Everyone remembers where they were on Oct. 7 when the impossible news started trickling and then flooding in. We may not have understood the extent of what was happening, but we all knew one thing: Our lives in the United States—6,000 miles away from Israel—had been forever changed.
Yet as the days, weeks and months passed, things changed. The daily schedule of school, work and the vicissitudes of life crept back in. Our promise of “never again” receded from our minds as we began to allow life to “return to normal.” But we cannot pretend that life has returned to normal.
Life isn’t normal when thousands of our finest soldiers have been seriously wounded and many are clinging to their lives. It can’t be normal until the 200,000 displaced Israelis are back in their homes. It can’t be normal until all of our hostages are returned safely.
But what can we do from so far away?
Recently, my wife and I were scrolling through our social-media feeds and saw pictures of our friends’ midwinter getaways in Florida, the Caribbean, Hawaii and many other wonderful destinations. Our own posts documenting our time spent in Israel in towns near the Gaza border stood in stark contrast.
People asked us why we decided to go to Israel amid a dangerous war. The truth was we didn’t go on a mission or with an organization. We went on our own as Jews standing in solidarity. The everlasting words of Moses resonated deeply within us: “Shall your brethren go to war while you stay here?” (Numbers 32:6).
One of the first places we visited was the temporary homes of evacuated families of Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the sites of the massacre in southern Israel, where more than 97 people were killed. When we arrived, a woman—who my wife immediately recognized as a recently released hostage—approached us and asked, “It’s wartime; why did you come? No one seems to be visiting us.”
My wife responded, “If Israel was Disneyland, we would all show up for the sun and fun. But if Israel is our motherland, we show up when our mother and her children are in pain. We came to cry and to hug every Jew who lives here. We are all at war, and in tough times, family must come together.”
The woman fell on my wife’s neck, and they wept together: Two Jewish women beating with one Jewish heart.
A group of 10th-graders came by to say hello. Two of their classmates had been murdered and one had been taken hostage. One of them asked me with pain and tears in her eyes, “Can I come visit you in your home back in the States? My whole house is burnt. I don’t have a home. We don’t know where we will live!”
I told them with a swelling heart that when they come to America, Durham-Chapel Hill will be happy to host them.
As we left, my wife gave every woman and child a silver heart necklace, connecting their hearts to the hearts of all the women in our community back home. The whole kibbutz now walks around with that symbol of love and unity.
Standing there, I thought of the words recorded in the Torah from the first Jewish father to his son. When Isaac called out in distress, Abraham said, Hineni—“I am here, son. I will be with you every step of your life’s journey. I will never leave your side. Never.”
Today is American Jewry’s moment to say hineni. In addition to philanthropic help, this is our moment to reaffirm to our brothers and sisters in Israel that we are not just distant cousins 6,000 miles away.
We met hundreds of soldiers on our trip, thanked them for their service and reminded them that their fight is not just for Israel. It is to enable all Jews around the world to walk proud so we can be safe and empowered to fight antisemitism on college campuses.
So what can you sitting at home do to help your brothers and sisters in Israel? Donating money, attending solidarity rallies and expressing your Jewish pride are all great starting points, but maybe this year, consider going a step further and changing your vacation plans.
Don’t go just when you need Israel for a convenient getaway. Go now when Israel needs you. While a few days’ trip to the Holy Land might not seem like a lot, it means the world to the people of Israel. These are historic moments for our people, and it is on us to be a part of that history.