By Leah Garber
The human spirit.
Stronger than any wall, more stable than solid rock, it will withstand storms and overcome attempts to break it, and, yes, even to the depths of grief, the human spirit will stand.
The wall that separates Israel from Gaza was the crowning glory of technology. A physical wall, embedded deep in the ground, monitored 24/7 with electronic sensors.
Seemingly the most secure border, but in practice, 3,000 malicious terrorists breached it and raced with blood-sucking eyes to carry out their plan, bolstered by the promise that for any kidnapped Israeli brought into Gaza, they would be awarded an apartment and $10,000.
What eventually stopped the killing spree was the human spirit. Citizens, members of the standby units in the kibbutzim, sacrificed their lives and fought off the rioters with their bodies; the families and children, the real heroes of this campaign, locked for hours in smoke-filled shelters and did not give up. The soldiers and policemen fought with sublime bravery, fought as lions, fought as brothers, fought as sons and daughters protecting home, sacrificing their lives.
The human spirit.
The human spirit is expressed during these difficult times in so many ways. Endless volunteer organizations arose overnight, each with a defined goal to assist the home and the front. Citizens who are exempt from army service for various reasons rush as volunteers to enlist, to contribute to the war effort, and businesses that, despite the severe loss in sales, donate their goods and services. Teenagers go from house to house to help mothers whose husbands have been drafted. And you, our brothers and sisters overseas, all of you, who raise unprecedented amounts, rally and support us in every possible way.
Since that damned day, October 7, the human spirit has been spreading its wings, enveloping us all in the promise that while everything around us seems to be collapsing, it is the human spirit that will lift us up and carry us forward.
The human spirit is embodied in all the shlichim, Israeli emissaries, posted at Jewish organizations around the world, including in our JCCs. Although some hurried back to Israel to serve, enlist, or just be with family during this difficult time, others are continuing their mission to serve the Jewish people in North America. They know that, especially now, the task of engaging communities with Israel’s story is more important than ever.
But It’s so hard to be away; it’s so lonely to mourn from afar. They’ve lost friends and family members, but while shedding an ocean of tears from across the world, they get up every morning, committed to ensuring that North America’s connection with Israel will remain solid, authentic, and stronger than ever.
One of them is Roni Nehmad, shliacha at the Kings Bay Y in Brooklyn, New York, who began her shlichut about two months ago. Three of her friends were murdered at the Nova party, and here is what she wrote:
Being a shlicha in October 2023 is a storm of emotions.
The heart is in Israel, the head is in Israel, but the pain is here, with you.
Being a shlicha in October 2023 is the greatest privilege in the world.
It’s raising funds, getting equipment, sending it to Israel.
It’s doing crazy advocacy in your community, it’s going to demonstrations, it’s fighting all this stinking media (and it’s good too, don’t get me wrong).
Wow, it’s not over.
To be a shlicha in October 2023 is to know people who were murdered and to cry for them, to try to pay their last respects and commemorate them in every possible way and then to continue with the hustle and bustle of work.
To be a shlicha in October 2023 is to crave for a big warm hug from mom and dad but they are 6,000 miles away. So, you have video calls every day. And then you need their hug even more.
It is knowing that those who pass by on the street most likely do not know what is happening in Israel at all, and to be honest—they probably don’t care either.
And you don’t understand, you don’t understand how to go on normally, how does it work?“
In a phone call yesterday, Roni shared that at the end of her shlichut, she intends to move to one of the kibbutzim in the south, rehabilitate it, plant new crops in the killing fields so the blossoms overpower the silence of death, bring life back to the abandoned communities that bled to death and burned to the ground.
Roni is just one of about 22 JCC shlichim and among dozens serving in other organizations, where they organize educational activities and explain and teach about Israel. They spread their great love for Israel like magic powder, preserving the connection to Israel, even in difficult times. Each of them represents the human spirit in all its glory. Now, they also speak at memorial rallies; raise money and equipment; prepare packages and letters for Israeli soldiers; fight in the social media battle; and share their personal stories from home—making Israel present in the heart of each community. They are the human spirit of which I am so proud. These are the young men and women I love so much.
The more the human spirit is revealed in all its beauty, the more the monstrosity of the enemy is exposed through the unimaginable cruelty of the bloodthirsty Hamas terrorists. When forensic medical experts find tissue samples from five people stuck together forever in a cast of coal; when they are busy connecting body parts to bring them to a dignified burial, when a family places its nine-day-old baby on the window ledge of his burned house so he does not inhale smoke for hours, Hamas’s full cruelty is revealed. When evidence reveals that an entire family was tied together and the father was tortured while his children witnessed his cries of pain, my keyboard cannot even type what happened right there, before the children’s eyes.
And when these terrorists release abducted elderly, sick women, they’re trying to depict themselves as humane, but they are achieving the opposite result. One of the women, 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz, a peace activist in pre-war days, together with her husband, who is still in captivity, drove sick people each week from Gaza to receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals. Detailing in an interview the way she was kidnapped, she described it as hell—the beatings she received, the jewelry stolen from her, and the walking for miles in underground tunnels while her captors beat her—confirming the captors are nothing more than barbarians.
The manipulation of evil plays against them. No photograph of Hamas terrorists releasing the kidnapped will change their image…LOL…it only perpetuates it. They have one image and one image only—pure evil. Nothing will change it.
My very dear friend, Zack Bodner, president and CEO of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, California, shared with me this poem he wrote. His words come out of a crying heart, penetrating the soul with all their power.
The human spirit.
Take a few minutes to listen to Zack’s pain. Cry together in the horrific descriptions; learn more about the hypocrisy of Palestinian supporters whom I wrote about yesterday.
My Israel will never be the same again; we lost the best of our people. My Israel buries its dead, extinguishes fires, clears away ruins. My Israel is bleeding, shocked, bruised, fighting for its life. My Israel was desecrated, plundered. My Israel is tormented.
But my Israel, my beloved homeland, our one and only country, will raise its head again, thanks to our human spirit.
Together, united, we will overcome.
Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.