Let me share with you some thoughts of my recent trip to Israel. After a year, I finally had the opportunity to return to Israel on a Foundation for Jewish Camp mission for camp leadership. I saw some old friends and met some new people on this trip. I was fortunate to share this experience with my Texas colleague and friend Erin Mason, Director of Greene Family Camp. I valued our time collaborating and talking about Camp on the many bus rides.

I arrived in Israel early to recruit staff. Before that started, I had dinner with some GREAT former CYJ Mexican staff who made aliyah: Elias Sandler, Amit Safir, Ariel (Chucho) Friedstadt, Jack Finkelstein, and Marissa and Yosi Sandler. Seeing them successful, married, with kids, and happy was so good. Throughout my trip, I also got to spend time with Asaf and Shoshana (Kogan) Aharon and family, Caryn Green, Amalia Donde, Daniel Gottesman, Pinni and Orit Cohen, and Shlomit and Gil Yaari and family. Over 25 years of friendships!

I was looking for resilience when I interviewed Israelis to work this summer. It has been a challenging few years (for many reasons) for Israel since COVID-19 hit back in 2020. As I interviewed staff, one of my criteria was to pick Israelis who did something. Either they were called up to the reserves, and if not they spent time volunteering for their country if they were not employed full-time.

On the first day of the mission, we headed to the northwestern Negev to visit Kibbutz Kfar Aza, just two kilometers from Gaza. The bullet holes, grenade attacks, fires, and just chaotic destruction I saw were horrifying. That was nothing compared to the stories we heard. We heard first-hand accounts from a parent who lost his young adult daughter, Sivan—so sad and senseless. We heard stories of the day and how people were locked in their bomb shelters for almost 24 hours. The stories framed the murders, rapes, and inhumanity to a backdrop of destruction.

The next stop was the Nova Music Festival. The guide stopped about a mile from the site to help prepare us for what we would see. How do you prepare yourself mentally to walk the grounds that should have been alive with music and laughter, now transformed into a field of sorrow and destruction?

The site was filled with images of those who had been lost—memorials adorned with heartfelt poems and sentiments. I was unusually quiet as I witnessed so much loss. Then, as we gathered as a group to depart, as we were going to recite Kaddish (memorial prayer), something happened unexpectedly and profoundly, and the atmosphere shifted. A lone figure emerged—a stranger with a violin cradled in his hands. Without a word, he played the sad song by Hannah Senesh, “Eli, Eli,” a melody we sing before Havdallah at Camp. As the complete silence except for notes of music filled the air, a distant rumble broke the stillness—bombs falling on Gaza, their echoes reverberating through the earth beneath our feet, a sobering reminder that we are at war. Next, the violinist transitioned into “Lu Yehi,” a song penned by Naomi Shemer during the Yom Kippur War. Another song we sing during Shira Sketa at Camp each Saturday evening before Havdallah.

As we departed from the Nova site, we could hear the musician playing the Israeli National Anthem, “Hatkivah” (“The Hope”). This was a powerful way to leave a place of so much death and misery.

Our trip continued with many more experiences. We went to hostage square and visited the headquarters of Bring Them Home Now. This non-profit is huge and volunteer-run with incredible efficiency. They will do anything or talk to anyone except Hamas to free the hostages. I was impressed with Hostage Square and how they have worked to keep this at the top of mind for the world.

Reflecting on my trip to Israel, I always felt safe. In fact, you would have no idea a war was happening from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. However, I bore witness, and now I am sharing with you in hopes that you understand that the senseless murders and losses are unforgivable. Humanity was not present to do these things. Join me and stand tall as a Jew and with our brothers and sisters in Israel. Bring our hostages home now!