From Our CEO
Back to a Changed Israel
December 1st, 2023

I returned to Israel this week, a month since my last trip and now 56 days since the war began. There’s still a sharp line of demarcation in Israel:

Life before October 7. Life after.

Our partners on the ground speak of moving from crisis mode to “routine emergency,” a relatively quieter status that — given today's resumed fighting — could change in an instant. But the current situation is anything but routine. Well over 200,000 people from the south and north of Israel remain displaced from their original homes, with many unlikely to return for a year or longer.

We’re now dealing with intermediate needs: How do families living in cramped hotel rooms move to more suitable housing? How do displaced adults make a living? How do children, already suffering pandemic-related schooling setbacks, have their educational needs met? How do we even begin to deal with the vast trauma experienced by so many?

To understand the magnitude of these challenges, I visited the Dead Sea, whose beautiful vistas stand in stark contrast to the emotional turmoil of the thousands of displaced people currently housed in its hotels. This is a resort town. There are no supermarkets and only one small school. The local regional council has quickly put up prefabricated schools and a complex of playgrounds, a teen lounge, health center, food courts — all barely scratching the surface of what’s needed.

I also visited up north, where — given the close proximity of Hezbollah in Lebanon — the situation is in some ways even more difficult. Over 70,000 residents are under mandatory evacuation. Tens of thousands more have left on their own. And you understand why. In Nahariya, with a population of 75,000, people have 15 seconds after a rocket siren sounds to seek shelter. In places like Kibbutz Hanita, located just hundreds of yards from the Lebanese border, rockets land before the sirens can even go off.

Leaving your home is hard; feeling secure enough to come back may be harder still. Our emergency funds are playing a critical role in easing the burden of displacement until everyone who chooses to can go home — and then, we will help rebuild.

UJA Federation of New York >> <p><em>A soldier stands in the ruins of Kfar Aza</em></p>

A soldier stands in the ruins of Kfar Aza

I traveled on Tuesday to Kfar Aza, a site of horrific carnage on October 7. Over seven weeks later, you can still smell the stench of smoke, sweat, and dead bodies. Dozens of men, women, and children slaughtered. Homes burned to the ground. Walls riddled with bullet holes. It was like stepping back in time to the pogroms of Eastern Europe.

But to be clear, this is not the Pale of Settlement. There are now soldiers, defending the State of Israel, who protect us. They now come to Kfar Aza before being sent to Gaza — to see why they fight. They are defending Israel so that Kfar Aza will never burn again. So that parents can put their children to bed, without fear they'll be seized from their own homes. So that the promise of Israel is restored — a place where Jews don’t hide.

Tuesday evening, I joined an inspiring event in Jerusalem featuring Israeli rabbis from across the denominational spectrum. One of the rabbis spoke of how the familiar Talmudic refrain, “Kol yisrael arevim zeh ba-zeh” is often translated as "all Jews are responsible one for the other.” And while that’s certainly true, the rabbi said the more accurate translation is that "all Jews are interconnected.”

Since October 7, the Jewish world seems to have woken up to that realization.

In Israel, many thousands of Haredi Jews are now volunteering to help support the needs of the secular community. Just weeks ago, this would have been unimaginable.

In New York, there’s a renewed sense of Jewish pride and connection to Israel, even among previously unaffiliated Jews. A recognition that whatever our politics or denomination (or non-denomination), we are Jews and what happens in Israel reverberates across the ocean, and vice versa.

This renewed sense of interconnection helps explain why we’ve been so transfixed by the daily release of hostages, with many of the freed captives now household names: Avigail. Ohad. Emily… But the elation has been tempered by knowing what they endured in captivity and the pain of the families who have yet to be reunited with their loved ones.

Many of us have come to relate to the hostages almost as if they were our own sons and daughters. Our parents and grandparents. Our neighbors. Whether we wear black hats or bare heads. Whether we live in Kfar Aza, Be’eri, Long Island or Brooklyn.

Yes, October 7 changed Israel — and so it changed us all.   

Shabbat shalom from Tel Aviv

P.S. Since the start of the war, UJA has provided more than $45 million in emergency funding to Israel. A full listing of our grants can be found here.