By Leah Garber
Love is in the air.
We all know how it feels when you love someone—whether family members or close friends. The heart expands, we feel a bit taller, gain confidence. We are grateful, full of appreciation. Everything seems possible when love embraces us with compassion and tenderness.
Now imagine what it feels like to love a complete stranger. From experience, the feeling is similar, and it’s awesome!
After a challenging, frustrating year of growing rifts and division around political matters, Israeli society woke up on the morning of Saturday, October 7, to a new state of mind. The air we breathed in on that black, horrific morning—and have been breathing ever since—is not the same air we all inhaled for much of the previous year. Our air now lacks oxygen; it’s heavy yet thin, but we all breathe the same air.
Our shared destiny in the face of a national disaster, the collective mourning, the common bereavement all bind us to each other with the strongest of ties.
The slaughtered babies, the kidnapped children, the raped women, the tortured soldiers, the Holocaust survivors dragged from bed—they are the sons and daughters of all of us. They are our fathers and our sisters; they are our grandparents. They are us and we are them. In the words of Israeli poet Moti Hammer: “When I die, a part of me will die within you, when you die, a part of you will die within me.”
As enormous as the pain, as deep as the rivers of tears I shed, as cavernous as the sorrow and grief, so is the depth of my love for my people.
My heart bursts with love for the dozens of new organizations that have sprung up overnight, all voluntary, with one goal—to provide essential items for the families of the evacuees, relieve the pain of the wounded, support the families of the kidnapped, encourage the soldiers, comfort the mourners. The feeling of togetherness is enveloping, and powerful like none other.
The new initiatives include musicians performing for the evacuees and wounded, artists painting the walls of shelters, people returning vehicles of soldiers who were recruited and left their cars near their bases, citizens collecting personal items for the hundreds of thousands of evacuees who have been left homeless with only the clothes they were wearing. The list goes on: Barbers who go from base to base to pamper the soldiers, restaurants that provide gourmet meals to the families of evacuees and soldiers, banks and insurance companies waiving mortgage payments, people lending a hand in fields that have understandably been abandoned by foreign workers, organizing blood drives, sports activities, and other events to relieve stress, delivering special equipment to homes of people with disabilities, hosting families of evacuees, retired security personnel conducting training workshops, museums and national parks open to the public free of charge for respite from daily stress. These and so many other important initiatives—in addition to fundraising efforts of dozens of organizations and entities supporting the war effort.
Beyond all this, our start-up nation has not rested for a moment. Many new start-ups, designed to create a better quality of life, offer high-level protection, or simply help others, have sprung up in the last three weeks. For example, a collaboration between “Restart Israel” and “Free in Our Country” offers a courteous and friendly artificial intelligence application that allows people to tailor their volunteer and assistance efforts according to their own specific parameters, including hours of availability, location, skills, and more.
Above all, I have so much love, gratitude, and respect for our dear, courageous, committed, loyal soldiers, who don’t hesitate to risk their lives to defend our beloved homeland. Among them are those who participated in this week’s daring operation that penetrated deep into enemy territory to rescue Ori Megedish from Hamas and bring her back home to her loving family. The beauty of love is that it has no borders. It is not confined to space or time, and its infinite wings reach across seas, all the way to the Jewish communities in North America.
Beyond the historic dollars raised in record time and in addition to collecting various essential items for refugees throughout Israel, numerous JCCs are busy settling the influx of Israeli families that have decided to move to North America for the time being. Thanks to the warm welcome offered by the Jewish communities, the families have a respite from the harsh realities in Israel and the horrors of war.
My thanks and appreciation go to many of you at JCCs who took in hundreds of Israeli families and opened your hearts and homes to these new arrivals. You’re operating additional kindergarten classes and providing the much-needed support systems for these Israeli families. We are bound together by one heart, and it is now beating stronger than ever. The calm, soothing, comforting rhythm of its beats reaches all, offering hope.
Every day since October 7 has had its own color and different emotions that overwhelm me, much of which I have shared with you over these last 25 days. Today’s color is light blue. Today I feel love and gratitude for my brothers and sisters, the wonderful, caring, generous, and committed people that I proudly call “my people.”
I am blessed to be an Israeli citizen and a member of our glorious Jewish nation.
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.