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Reflections From My Heart and Mind

By Barak Hermann

I arrived back in Baltimore with a lot on my mind and in my heart. Our group of professional and lay leaders promised not only to bear witness to the facts but also to be the voice for Israelis in our respective communities in North America. The JCC Association Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel inspired me to develop new ways to bring about a greater people-to-people connection to Israel and to foster a stronger connection to the land and security of our Jewish state. Throughout this four-day journey, I looked for ways to connect, listen, learn, and collaborate. I also sought opportunities to bring positivity and solidarity with Israel back to our community.

Being in Israel at this most complex and challenging time was emotionally and physically draining. Travelling in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem at this time we felt devastation and sadness everywhere. Pictures of the hostages are ubiquitous as reminders of the innocent people kidnapped from their kibbutzim and the Nova music festival. It’s hard to fathom why the outside world hasn’t condemned the orchestrated mass rape and mutilation of girls and women. Is it because they are Jewish and have no legitimacy?

I am driven to ask everyone I can reach to please not eradicate Jewish history to defend your opinions of Israel’s response to October 7. Hamas are Nazis. This isn’t a war about land. This is a deep hatred that calls for Jewish people not to exist. Israel would only be the first stage of a gruesome master plan to eliminate Jews from the world.

The many sites and individuals we visited on our mission showed us the incredible resilience and unity Israelis have and continue to demonstrate. Although issues and devastation can divide us, Israelis and Jews worldwide are unified in this new realization of the collective experience we are all feeling.

After the Holocaust, we said “Never again.” We promised never to forget the Shoah and the loss of 6 million Jews and millions more who died because of the Nazis goal to rid the world of Jews and other demographic groups. Here we are in 2024, 80 years later, experiencing profound and horrific terrorism and innocent loss of life. We know many will ask for a cease-fire. We know we absolutely need the hostages released.

We know Hamas controls everything in Gaza and teaches their children from the youngest ages to want to hate and kill Jews. They portray us as animals. We know this war has created generations of hatred. We know we have hundreds of thousands of people in the IDF and in the reserves who know this war is not just about the land of Israel but an extremist radical plan to rid the world of Jews.

We know the global reaction has been anti-Jewish and anti-Israel as many people sympathize with the perceived oppression of Palestinians.

I can admit that Israel has PR and leadership problems. It’s painful to see any innocent loss of life, however, this is a war for Israel’s right to exist and for Israelis to live safely. The rise in antisemitism in Europe, South Africa, and other countries makes it unsafe for Jews to live comfortably. We need to ensure Israel’s ability to be a safe haven for Jews worldwide to come and feel they can be their authentic selves.

But what can we do here?

The Associated’s emergency campaign support since October 7 is going a long way. It’s great to see how some of the funds have been used to aid Ashkelon with critical supplies to support the city and its residents.

We need to continue our efforts and incredible work at the JCC and in Baltimore to create a wonderful place to be a Jewish community. At the same time, we need to continue to focus on strengthening and deepening our relationships with the larger community. It’s critically needed to ensure strong Jewish communities in the Diaspora.

Gam v’gam,” which means “this and that” in Hebrew is an often-used phrase to describe the times we face. Let’s hold on to the idea of wanting multiple things at the same time and the struggle to make choices. We need to emphasize the theme of wanting both rather than wanting to choose one thing over another.

Praying for peace, the hostages, and the IDF soldiers who are the heroes protecting and saving Israel!

Barak Hermann, CEO of the JCC of Greater Baltimore in Maryland, participated in JCC Association of North America’s Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel in January 2024.

This blog post is one in a series authored by JCC CEOs and executive directors who recently visited Israel on one of two different JCC Movement Solidarity Missions. Read other posts in the series.

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