A Mission to Israel – Reflections from an Eye-Opening Trip

Rabbi Gabby, Rabbi Shankman, and Rabbi Naama

The words of the medieval poet Yehuda HaLevi have been echoing in my head since October 7, “My heart is in the East, and I am in the far reaches of the West.” As a Jewish people, we have always been connected to Israel through an invisible thread that weaves through our prayers, our values, and our humanity. That is why I felt compelled to be there — not as a bystander, but as a witness and a partner.

As we enter into the sixth month of the Israel-Hamas war, we as a people face challenges and opportunities that will impact our future both in Israel and the Diaspora. Hatikvah — the national anthem of the state of Israel — reflects our history as a people. Hope and resilience go hand in hand. Learning from our past to create a better future for our children and the world.

Participants in our Washington Hebrew solidarity mission in February confronted this reality every day. We saw, heard, and witnessed that struggle at every turn. Every person who learned we were visiting from the U.S. expressed profound gratitude for our presence.

We are Israel — one who struggles with God. Sometimes that means we struggle within ourselves. But we must be present and engage in the conversation. We stand together. For as Rabbi Hillel taught, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Now, more than ever, our support of Israel matters. Saying we support Israel does not mean we support the loss of innocent lives in Gaza. We can struggle with the loss of innocent lives even as we call for the release of Israeli hostages and stand for the future safety and security of all of Israel’s citizens. I am inspired by the words of my Israeli colleague, Rabbi Oded Mazor of Kehilat Kol HaNeshama in Jerusalem:

“May it be Your will that we are able to hold together the diverse needs within one community: to cry and to laugh, to mourn and to dance, to celebrate as always, and to sit alone in silence.

May it be Your will that already in this month we witness a real V’Nahafoch Hu, turning reality in a new direction; not of killing, fighting, and destruction, but of salvation, demanding goodness, words of peace and truth.”