Israel Leadership Trip: Entry 3

Jan 24, 2024 | Article, JCRC

January 23

I understand that our brains only focus on a small part of what is directly in front of us, leaving the periphery fuzzy until we adjust our gaze. Otherwise, the quantity of data to be managed would overwhelm. Today was like that emotionally. I encountered dazzling examples of understated leadership, sacrifice, service, and bravery. Each one was so intense it required a singular focus. After a hot shower and clean clothes, I am ready to start to process and share some of what I took in today.

Soliders at dinnerFor dinner tonight we were hosted by David & Ruth and their 4 children at their beautiful Nitzana home. They are amazing cooks, proprietors of the Latin Corner, serving food from their native Venezuela. This family embodies the legacy of Zionist pioneers, as one of the 16 families that will make up a new moshav, which will grow to 80 families in the next few years. They are the “seed of the seed” that will create a community of eventually 2,000 homes. We shared this hospitality with soldiers from the Caracal unit, charged with protecting the Nitzana border crossing and repelling a violent drug trade along the Egyptian Sinai. These young men and women shared stories of recent combat, rigorous training, and plans for life after the military. The Caracal unit is mixed gender, the commanders who joined us were all female. The unit is named for an indigenous Negev cat, whose gender is difficult to discern. The table they set for us was remarkably similar to the painfully empty one in Hostage Square yesterday. The difference was this one was full of laughter, conversation and good will. Given that we woke up today to the news that 24 IDF soldiers died in Gaza yesterday, I am crushed to think that 2 dozen families will have an empty chair at their tables now, void of a sparkling inspiring young person of their own flesh. I am left to marvel at the bravery of our hosts and dinner companions, patrolling the frontier and striking out across the world to create new communities in the face of dangers, some of the fiercest nature and humans offer.

President HerzogOur Colorado group arrived at dinner damp from nearby Ashalim where we attended a rainy ceremony to welcome displaced people from Karem Shalom who are to be housed there. Karem Shalom is a kibbutz excruciatingly close to Gaza and hemmed in by Egypt on the west, a precarious location that we will visit tomorrow. President Herzog was on hand for the event, one that is repeating itself around the country as communities open their arms to the 200,000+ Israelis displaced on 10/7. This was an event familiar to any American political operative complete with back-slapping, big handshakes, body men, secret service, kissing babies, speeches, selfies, and even tree planting. The sense of community, caring for others, and building for the future was everywhere. Our time at nearby Nitzana permeates with the same objective, where we met Olim (new arrivals) from Russian-speaking countries escaping antisemitism, as well as students in the programs educating young Bedouin men to access the modern economy. One impression to send home is that Israel is not going anywhere. The strength of the nation lies in this shared purpose. I can see why any politician would associate themselves with these events, they embody what it means to be strong, resilient, and focused on the future.

On our way to Nitzana, we stopped at the Revivim Cemetary and were shown the more than two dozen new graves for those lost at Kibbutz Be’eri, buried in a manner that will allow the bodies to be transferred back to their community in the future. These graves include those of twins who had recently celebrated their B’nai Mitzvah, their graves were adorned with t-shirts from the party. The cemetery also is the final resting place of the original defenders of the region from the 1948 War. It overlooks a great expanse of desert and farmland. You can stand there and marvel at how the pioneer spirit can look at the intimidating Negev and see a beautiful future that can be had in exchange for hard work, ingenuity, and grit.

Our day began in Mayor Doron’s conference room at the Ramat HaNegev Partnership. Our relationship with the Mayor is long and strong; he has visited Colorado many times to engage our community, a major funder of social infrastructure in his Ramat Hanegev region. Like any good leader, Doron is wrestling with the events of 10/7 and the procedures that should have prevented it. Although Ramat HaNegev is one of the safest areas in Israel, Doron found himself informing families of the deceased on that day. He showed us where major events played out and their proximity to where we were sitting, referring to his region as the “envelope of the Gaza envelope.” The perfect vision of hindsight has revealed many lessons—grade inflation on security drills, brittle communications infrastructure, the importance of circumventing bureaucracy, what routinely works can break in a crisis, and finally, the cold hard fact that Hamas kills without discrimination. Doron is a true leader rising to the moment by learning from the moment just passed. Going forward, he realizes that the community must secure itself and they have a long fight (12-18 months) ahead that they have no choice but to win. If people don’t return to communities around Gaza and the border with Lebanon, Israel will have lost. We asked his view on a practical solution for Gaza, but he didn’t have one to offer. He wanted us to know U.S. support has made the difference, particularly emphasizing that he distributed President Biden’s speech on Gaza to all his high school students.

Tomorrow is a new day with another early start (humiliating confession…. I slept through the alarm this morning). It will be another day to witness, share what we see, and spread thanks/love to our Israeli friends. Thanks for listening. See you tomorrow.

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