Leadership group travels to Israel to witness heroism and heartbreak

Jan 26, 2024 | Article, JCRC, Newsletter

During the week of January 21, a dozen leaders from JEWISHcolorado traveled to Israel to volunteer and learn about ongoing crises in the country in the wake of the October 7 terrorist attack. These are excerpts from an account of their journey in the words of Matt Most, Chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), JEWISHcolorado’s political advocacy arm.

Our group of Coloradans was the second trip organized by JEWISHcolorado to spend the better part of a week helping the displaced, witnessing the situation on the ground, and bringing love to our beautiful Israeli partner communities of Ramat HaNegev and Nitzana.

In the U.S., we live with comfort and convenience in the diaspora where we can take Israel for granted, assuming it will always be there for us despite challenges and controversy. We get the benefit of Israel as a homeland without having to physically hold the line, patrol the frontier, and raise children with threats only miles away. Israel navigates geopolitical waters that are inherently impossible, while armchair critics worldwide sit in judgment.

I went to Israel to bear witness, to bring a view from the U.S. to our Israeli friends, and to come home with stories of resilience and heroism.

Hostage Square

Our first stop was to be reunited with Osnat Fox, our Israeli Emissary who served in Colorado nearly five years ago. Osnat walked us to Hostage Square, a space in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, where hostage families meet daily to make sure no one will 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, they are prisoners.

Table in Hostage Square in Tel Aviv

In Hostage Square we met Natalie. Her parents, Ohad and Rae Ben Ami, were both kidnapped. Her mother was released after more than 50 days, and her father is still missing. Her brother is fighting in Gaza. She is just 18 years old, with a weathered quality of worldliness that no teen should have.

Natalie in Hostage Square

Nova Music Festival heroism

In Rahat, a Bedouin town 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.

Ismail and Nelly sharing his story from October 7

Four Israeli Arab men made three trips into the music festival to save carloads of people. They avoided roads crawling with terrorists by crossing farm fields their driver knew well, given his long time as an agricultural worker. All the time they were saving people, their nephew waited for them to rescue him (which they did). Ismail said his story wasn’t one of heroism, but just “the humane thing to do.”

Itai Divinsky

In Sde Boker, we had dinner with Ramat HaNegev Mayor Eran Doron and other dignitaries, including old friends Mor and Itai Divinsky, who served as Israel Emissaries in Colorado. Itai looks just like he did at Shabbat dinners in my house, but now with an automatic weapon over his shoulder and a thumb injured while serving as an IDF tank commander. We learned about the incredible work of Ramat HaNegev and Nitzana which have absorbed thousands of people displaced from other parts of Israel.

Itai Divinsky, Matt Most, Mor Divinsky

Seeing Itai and Mor, as well as Osnat, made the abstract real. They are honorary Coloradans, loving our home, much like we love theirs.

Mayor Eran Doron

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.

Mayor Eran Doron of Ramat HaNegev

Although Ramat HaNegev is one of the safest areas in Israel, Doron found himself informing families of the deceased on that day. He is a true leader, rising to the moment. Going forward, he realizes that the community must secure itself. He wanted us to know that U.S. support—particularly President Biden’s speech—has made a huge difference.


In the educational community of Nitzana, David and Ruth and their four children hosted us at their beautiful home, serving food from their native Venezuela. We shared this hospitality with soldiers from the Caracal unit, charged with protecting the Nitzana border and repelling a violent drug trade along the Egyptian Sinai.

The table they set for us was remarkably similar to the painfully empty one in Hostage Square. The difference was this one was full of laughter, conversation, and good will.

Soliders at dinner

In Nitzana, we met Olim (new arrivals) escaping antisemitism from Russian-speaking counties, as well as students in the programs educating Bedouin young men. It was a reminder that Israel is not going anywhere. The strength of the nation lies in the shared purpose of creating communities in the face of danger.

Revivim Cemetery

On our way to Nitzana, we stopped at the Revivim Cemetery and visited 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 included those of twins who had recently celebrated their B’nai Mitzvah. Their graves were marked with T-shirts from their party. The cemetery overlooks a great expanse of desert and farmland. You can stand there and marvel at how pioneers can look at the intimidating Negev and see a beautiful future that can be had in exchange for hard work, ingenuity, and grit.

Revivim cemetary in Israel

Kerem Shalom

If there is a more precarious piece of land to defend than Kerem Shalom (population 76), I can’t fathom it. We visited the now-deserted kibbutz with community leaders Ofer and Roni. They are family of Holocaust survivors, and they faced an overwhelming attack on 10/7 when hundreds of Hamas terrorists blasted through the concrete border wall and surrounded the village; hundreds of terrorists were held off by eight community members and four IDF soldiers. On that day, Ofer and Roni, who are also medics, tended to the wounded, wearing orange medic vests, exposing themselves to a raging gun battle.

Kerem Shalom

Two community members and two IDF soldiers died. As we walked the otherwise eerily silent community, you could hear what Ofer calls “peace sounds.” That is what he calls the sounds of battle on the other side of the now-repaired Gaza wall. We asked what has to happen for the kibbutz to repopulate, and the answer came from Ofer and Roni’s defiant daughter Sivan: “It doesn’t matter. We are coming back.”

Route 232

We traveled down Route 232, 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.

Nova festival grounds in Israel

We arrived under a nearly full moon to view a memorial to the dead—a seemingly endless display of photos on poles, a forest of stolen souls. A tree has also been planted for each person lost, small twigs at this point that will grow for the dead who will never age. The loss of youth, beauty, and unrealized promise at Nova is unbearable. We said Kaddish in the dark, affirming our faith despite being tested by loss.


Heroes come in all forms. The people of Mash’abei Sadeh, a kibbutz that is home to our very own Israeli Emissary Nelly Ben Tal, is a small collective farm that has housed 400 evacuees from around Israel. These people are dealing with the type of trauma experienced at Nova and Kerem Shalom. As we have seen throughout our trip, 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. At a nearby farm, we spent the morning weeding a field of onions. We were not alone in that field, where groups from around the world are working to help deliver the crop of organic produce to feed a country at war.

Weeding in Israel

Trial and triumph

Despite all the new problems, Israel is showing strength. I witnessed unimaginable bravery, unconditional love, determination to succeed against long odds, commitment to service, and building for the future, despite the uncertainty today. To me, these characteristics look like the stories you hear of America’s “Greatest Generation,” where service was prioritized over self and previously unthinkable greatness was achieved.