Almost immediately after the war with Hamas began, Rabbi Ilan D. Feldman, the head rabbi of Congregation Beth Jacob, and Yisrael Herscovici, its President, left the synagogue for a whirlwind three-day Israel solidarity trip. Their first thought was to be in Israel to provide love and support for Israeli families wherever they were.
When asked why that was so necessary, their response was, “How could we not go, how could we stay away?”
They knew that there were plenty of rabbis in Israel, but having a rabbi and the president of the synagogue arrive in Israel for support to anyone who needed it, sent a message that U.S. Jews were behind Israel in whatever they needed. They came to inspire Jews in Israel, but in turn they left being inspired themselves.
The two men left without knowing where they would stay or what they would do. However, there were many previous members of their shul that had made Aliyah and they would figure it out once they got to Israel. Eventually, Harold and Shoshana Steifel arranged for them to stay at their home, and Feldman’s son agreed to take them in his car to wherever they wanted to go; so, once in Israel, they had their own needs for a place to stay and travel arrangements were organized for them. In addition, Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler at Beth Jacob Synagogue knew of enough contacts in Israel for the two to meet with key people in Israel during their trip.
Monday, Oct. 23
With all these arrangements somewhat organized, they made their way from Delta in Atlanta to El Al in Miami. When El Al security asked, “Why are you going to Israel?” the rabbi responded, “How could I not?” When she asked, “Did anyone give you anything to take?” he said, “Yes.” And when she asked, “What was it?” the rabbi tried to answer that he was given body armor and love cards made by Torah Day School students for those soldiers who had been injured, but instead he began to cry. Somehow, she understood and had no further questions.
An executive of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) told them: “We will be praying for sure! Please tell all you come in contact with that the millions of members of CUFI and tens of millions of other Christians are standing with Israel and praying for them and the victory over Hamas. Once you get home, we must connect to hear all about the trip.”
Tuesday, Oct. 24
Once in Israel, they went to Yad Binyamin for morning prayers. Afterward, they met with Caryn Oberman, a woman who had made Aliyah from Atlanta, who told them about the relief “war room” being organized by her community, with massive amounts of equipment and food being distributed throughout the South toward Gaza.
The community already had donations that were contributed from the U.S., Canada and elsewhere. The reason donations for the refugees and for the soldiers was necessary was because the soldiers left their jobs, their homes, and their synagogues immediately with nothing, no clothes, no food, and no weapons. That was because Hamas terrorists were in Israel fighting for three days and it was necessary for the IDF to respond immediately. All told, about 300 IDF members were killed defending Israel during the initial Hamas invasion. As a result, about 200,000 Israelis left the Israeli cities near Gaza and became refugees throughout Israel, with no food, clothing, or work.
From there, the two men went to Rabbi Doron Perez, who is head of world Mizrachi, and the father of a soldier who was taken captive into Gaza and had not been heard from, along with another son who was wounded in battle with terrorists. Despite being lightly injured, the injured son emerged as a hero, participating in the rescue of 20 women soldiers and the successful elimination of several terrorists. He got married a week later even while his brother was still missing. The family had to celebrate the marriage of one son amid a cloud of concern for the other son.
Rabbi Perez made the following observation, “Managing your emotions is not straightforward. I’ve never been in such a situation, and honestly, one can never truly predict your reactions until faced with such a reality. As a community rabbi and school head in South Africa, I’ve worked with numerous families dealing with tragedies and losses, whether from crime, accidents, or natural causes. Watching these individuals navigate their grief has taught me that challenges often reveal the core of a person. Yet, nothing truly prepares you when the situation hits close to home,”
Perez concluded with a message of hope and unity, sharing his belief that even in the face of adversity, the strength of the Israeli nation shines through. He encouraged everyone to continue praying for his missing son and all the missing soldiers, emphasizing the power of collective prayer. “We believe in life, we yearn for life; we believe and pray for things to rejoice about, G-d willing.”
It was not possible to hold shiva immediately for those who had died because some of the dead could not be identified. It would take a couple of weeks before a funeral could be held, and even now the IDF searches the land where battles took place looking for human remains.
The two men then concluded the day at the Sderot Hesderr Yeshiva, the largest hesder yeshiva in Israel. Fortunately, a group of rabbis had come to Sderot the morning of the Hamas attack and after prayers they left for another city. They avoided being killed by Hamas terrorists by a matter of a few hours. After the Hamas attack, the yeshiva had to move to another town as all of Sderot was evacuated.
Rebbi Fendel, the head of the yeshiva, made it clear that they would return to Sderot as soon as possible, that they would continue to visit yeshiva after yeshiva in the area to bring a message of optimism, and they will be armed not only with weapons but also with spirit to rebuild the city.
Wednesday, Oct. 25
The next morning, the two men visited refugees housed in Jerusalem hotels. One floor had an area for clothing, and another area for children to play. Virtually all of the hotels were full of Jewish refugees fleeing from the cities that had been invaded by Hamas. The next stop was to Ramat Beit Shemesh where they met with Dr. Robert Cohen, another man who had made Aliyah from Atlanta.
An impromptu gathering for former Atlantans was hosted by the Karsh family, and David Karsh said, “It really meant a lot to us all to have the Rav fly in and share his time and insightful words with us. We are so grateful to hear from Rabbi Feldman in person, especially during this time.”
After that, they drove south from Jerusalem to visit a bereaved family in Kiryat Arba. Lt. Ori Shani was a Golani brigade commander who was killed while defending the Kissufim IDF outpost; his team killed approximately 35 terrorists and saved numerous lives. He was 22 years old and the father of a four-month-old baby. His father, Rabbi Yehoshua Shani, shared words of chizuk (spiritual support) with the community. He said, “We are crying but no one will break us. We have to stay united and if we stay together then the Jews will be a better nation.”
He asked people to take on one of his son’s spiritual commitments for the year in his memory.
The two men then visited Mearas Hamachpeila and proceeded south to visit the wounded in Soroka Hospital in Beersheva. They were about 20 miles from Gaza and saw many soldiers on the road and at gas stations, waiting to be told when to start the ground war into Gaza. Wherever they went, there was music blaring and soldiers confident, joyous, and serious. The whole area with military equipment looked like what you would see in a movie.
As Rabbi Ilan and Yisrael made to the Ben Gurion Airport to leave, they heard the sound of a siren announcing to take shelter immediately. Everyone dropped their luggage and headed for shelter. They had to stay in the shelter for about 15 minutes to avoid being hit by shrapnel from the missiles that were destroyed.
The trip by Rabbi Feldman and Israel Herscovici was one of the earliest Jewish Americans coming to support Israel after the Hamas attack. Now it is clear that more and more American Jews are following in their footsteps.
- Allen Lipis
- Rabbi Ilan D. Feldman
- Beth Jacob
- Yisrael Herscovici
- Harold and Shoshana Steifel
- Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler
- Christians United for Israel
- Doron Perez
- Sderot Hesderr Yeshiva
- Ramat Beit Shemesh
- Kiryat Arba
- Rabbi Yehoshua Shani
- Mearas Hamachpeila
- Soroka Hospital
- Torah Day School