Israel Leadership Trip: Entry 5

Jan 26, 2024 | Article, JCRC

January 25

Today began at our Sde Boker Hotel where most of the property is occupied by displaced Israelis. This is my second visit to this beautiful resort, but I don’t remember scooters and skateboards zipping around the pool last time or the makeshift laundry set up near the spa. At breakfast, we distributed gifts to the pack of adorable kids roaming the lobby. These families have been living in hotel rooms for months and they just want to go home. But right now there remains no home without safety. The bedrock social contract between the Israeli government and citizens is the provision of security, and this contract is currently shattered.

Children at hotel

After breakfast we went south for one last volunteer project, painting. Around the Negev, you see stand-alone concrete bomb shelters. These structures may be a welcome site in a rocket attack, but every other day they are a dreaded reminder of a potential attack. They are a cubic symbol of fear until Elyasaf shows up with paint. New shelters were delivered to this Bedouin village school which suffered several rocket attacks on 10/7. The terror was so great the entire community evacuated for 3 days, seeking refuge under a bridge. When we completed our work, Elyasaf made sure that the end result was beautiful, as he had done over 200 times before. If beauty can temper terror, maybe the children of this village will be blessed with peace.

We said goodbye to the Negev and headed north to Tel Aviv where we met with Brothers and Sisters in Arms who demonstrate the same caring for others that seems to be a genetic Israeli trait. In this case, the effort is massive, far beyond the person-to-person kindness we observed all week. The result is a nationwide mobilization for the benefit of the displaced, deployed, and left behind including basic necessities of people evacuated without the ability to take anything with them of consequence. Scale has been added to kindness and the result is a broad safety net at a time of war that the government has been slow to provide.

Group with painted shelter

Today at breakfast, Yossi, an evacuee and security consultant who does business in Denver, introduced himself. His take was that “cracks” have appeared in the foundation of the Israeli nation. The damage is the result of a fundamental loss of trust that the IDF will protect the Gaza envelope or northern communities as well as the inability to return the hostages from Gaza. His view was one I heard all week, that the current government must go, these failures are unforgivable. Isreal is a place changed by 10/7 and one which is doubling down on its core identity.

Despite all the new problems, Israel is flexing its strengths. I witnessed unimaginable bravery, unconditional love, determination to succeed against long odds, commitment to service and building for the future with beauty despite uncertainty. All of these characteristics look to me like the stories you hear of America’s greatest generation, where service was prioritized over self and previously unthinkable greatness was achieved. If Hemingway was right, that we’re all a little stronger in the broken places, Israel will heal stronger from the trauma of 10/7 through its latest greatest generation.

Despite this hope, there is a new reality. Israelis now live with fear. Strangely I was never scared on this trip, even standing in the shadow of the Gaza wall wearing a bulletproof vest (backwards no less) I felt completely safe in the presence of our Israeli friends. In contrast, they have been shaken by 10/7, they still have the swagger, but you detect a new humility. Perhaps there is a recognition that overconfidence and arrogance may have allowed evil to penetrate the wall on 10/7, as it did in the U.S. on 9/11 and at Pearl Harbor. Israelis saw demonic evil up close and know that there is no diplomatic solution to address it. That leaves only one option, to eliminate Hamas so it can’t come through that wall again.

This is my biggest learning from the trip and my root understanding of the gulf between Israelis and the Americans who protest and advocate for a ceasefire leaving Hamas in place. Israelis want their peace back, they want to live without fear of rockets or invasion as all people do. People who do not live in Israel are willing to accept a certain level of risk to Israel from Hamas, a level of risk that Israelis now reject. I never heard anyone suggest a ceasefire on this trip, except in the context of a deal to release hostages. The sad truth for the civilians of Gaza is that defeating the Hamas cancer embedded among them is an ugly business, yet another evil Hamas has perpetrated.

I am back in my middle seat, flying west to be reunited with the problems I left behind. I have spent the time since I was last on a 787 in a parallel universe. One where there is no question of what happened on 10/7, no question on the essential response and universal resolve to move forward. Unfortunately, I assume the question of Israel’s right of defense remains a political debate in the U.S., waiting for me upon the completion of this 12-hour flight. I am committed to showing up for Israel to share a perspective that demands peace for all, in the hope that the nightmare of 10/7 could lead to some good.

On this trip I had a familiar eerie thought on a Tel Aviv street corner, the sobering reality that the Israeli marvels of success and beauty are tenuous and could be gone in a moment. Today is Tu Bishvat, the holiday of trees and a symbol of Zionist attachment to the land. The Zionist dream remains relevant today, for Jews to hold their ancestral land where we are always welcome, we must secure it for all Israelis no matter their faith.

Well, that is the end of the journaling, but not the end of processing all I have seen. If you found this helpful, please share it. Thanks for listening.

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