Israel Leadership Trip: Entry 4

Jan 25, 2024 | Article, JCRC

January 24

Have you ever wondered why we create fictional heroes? Marvel has created a cinematic universe where heroes employ outlandish powers to achieve the impossible. To keep the movies interesting, the impossible continues to get more impossible. I wonder if we love these immortal characters because we lack mortal heroes. Are we so comfortable and far from actual peril that we need fictional calamity to be inspired? Rolling around the Negev today I had to wonder.

I have been blessed with heroes in my life. The kind I hope everyone has, a parent who is admired when you are small for all the things they can do and for protecting you as you navigate a new world. The kind of Mom and Dad you recognize for their achievements when you are old enough to know how hard those things are to accomplish.

Roni and Ofer in Karen Shalom

Roni (far left) and Ofer (second from right) of Karem Shalom

For me, today was about heroism that I couldn’t have imagined. Heroes that live in Kerem Shalom (pop. 76), the northwesternmost few square meters of Israel where the wall to Egypt and the wall to Gaza meet. If there is a more precarious piece of land to defend, I can’t fathom it. Check it out on the map, although I assure you nothing compares to seeing it. We rode up IDF-restricted Route 10 to visit the now deserted kibbutz for a tour with community leaders, Ofer and Roni. Roni described the community as 95% heaven and 5% hell, but they focus on the 95%. They are family of holocaust survivors who have repeatedly protected the kibbutz from attack throughout its history. 10/7 was one of those 5% days when they faced an overwhelming attack, hundreds of Hamas terrorists surrounded the village and were held off by 8 community members and 4 IDF soldiers. On that day, Ofer and Roni tended to the wounded wearing orange medic vests, exposing themselves to a raging gun battle. Their preparations allowed for their impossibly small defense team to protect the kibbutz for 30 minutes, but it took more than 5 hours for the IDF to arrive. In the end, 2 community members and 2 IDF soldiers were dead. The kibbutz was littered with boobytrapped bodies of Hamas fighters, who left behind a camera documenting their attack (a tough watch). As we walked the otherwise eerily silent community today, you can hear what Ofer calls “peace sounds.” That is what heroes call battle noise on the other side of the now-patched Gaza wall. We asked what needed to happen on the other side of that wall for the kibbutz to repopulate, and the answer we got from Ofer & Roni’s defiant daughter Sivan was, “It doesn’t matter, we are coming back.”

Photos of victims

After saying goodbye to the heroes of Kerem Shalom, we traveled down Route 232. This is the road we have all seen on the news, where an ambush left burnt-out cars and bodies. Today it is just a country road past farm fields, one that led us to the site of the Nova Music Festival where 364 civilians were murdered and at least 40 hostages were taken on 10/7. We arrived under a nearly full moon to see a seemingly endless array of photos on poles, a forest of stolen souls. Each pole features a face more beautiful than the next, a face that could belong to any of our children. A tree has also been planted for each person lost, small twigs at this point that will grow for the dead who can’t. If this trip is about bearing witness, taking in all this pain and trying to provide comfort, our task may be impossible. The loss of youth, beauty and unrealized promise at Nova is unbearable. There was no one to comfort but each other. We said Kaddish in the dark, affirming our faith despite being tested by loss. If any of the parents of these kids had been present I have no idea what I could have said to them. The mass of this burden is without measure.

Heroes come in all forms. Others we met today are the people of Mash’abei Sadeh, a kibbutz that is home to our very own Israel Emissary, Nelly Ben Tal. The small collective farm has housed 400 evacuees from around Israel, people dealing with the type of trauma experienced at Nova and Kerem Shalom. As we have seen all week, one community has stepped up to help others by housing, feeding, clothing, and educating strangers with care to protect the pride of the evacuees who arrived with nothing.

Weeding in Israel

We enjoyed the hospitality of the kibbutz dining hall following a morning of weeding a field of onions. We were not alone in that field, where groups of smaller heroes from around the world worked to help deliver the crop of organic produce to feed a country at war. Most of the Thai guest workers who normally work this farm went home following 10/7. The farm is in the shadow of the Nitzana border crossing, where aid and fuel shipments enter Egypt to be taken to the Rafah crossing into Gaza.

Weeding onions has stoked my passion for office work. At lunch, I was sore from the field, at dinner my heart was sore from all we had seen. I don’t know what to do with all that I am feeling, but I am grateful to be able to share my experience with you. Our obligation to our Israeli heroes is to tell their stories. This is my start. Please share this, so others can understand better what happened and is happening here.

Tomorrow is our last day and now, it actually is tomorrow. I need to sleep. Thanks for listening.

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