US Jewish leaders take deep dive into post-Oct. 7 Israel

Religious and lay leaders from diverse communities examine the complexities now facing Israel during AFMDA rabbinic solidarity mission.

AFMDA mission participants at the Western Wall. Credit: Courtesy of American Friends of Magen David Adom.
AFMDA mission participants at the Western Wall. Credit: Courtesy of American Friends of Magen David Adom.

A diverse mix of religious and lay leaders from 10 large Conservative, Reform and Modern Orthodox American Jewish communities are visiting Israel on a five-day American Friends of Magen David Adom Rabbinic Solidarity Mission.

The mission’s packed itinerary brings the participants face-to-face with Israel’s complexities and challenges six months on from the outbreak of war, in a mix of touring and personal encounters.

This is the inaugural initiative of the AFMDA Rabbinic Advisory Council, a body which serves as a nonpolitical, nonpartisan resource to positively engage U.S. Jewish communities with Israel and AFMDA.

Rabbi Michael Siegel of the Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, who was instrumental in organizing the mission, gave voice to many fellow participants when he referred to the delegation as the “culmination of the desire of rabbis across the United States to engage more fully with Magen David Adom and their important work.”

Mission participants dining in Jerusalem during a meeting with Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan Nahoum. Credit: Courtesy of American Friends of Magen David Adom.

While acknowledging that MDA may be familiar to many American Jews, Siegel maintains that visiting the country and meeting with paramedics in the organization’s facilities offers another meaningful dimension.

“What we learn about MDA in Israel is a very powerful story of the notion of healing, of pikuach nefesh [saving lives], in the State of Israel, a country that continues to choose life. There is no other organization that typifies that idea better than Magen David Adom,” said Siegel.

“As rabbis, we are not only working to learn more about MDA firsthand by coming to Israel, but our goal is to take this message home with us and share it with congregations across the country, continue to build out our Rabbinic Advisory Council and go from strength to strength, while we stand with Israel and this important organization,” Siegel continued. “We are enriched in the U.S. through our relationship with MDA which saves lives, supports, and works for the health of the State of Israel, not only at a time like this but also, G-d willing, when peace comes as well.”

The five-day mission, designed to introduce participants to MDA operations in war, as well as in routine, to bear witness to the atrocities of Oct. 7 and to learn firsthand about the challenges facing Israel today, includes visits to MDA’s Marcus National Blood Services Center in Ramla, the MDA Medevac helicopter team at Sde Teman, and the William H. Bloomberg Center in Jerusalem.

Eric Browndorf of Florida’s Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center at the Western Wall. Credit: Courtesy of American Friends of Magen David Adom.
Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum addresses the group over dinner in Jerusalem. Credit: Courtesy of American Friends of Magen David Adom.

The itinerary also includes personal encounters during visits to western Negev communities and the site of the Nova party massacre (where they met government minister and war cabinet member Benny Gantz), Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, and the rehabilitation wards at Sheba Medical Center and Shaarei Zedek Medical Center. In addition to meeting with hostage and bereaved families and wounded soldiers, the participants received briefings from dignitaries and political figures including U.S. Embassy Charge D’Affaires Stephanie Hallett, Mossad chief psychologist Glen Cohen, and Israeli policymaker and deputy mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum.

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In the United States, disaster relief, ambulance and blood services are handled by an array of organizations. In Israel, there’s one organization that does it all: Magen David Adom. Although MDA’s role is mandated by the Israeli government, it’s not a government agency. As Israel’s official representative to the International Red Cross, MDA’s role precludes it from accepting governmental support for its general operations. Because of this arrangement, the agency relies on support from donors, including those from the United States, to keep its dispatch systems, training and equipment the best in the world.
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