By Leah Garber
One of Israel’s treasures is Doron Almog, who is decorated with many crowns. He is a recipient of the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement, a former major general in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, and currently is chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). Above all, though, Almog is a mensch, a man of vision and action and morals, a true leader.
Almog is also bereaved, having lost his brother, Eran, exactly 50 years ago in the Yom Kippur War. Almog named his second son after his brother. Eran, the son, who was born with brain damage that resulted in significant developmental disabilities, died at the age of 23. Almog’s third child, Shoham, was born with a severe heart condition and died a month after her birth.
To ensure his son received the special care and appropriate facilities he needed, Almog founded Aleh Negev, a state-of-the-art village that provides residential, medical, and social services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities from throughout southern Israel—regardless of religion. Following Eran’s death, Aleh Negev was renamed Nachalat Eran.
Twenty years ago, also in October, five members of the Almog family, including two children, were killed in the suicide bombing at the now infamous Maxim restaurant in Haifa. As we are learning the names and faces of the victims of the current massacre, Almog has shared that six of his family members—Chen and Nadav and their four children—were murdered in their home on a peaceful kibbutz near Gaza where they lived. How much can the cup of sorrow overflow? How many tears and how much blood does one family need to shed to ensure they have contributed enough to the building blocks of this country? Doron Almog is a close and dear friend of the JCC Movement, and we send him our deepest and most sincere condolences.
Today, the Israeli army revealed the annihilation that took place on that kibbutz, Kfar Aza. Journalists were invited to witness firsthand the aftermath of the murderous barbarism of the Hamas terrorists who went from house to house and massacred entire families. In fact, nearly the entire kibbutz was wiped out, its idyllic trails turned into killing fields. The deafening silence, the unimaginable destruction, and the hate-filled inscriptions scrawled in Arabic on the walls of residents’ homes reveal the true horror of last Shabbat.
Until four days ago, this kibbutz overflowed with life. Couples and children, loving families, lived there, nurturing their dreams for a joyful future. Children born on the kibbutz took their first steps in its fields, filling them with laughter and joy. Now they are dead, their lives cut short by evil and violence. Today, the silence of death rules. My good friend, Tzachi Levy, lives on that same kibbutz, and he told me the Israeli media is doing us a favor by filtering out the harsh scenes and hiding the intensity of the horror.
Not too far from Kibbutz Kfar Gaza is Kibbutz Beeri, which lost more than 100 of its members. IDF soldiers, at the end of battles to free the kibbutz from the terrorists, held a short ceremony in which they lowered the Israeli flag to half-mast.
This morning we awoke to an unbelievably shocking number: 900 people killed in one day. To better understand our shock, that number equates to 32,000 (!!) U.S. citizens. It seems unfathomable but seeing the names and faces—whether we knew them personally or not—makes it all personal. Very personal.
Yesterday, President Herzog said that not since the Holocaust have so many Jews been murdered in one day. But not all were murdered. Some were kidnapped and taken into Gaza—including innocent babies snatched from their homes, with or without their families—and now, in the hands of bloodthirsty and revengeful murderers, they are being used as bargaining chips. It is too painful for me to share the horrific images of Israeli babies locked up in Gaza that are being published on social networks. If my tears could flow through this post, the paper would be wringing wet.
Only now is the world’s media beginning to understand what we in Israel have known for a long time and have learned the hard, painful way: Our neighbors in Gaza are controlled by terrorists whose only desire is to destroy the State of Israel and its people—and any and all means are acceptable.
It is comforting to see government buildings and national icons around the world, including the White House, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and Sydney’s Opera House, among others, awash in blue and white lights. It’s reassuring to hear sympathetic media coverage for a change. These acts of solidarity are important to us. I have received videos and photos of solidarity events at JCCs of all sizes across North America, and I am heartened that in many of them, the Israeli flag is being flown at half-mast. I am deeply grateful to the JCC Movement for the many community-wide rallies being held in support of Israel and the vigils in memory of the dead.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the love and support. You have no idea how meaningful it is to all of us here.
Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.