories.” Axelrod continued, “One recurring theme of really so many places we went was to go back home and tell our stories. The world needs to know. We can only speak to people that are with us, but you have a much bigger reach. You can spread the word.”

Axelrod added, “What I found so inspiring is, after everything they’ve been through, they’re comforting us. They’re saying how amazing we are for coming and for showing support.” Axelrod recalled the Sderot army boys who came back to yeshiva and didn’t go home for Simchat Torah. They didn’t want to bring their guns but were instructed to take them. Having extra armed people made a huge difference.”

Packing avocados with Rabbi Fink at Leket headquarters.

Berger observed, “On this mission, we talked to people more and felt it more because it was a few months later. The fact that it’s still going on sat heavy on me personally. You think, as time goes on, it tends to fade or become less important. To me, it felt more important because it isn’t going away, it’s not getting better, we don’t have our hostages back, it’s difficult to comprehend.”

Berger added, “Our tour guide said you can’t talk about PTSD now. We’re not post anything. We’re still in the middle of the trauma, still going through it. We’re not yet healing.”

Axelrod concluded, “Everywhere we went, we saw resilience, unity and each person doing whatever they can to help.”


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

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