Reflections on My Israel Solidarity Mission


By Felice Williams

At Stephen Wise Temple Shabbat Services on February 16, 2024, members of the congregation who had traveled to Israel with Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback shared about their solidarity mission.

When the opportunity arose for a visit to Israel with Rabbi Yoshi and Jacqueline, I realized that the timing worked and I jumped on board, as I wanted to lend support (and assistance) to the Israeli people, whom I hold dear to my heart, and to bear witness to the pain and suffering that was inflicted upon them on-October 7th. In addition, I have been consumed by concern about our country’s biased and one-sided media coverage of the post-10/7 events toward Israel, as well as the resultant shocking rise in anti-semitism that has reared its ugly head across the world, really, seemingly in support of a terrorist group’s senseless, brutal attack on a civilian population. How could this be? Certainly not in our freedom-loving country! It feels to me that I have been living in an alternate universe since returning home from a vacation last October 23rd. Ah, but that’s another topic, for another conversation…

Rabbi Yoshi asked me to reflect upon our Temple’s Solidarity mission and to recall an experience that particularly impacted me. To be honest, I am having difficulty selecting just one, and have decided to focus on my most-significant take-away from our trip. 

Many have asked me, “Why would you go to Israel during a war?” It quickly became evident that to bear witness was the very least we could do. October 7th completely shook me to my core. The unspeakable violence we witnessed that day and the unimaginable misinformation, hatred and propaganda that has taken hold around the world and in our own country, woke up many of us in the diaspora. We were profoundly impacted by our experiences, each one of us in our Stephen Wise contingent. Everywhere we went, every person we spoke with, from the brave and resilient farmer in the Gaza envelope, Uri, whose daughter-in-law lost her sister and her husband during the massacre at Kibbutz K’far Aza nearby, leaving behind 10-month old twins, to the IDF soldiers and Nova Music Festival victims recovering from their injuries in the Gaza War, to Barak Benjamin, an evacuee of Moshav Netiv HaAsara (and brother-in-law of our tour guide), currently residing with his family in a hotel in Tel Aviv for the past four months, to relatives of the hostages at Captive Square, in Tel Aviv, each person we encountered thanked us for being there, for helping and supporting them and told us, repeatedly, how our support gives them strength and how much it meant to feel our presence and know that Jews around the world supported them. It gave me a great deal of comfort to be there for them at this difficult time when so many of us feel so helpless and reminded me how important showing up can be! Many asked us how we were doing with the terrible increase in anti-semitism in America (they were worried about us)! 

What I found was a brave, resilient, proud, resolute, and hopeful, yes hopeful, people, who love and celebrate life, family, and community, even now, and who only want to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors. I’m trying to figure out how I can do more to help, in some small way, to correct the inaccurate perceptions and deceptive news reporting of the reality of the situation there, because I really don’t understand how most western news outlets can be so anti-Israel, and seemingly forget, in their reporting, that there was relative peace in the region on October 6th. I realize that we are all mishpuchah, us Jews, that there is an unbreakable bond between us and that this trip to Israel communicated that in a meaningful and impactful way. What I also found was a wonderful group of new friends who I was blessed to experience this journey with, several of whom are here tonight, and came away with shared memories of a lifetime together. 

Am Yisrael Chai!

Stephen Wise Temple and Schools proudly support the State of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. Zionism and ahavat Yisrael, love of the people, land, and State of Israel, have always been central to who we are and what we do as a community. This has been true for the almost 60 years of our history, and never more so than since October 7, 2023.

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