Photo Credit: Courtesy
The Fair Lawn Solidarity Mission outside Har Herzel.

I’ve never described a trip to Israel as eye opening. The descriptors are usually “amazing,” “fantastic,” “uplifting,” and “inspiring,” but I’ve never said eye-opening.

This trip was all of those things and more.


The Fair Lawn, N.J., Jewish community recently went on a solidarity mission to Israel in conjunction with World Mizrachi and I was unbelievably lucky to have been able to join the mission.

I want to share a few reflections here with you.

We started in Hostage Square in Tel Aviv. The imagery was painful. But I think what was most challenging was hearing from a few of the parents of the hostages. They spoke well and with hope. They said they were doing everything they could for their children and how we should do the same. At the end of their talk, one father asked my rabbi why we all looked so sad and that we should smile more. This is a father whose child is sitting in hell for over 150 days and he says we should smile more. The strength that some of these people possess is admirable and borderline unbelievable.

One day we went to the south of Israel and visited Sderot. We saw the site where the Sderot police station used to stand. There’s no building there anymore. It’s an empty lot. It was overtaken by over 20 Hamas terrorists and had to therefore be bombed by the IDF and leveled to the ground. As we were standing there, a procession was heading our way down the street made up of families of the hostages on their walking route from Re’im Park (site of the Nova festival) to Jerusalem as part of a wake-up call to the government. Our timing was perfect. They gathered with us and many other people in the empty lot. They chanted, some spoke out, then we collectively sang Hatikvah.

We went to Re’im Park and saw the makeshift memorial that many people made for their loved ones. They planted trees in the park this past Tu B’Shvat. One tree per beautiful soul. We heard from a survivor from the Nova festival who somehow had the strength to take us through that day. He recalls calling his mother and telling her he may not come home and then his phone died. After hours of hiding, he and his friends were rescued by the police who asked all of them if they called their mothers to tell them they were ok.

One point that really struck me was when we went to Har Herzl, our wonderful tour guide, Michal, brought us to the graveside of a college friend of hers. She told us a little bit about him and explained that he hated the army. He was not brave. He was a big nerd who loved Greek philosophy. But he went because he had to. I had never thought about the chayalim who might be scared or don’t want to serve or fight.

Truly an eye-opening experience. As much as they need our chizzuk, I felt like I needed to hear from them to remind me what we’re doing from so far away and how we help.

Here are some reflections from some of my cohorts from the trip.

Orrin Davis (currently of Atlanta, but Fair Lawn alum) says: “I was taken with the achdut among disparate Israeli citizens not seen only a few months before. The common ground also shown by the three Fair Lawn rabbis was inspiring.

I was able to discuss civilly different viewpoints with an Israeli citizen who was demonstrating for the release of hostages and an immediate ceasefire. Although we differed on some points, the mere fact that we were standing side by side made a major impact on me.”

Rena Liebman says: ‘“Libi baMizrach – my heart is in the East. Never have I understood and felt these words more deeply than I do after returning from our four-day solidarity mission to Israel with the Fair Lawn community. Seeing the love and resilience of the Israeli civilians and the chayalim on the grounds post October 7th has left me with a tremendous feeling of Jewish pride and a feeling of this is where we all ultimately belong. As I landed in Newark after my trip and walked into the airport, I felt a hole in my heart. It is a feeling of needing to go back and be with the amazing Jewish nation in Israel and helping them win this war. Libi baMizrach!

“We have all read the stories and seen the videos, but nothing compares to actually being there and seeing it with your own two eyes. I strongly encourage anyone who is able to go as soon as possible. There are no words to truly explain the feeling of being in Israel, hearing the stories firsthand, and seeing the strength and resilience of Am Yisrael during this difficult time. Am Yisrael chai!”

Estee Brick says: “Going on this Israel mission was such a meaningful experience and an opportunity to give support first hand and witness the people there receiving our support. Being able to look them in the eyes and physically hug them while saying I’m here for you was an experience on its own. Being able to personally see the expressions on the soldiers’ faces when we gave out letters, or warm gloves, or gift cards to the injured soldiers, or toys to the displaced children. I’m so grateful to our Fair Lawn community for raising the money that we were then able to distribute on our trip.

“It was impressive to see people quit their jobs – whether it was to advocate for their missing family or to open up stations for soldiers to eat and change or to volunteer at farms when you have a day off for election day. I was able to witness the resilience of the Israeli people who firmly believe that they will come out stronger from this. I love the message that one injured soldier told us to take home – that they are in good spirits there. And we really did feel that.

“There are rallies here in the U.S. for the hostages, but to be part of one with actual family members of the hostages was another experience that I don’t take for granted. We were able to hear stories of experiences and stories from survivors, knowing how important it is for them to share.

“What I wasn’t expecting was to receive so much appreciation for our visit. The appreciation went both ways. I’m so glad I went on this trip. It definitely made me feel closer to my brothers and sisters in Israel. Thank you to Mizrachi and to everyone who made this trip possible. Am Yisrael chai!”

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