Israel Leadership Trip: Entry 2

Jan 23, 2024 | Article, JCRC

January 22

We managed to get 36 hours into one day. Starting with a 4:30am wake-up mountain time on Sunday to now, 3:00pm Monday mountain time (midnight Israel time), we have been functioning on catnaps. Sleep in an economy seat isn’t sleep, it’s suspended animation… and not even good Pixar animation. But just now I am starting to feel tired, the day was that intense. Since I promised to write daily, I need to crank this out so I can pass out.

Today we arrived at a strangely quiet Ben Gurion Airport. The taxiways were empty and the main terminal was pretty deserted. Clearly, the Israeli tourist economy is on hold. I scored the Aroma iced coffee of my dreams and we were on our way.

Matt Most and Osnat in Israel

Our first stop was to be reunited with Osnat Fox, JEWISHcolorado‘s Israel emissary who served in Colorado nearly 5 years ago. She is a welcome sight in her cowgirl boots, with a big smile and a hug. She confirmed that she is pretty much the only person (proudly) wearing cowgirl boots in Tel Aviv. Perhaps those boots were the only thing noticeably unusual in Tel Aviv, the city was humming along in its sleek hipness as always. Her husband is now serving in Gaza and her boys have grown so much since her time in the U.S. She observed that this war has narrowed political divides in Israel, bringing right and left together in shared purpose, an injection of much-needed optimism.

Osnat walked us to Hostage Square, a space in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art where families meet daily to make sure no one can forget their loved ones. There is an empty dinner table set for people who should be able to sit for a meal with their families but instead are underground prisoners. There are numerous families gathered around the square to tell their stories and the stories of their hostages. There is a mock-up of a tunnel to give you a sense of what the hostage’s conditions may be like. It’s terrible.

Natalie in Hostage Square

In Hostage Square we met Natalie. Her parents, Ohad and Rae Ben Ami, were both kidnapped. Mom was released after 50+ days, Dad is missing now 108 days. Her brother is fighting in Gaza. She is just 18 years old, with a weathered quality of worldliness that no kid should have. She said, she “didn’t feel like a kid anymore”. I told her as a Dad I know her father is incredibly proud of her strength, but couldn’t get the words out without tears. It took her less than 10 minutes to tell her story, one I will hold onto and bring home with me.

From Tel Aviv, we drove south to Rahat, a Beaudoin town of more than 70,000 people about 15 miles from the Gaza envelope. We went to the home of Ismail Alkrenawi, who with his family, was one of the 10/7 heroes. These four Israeli Arab men made three trips to the music festival to save carloads of people avoiding roads crawling with terrorists by crossing farm fields their driver knew well given his time as an agricultural worker. They accomplished this heroism while their nephew waited for them to rescue him (which they did). Ismail said his story wasn’t one of heroism, but just a “humane story,” they didn’t ask the nationality of those they rescued, they just wanted to help people because “it was the humane thing to do.” It’s not just a story of incredible heroism, but also one of staggering humility and humanity. Side note, they got their tractor back that had been stolen and taken to Gaza, it just needs some repairs.

Ismail and Nelly sharing his story from October 7

We ended our day in Sde Boker where we had dinner with Mayor Doron and other dignitaries including other old friends, Mor and Itai Divinsky who also served as Israel emissaries in Colorado, returning to Israel last year. Itai looks just like he did at Shabbat dinners in my house, but now with a bum thumb he busted serving as a tank commander and with an automatic weapon over his shoulder. We learned about the incredible work of this region which has absorbed 2,000 people displaced from other parts of Israel and the new educational challenges that creates.

Itai Divinsky, Matt Most, Mor Divinsky

Meeting Natalie and Ismail was humbling, seeing heroes up close, people who rise to the challenge of the moment. Seeing Itai and Mor, as well as Osnat, makes the abstract real. They are honorary Coloradans, loving our home, kinda like how we love theirs. Both places are home to both of us. Seeing today’s Israel through their eyes helps me understand what I already knew. The strength of these people is unfathomable. Tomorrow is a new day with an early start.

Thanks for listening. See you tomorrow.

Matt Most
Chair, Colorado Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)