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Reflections From the JCC Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel

Approximately 40 JCC Movement leaders are currently participating in JCC Association’s Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel, and we are pleased to share the communications some of them are sending to their communities back home.

Messages from the beginning of the trip begin at the bottom of this post. For the duration of the trip, we will continue to add the latest reflections from JCC.

[Satuday, January 20, 2024]

“As we navigate the complexities and difficulties of today, it becomes increasingly evident that our fates are intertwined, and the well-being of one directly impacts the well-being of all. Our community’s strength lies in our unity, our willingness to stand together in celebration and sorrow, in times of joy and in times of challenge.”

Read more of Todd’s takeaways from his recent trip to Israel as he continues to reflect upon the journey.

[Thursday, January 18, 2024]

As JCC Association’s Solidarity Mission to Israel drew to a close, Eric Lightman continued to grapple with tough questions—amidst optimism: “I leave Israel in a few minutes perhaps with more questions than answers. With tremendous sadness and also great inspiration. With new relationships and rekindled old ones. I do not know what it will take to bring peace, to heal the wounded, or to rebuild what has been lost. But I know it is possible, and I know that we will do it together.”

Read more from Eric Lightman, executive director at the JCC of the Lehigh Valley in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

[Wednesday, January, 17, 2024]

“How can one be OK when Kfir Bibas–whose porch I stood on yesterday while touring the devastation of Kibbutz Nir Oz–will celebrate his 1st birthday today in captivity? How can one be OK when it seems like the entire world cares nothing of the murder of innocents for one reason and one reason only – because they are Jewish? How can one be OK when their sons and daughters are fighting for the survival of their nation and their people, with no timeline to return home?”

Israelis are not OK, as Eric Lightman, executive director at the JCC of the Lehigh Valley in Allentown, Pennsylvania, learned firsthand touring the country as a member of JCC Association’s Solidarity Mission

[Tuesday, January 16, 2024]

“Yesterday was a day I will never forget; our mission took us south to see firsthand the devastation that took place. We began in Sderot where a mother shared with this moving Video and then told us her story and shared her fear of coming back home and not feeling safe in her own home and not sure when coming back home will be a reality for her. We were reminded of the work of ZAKA, who are a group of volunteers who collect all the bodies and remains to ensure that they are buried properly according to Jewish tradition.”

Read reflections from Tucson J President and CEO Todd Rockoff as he bears witness to the atrocities of October 7 as a participant in JCC Association’s Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel.

“[A]s I walked through hell yesterday, the man who gave me the tour named every person in every house. He told me about who they were about their lives and their fates from the massacre on October 7. He did not learn this information to give us this tour. He literally knew every single person. More than 25% of them are dead, many are still being held hostage and the others are finding the comfort of their community in a hotel, hours away from their home.”

Read more from Betzy Lynch, CEO of the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego, about her visit to the Gaza Envelope with JCC Association’s Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel. 

“We finished our day by providing dinner to army reservists who turned a kindergarten into a makeshift army base. Amazingly, I met a soldier who had lived in my hometown (Rockville, Maryland) as well as one with family from Allentown. We got a chance to interact with these amazing young men (the IDF’s amazing young women serve elsewhere). Their love for Israel and Judaism is palpable. They view it as an honor and a privilege to be able to protect their homeland and their people. They have no hesitation about serving and are prepared to stay for as long as it takes. I thanked them and told them that they are not only protecting Israel, but protecting all Jewish people, because I do not believe Jewish people anywhere would be safe without Israel. They are the brave heroes that we should aspire to be and that our children should admire.”

Read more about the up-close-and-personal experiences Eric Lightman, executive director at the JCC of the Lehigh Valley in Allentown, Pennsylvania, had recently as a participant on JCC Association’s Solidarity Mission in Israel.

[Monday, January 15, 2024] 

“As I moved across the crowd from one side of…[Hostage] Square to the other, no one pushed, and no one was speaking louder than a whisper. When I reached the other side of the square there was a gigantic screen projecting a video. The video had no sound, but you could hear the message loud and clear. It was of a mother, about my age. She woke up in her bed, searching her empty house, running outside of her house, running, running, and running until she reached the fence between Israel and Gaza, and she silently screamed and screamed and screamed for anyone to listen. Her tears for her kidnapped son streamed down her face and then in bold letters #bringthemhome appeared in Hebrew.”

Read more about the impact a visit to Hostage Square in Tel Aviv had on Betzy Lynch, CEO of the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego, as a participant on JCC Association’s Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel.

“Earlier in the day, I asked Naftali Bennett a question: We can defeat Hamas and eradicate the terrorists and their leadership. But, in a world that is quite different from post-WWII where the victorious Allies “denazified” Germany, how do we eradicate the ideology? His sobering response was that to attack someone, you must have a motivation and the means. We ultimately cannot control the motivation; we can only fight against and take away the tools that they will use to hurt us. This requires incredible strength and perseverance.”

Difficult questions and sobering answers were plentiful during JCC Association’s Solidarity Mission to Israel—as was overwhelming evidence of strength, perseverance, and determination in fighting for the Jewish homeland and its people. Read more reflections from Eric Lightman, who is executive director at the JCC of the Lehigh Valley in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

[Sunday, January 14, 2024]

“I walked behind the wall at passport control and was dumbfounded. I was the only person. I was confused and visibly so because the man who was screening passports behind the glass started waving to me. This might happen at other times, but he wasn’t waving at me to move forward like I was doing something wrong, he was waving at me to say hello. I walked forward to the booth, the man greeted me, asked me a few quick questions and then he thanked me for coming. Yes, this is not a typo the passport control officer thanked me for coming. I almost started to cry.”

Visiting Israel now is a different experience than in the past. Read reflections penned by Betzy Lynch, CEO of the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego, as she travels with JCC Association’s Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel.

[Saturday, January 13, 2024]

“On Monday we observe a day set aside to remember and honor the impact of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I am reminded of a quote of his as I reflect on the last 100 days and look ahead to my journey, Dr. King said – “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. We cannot be silent, we must tell the stories of October 7, the rise in antisemitism and help to shine a light on this situation so that people know the truth.”

Read more from Todd Rockoff, president and CEO of the Tucson JCC, as he travels to Israel for JCC Association’s Leadership Solidarity Mission.

[Friday, January 12, 2024]

“I am going to Israel because I have something to bring there, and something to bring back. When a loved one is sick in the hospital, you go to visit to show that you care and support them. Israelis are hurting and are suffering right now. Knowing that people care, are thinking about them, praying for them, and supporting them in this time of need, is critical. Little things like sharing letters written by day school students, distributing “bravery” value tags worn by our campers, and showing both our love and concern for them is even more meaningful during these times.”

The Israel that Eric Lightman, executive director at the JCC of the Lehigh Valley in Allentown, Pennsylvania, visited is different than the country he visited two years ago. Read his reflections as he tours in post-October 7 Israel as part of JCC Association’s Solidarity Mission.

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