Rabbi Abramson Chizuk Mission in Israel – Day 1
Even before take-off the trip was filled with chizUk and unity. After davening maariv at Logan Airport with about 20 men a secular Israeli woman approached me and requested a prayer for her brother who is on the front lines. Instead of saying just one prayer I recited the tefilla for the chayalai tzva haganna L’Yisroel. The entire waiting room jumped to their feet with an Amen and Am Yisroel Chai. What a way to start a mission!
Landing at Ben Gurion airport is a surreal experience. The airport was quieter than I have ever experienced. Everyone who is coming has a story and no Christian pilgrims on the flight this time. The airport is eerily quiet., There are signs everywhere “ביחד ננצח” together we will win and pictures of the hostages everywhere. I recall as a child there was a fix up shop on my block with a sign “we repair everything except a broken heart.” This is the feeling you get the moment you leave the plane.
I am staying at the Kings Hotel, which has become like most hotels in the country a refugee camp for the displaced residents of Northern and Southern Israel (who would ever think we would use in the present the term displaced persons especially in our own country). Many families in the south and the north have been living here for a few weeks and I have already made new friends. Unfortunately, they have no idea how long they will be here but they B”H are alive. The children receive some form of education, but one cannot imagine the disruption in their lives. The Covid restrictions are nothing compared to this.
Walking along King George the streets are so quiet, where thousands of tourists usually traverse but are replaced by the refugees who would rather be home. My thoughts are that I am home but who am I to say that aloud.
So far, I have been here only a few hours, and it has been a long and emotional day. I begin the mission tomorrow morning in earnest and look forward to joining my colleagues and having others to share these mixed emotions. We are going to bring and receive chizuk daven together, listen, and observe. We daven that HaShem should bring shalom al Yisroel.
Best regards and tell them on Tuesday in Washington with one loud voice, Am Yisroel Chai.
Related – Watch Rabbi Abramson’s videos from this Mission, including from near Gaza here.
Rabbi Abramson – Chizuk Mission in Israel – Day 2
This morning the cRc sponsored a breakfast meeting for the Chicago Rabbanim in Israel and the chaverim on the mission. About 20 attended including Yechiel Wasserman chairman emeritus of Mizrachi who spent much time in Chicago as shaliach and was best friends with Moshe Kushner ob”m. We heard from Rav Doron Peres, the CEO of World Mizrachi. We had just been with him in celebration this past Yom Haatzmuet at the World Mizrachi conference. Rav Peres and his wife Shelley are parents of two chayalim, Yonatan, who was wounded on October 7th, but was able to walk down the aisle a week later at his wedding, and Daniel, who is identified as a hostage. Words cannot describe the anguish they and we felt and their faith in Hashem and Am Yisroel. They are as worried about the other hostages and especially the children. Before we even left the building, we left shocked, emotionally drained but inspired to move ahead.
We went to Tel Aviv to visit the hostage families. We have always identified Tel Aviv as a city of fun leisure, shopping, seashore, music and cheerfulness. Not this month. The hostage families and by extension the whole country is locked into one mission: save as many lives as possible and bring them home. As painful as it is to see, the families want to be heard and are pleading for the world to understand that this situation is not normal. Who could imagine people in the States ripping down posters of hostages? Are we to sanction brutality yet again after the world witnessed the Shoah? They are about to begin a march to Jerusalem to advocate for the hostages just as 100,00 plus are in Washington for these same goals. We also visited a special social media operation run by volunteers to both monitor and influence social media about the plight of the hostages. Some of the best and brightest are volunteering their services for the shake of the Jewish people. We pray for Tel Aviv to come alive as it did after the rescue of Entebbe but now pessimism and gloom prevail. Ironically it is the hostage families that give us hope.
From there, we went to the army base at Machane Shura. This is the camp headquarters of IDF Chief Rabbinate and where the rabbinate works with the army to identify casualties. The stench of death is all around. It is unimaginable how the staff is able to plow along with such professionalism care and concern. We stood near the freezer containers of the remains of so many unidentified victims of October 7th. These soldiers and their civilian collaborators are so heroic as they try to identify the victims who were tortured and desecrated.
Lastly, we paid a shiva/condolence visit to the family of Rose Rubin who was felled tragically by a terrorist as she was guarding the old city so we Jews may live and pray at the sight of the Kedushas Beis Hamikdash. Her father recounted her unbridled heroism throughout her short life but he gave us comfort knowing she died al kiddush hashem so we would be safe praying at the Kotel and everywhere else. We saw a picture of a young woman with an infectious smile and there was not a dry eye as hundreds of others joined in reciting the Hamakom Yenachem.
Tomorrow we travel south towards the border of Gaza. We will be fitted with special vests and have been oriented on how to seek cover in case of missile attack. I anxiously await carrying out this mission.
Am Yisroel Chai
Rabbi Abramson – Chizuk Mission in Israel – Day 3
No amount of planning could possibly prepare one for what we experienced today. No matter how much we read, heard, and discussed, seeing the horrors of destruction up front and personal stretches the imagination.
We first visited Siroka Hospital in Beersheba and heard from the medical director’s account of the staff at the hospital in full alert for days and weeks after the Shabbat shachor as they identify that fateful day and beyond. Hundreds of wounded were escorted to the hospital in constant and ceaseless shifts. Many were operated on in the trauma rooms while others needed less attention. Others however were transferred (rachmanut) to the morgue. How these physicians, nurses and orderlies were able to cope let alone save so many defies logic. Yet that was the challenge they faced and met it head on with dignity, professionalism, and dedication. Interestingly (perhaps) they even saved two of the terrorists who were brought in by army commanders. While there some of us visited a police officer (I will call him Gabi not his real name for safety reasons) at the rehab center who was severely wounded while trying to save his colleagues at the Sderot police station. He explained that as he was rushing at the terrorists (that is the Israeli mentality that is now American doctrine after Uvalde) the terrorist had snipers on the roof and high-powered bullets snapped his chest and leg and was miraculously pulled to safety by a fellow officer under fire. During our visit, a group of students were cheering up the patients with music and song and we danced together to the tune of am yisroel chai. Gabi said to me that this was now his Simchat Torah celebration that he missed on that fateful day.
We then went to Kfar Azza where the entire kibbutz was raked with bullets, rpg’s, mass slaughters of woman, children, fathers, and crimes against humanity too painful to describe. It felt like seeing Buchenwald after WWII which Eisenhower required of the German population nearby. While there we met the Sedegora Rebbe visiting the community as did we.
From there, we went to Ofakim an original development town of mostly impoverished Sephardic Jews with about 40,000 residents. 49 were killed in cold blood yet the hand of Hashem permeated the entire community. Some of it has been widely reported in the press (the story of Rachel Edri), while only now are the awesome stories beginning to surface. We heard from the sister of Moshe Ohayon who was killed while trying to defend his neighbors, as was his second son, Eliad. Moshe was a hero at Ofakim, a natural leader and an accomplished community organizer who from the time of his teenage years lifted the spirit of the young Sephardic youth and gave them the dignity they so deserved. We “toured” the neighborhood where most of the battle’s wages between residents and the terrorists took place and saw firsthand how some escaped over the roof tops even while holding a newborn in tow. The terrorist came dressed as Israeli soldiers, and some residents mistakenly welcomed them only to be massacred in return. Some of the residents did not even realize what was happening until too late and as battles raged there was a Brit Mila even as they recited Vomar aloich b’damaich chayi Vomar aloich b’damaich chayi. While there we ran into Ben Gvir who with his police escort and ministerial portfolio was there to see for himself the vast destruction and miraculous results even as 49 were killed for that number should have at least another zero. Only due to civilian bravery and the protection of Hashem was the tally that low.
Finally we then went to the military base of Erez. We enjoyed a BBQ sponsored by Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon with about three hundred soldiers stationed there, I sat with a group of soldiers, and I must admit I never had a better hot dog in my life and that includes the famous Romanian sausage. As they say the food is only as good as the company you keep, and I sat with the bravest and spirited army in the world who represent the Jewish people. Rav Rimon is a genius and an extraordinary person. Following Rav Rimon’s inspirational remarks we all as one danced to the singing of am yisroel chai. Now my Simchat Torah came alive.
Am Yisroel Chai
Rabbi Avrohom Mordechai Abramson
Rabbi Abramson – Chizuk Mission in Israel – Day 4
The plan was to have a less stressful day on the road and drive to Efrat and meet the staff at Ohr Stone. Yet our plans were derailed because there was a terrorist attack on the road towards Efrat which was the very road we intended to travel on. A reminder of the perils Israelis face daily.
Instead, we had an extended session with Rabbi Kenny Brander who shared with us the difficult challenges with dealing with their graduates who are in the army. One of his staff members, Rabbi Ohad Tahorlev, joined our discussion and described the incredible sensitivity that the army exhibits when dealing with the passing of soldiers. He noted that he feels a lifelong responsibility and connection to the families of these heroes who died “al kiddush Hashem”.
We then paid a shiva visit to a family of a fallen soldier and participated in the escorting of one who was killed in action to his burial. These events are not just personal but national expressions of mourning. In the former case, the father of the soldier comforted us by emphasizing how we must respect all Jews regardless of their religiosity, In the latter situation, the streets were lined with people paying their final respects. The father said that his son was “a gibbor” before shouting “Am Yisrael Chai”. The family, and all those gathered, sang Hatikvah and Ani Ma’amin. It was an inspirational experience.
We then went to the Vert Hotel for two purposes: The first was to speak to the displaced residents Sedorot who are housed there indefinitely, and the second was to watch an incredible play designed to help children deal with the traumatic experiences that they went through. The latter event was extremely well done, and it was heartwarming to see the childrens’ reactions during the play. The play included a clown named Pachad and the theatre troupe helped the children cope with having to live in shelters for sometimes days at a time. Meeting the people of Sedorot was an eyeopener as they told us their personal stories. While they are being well taken care of in the hotel, they have lost their independence, do not how long they will be there, and want to return home but must now overcome their shattered sense of security. I had similar experiences staying at the Kings Hotel where there are displaced refugees from Shlomit who just want to go home. I was extremely impressed with the hotel staffs who treated everyone at the hotel as if they were VIP’s and like any other full paying guest.
The mission concluded by meeting the parents of Adi Vital- Kaploun who was killed on Oct. 7th. Adi was the niece of our mission head Rabbi Reuven Tradburks who organized our entire trip. The story of how her two small children survived is an incredible tale. Interestingly Adi’s mother a Canadian by birth was in Ottawa during the chagim and through her own volition had contacted the Royal Canadian Police who were helpful during the period when it was not known if Adi was hostage or killed. When they heard she was killed rather than taken hostage they felt a source of comfort of at least knowing it was over. They would not be able to bear the torture of their daughter held captive by these beasts. Yet to this day they have heard not one word of consolation from anyone at the Canadian government! The strength of her parents and her mother’s decision to mark the shloshim by singing Hatikvah was a moving conclusion to the mission.