"I Just Got Back From Israel": A Hausner Parent's Solidarity Trip

"I Just Got Back From Israel": A Hausner Parent's Solidarity Trip
Mallary Alcheck

Whenever I come to campus for pick up I’m greeted by friends and fellow parents with smiles, waves and a typical greeting of “How are you?”. My usual answer is fine, good or something similar.  But since last Friday my response has been “I just got back from Israel”. Most people respond with a bit of shock and wonder.  How was it?  Did you feel safe?  What were you doing there?

After October 7th, like many of us, I felt stuck; wanting to do something to help but not knowing how to get involved. I signed petitions, went to local rallies, attended lectures from experts, called and texted my representatives, connected with my family in Israel, made donations and cried. I felt helpless and worried about the future.  Both the future of Israel and the future of the Jewish people.  Until one day in January, I got an email from Camp Ramah, advertising solidarity & service trips to Israel.  As soon as I saw it a proverbial lightbulb went off and I knew I had to sign up.  There were challenges to overcome.  The expense, leaving Mike and the kids, safety concerns and more. But none of those issues outweighed the feeling that I must go. I must show up for Israel.  

It’s easy to show up in good times.  I’ve spent many summer days on the beach in Tel Aviv, putting prayer notes into the wall at the Kotel, floating in the Dead Sea and swimming in the cold waters of the Dan.  But to show up in hard times, that’s what’s really important.

From the moment I arrived, the hostages were on everyone's lips.  Signs with their faces filled storefront windows, trees and lamp posts held yellow ribbons and even my food delivery from Eyal Shani’s restaurant contained a small bag with a ¼ of a pita and a note reminding me that while a ¼ pita didn’t mean much to me, it was all the hostages had to survive another day.

Everyone I spoke with recognized two things. There was a military failure which the government must be held accountable for and now is not the time to deal with those issues. The focus is squarely on the war at hand.  The political protests that overflowed from HaBima in Tel Aviv before October 7th have been reduced to a small fraction of their former size and instead each Saturday evening there is a solidarity rally in “Kikar HaChatufim”, the open space in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art which has been turned into “Hostage Square”, full of art installations expressing the sorrow and urgency of this moment and booths selling dog tags and plastic yellow ribbon pins.  Families of the hostages set up tables there to share the stories of their husbands, children, uncles and friends who are still being held in Gaza. The rally cry “עכשיו” (now) heard booming as family members take the stage and demand action. 

Hotels everywhere are packed with thousands of families who have been displaced from their homes in the south (and the north). They are in the incredibly difficult position of desperately wanting to get back to normal life while also being disinterested in going back to the status quo of October 6th. For almost two decades they have dealt with intermittent skirmishes with Hamas (and Hezbollah) and other hostile Palestinians, with red alert sirens every few months and with an uncertain future.  That isn’t peace, it's a traumatizing way of life and it is no longer acceptable. This presents an incredible challenge emotionally and financially for the people of Israel.  Living through the Black Shabbat attacks and an ongoing hostage crisis is devastating, but having to relocate your family to a hotel for months on end, unsure when you’ll return to whatever normal life is post-October 7th is also punishing. At our hotel in Jerusalem, children rode scooters in the hallways and makeshift preschool classrooms were set up in the basement. 

The Ramah group consisted of around 50 people.  Some, like me, in their 40’s and 50’s, leaving their families behind, stealing away this time. Retired couples, husbands and wives, best friends, mothers and daughters, rabbis and secular Jews, from all across the US, Canada, the UK and Switzerland, came together to create a community united in our love of Israel and our desire to make some small difference.  We supported each other through long days and difficult moments. We shared our experiences from back home.  We brainstormed about how to fight anti-Semitism, how to share what we witnessed and how we can inspire others.

The program was a mix of volunteer projects like pulling cucumber vines in the greenhouses at Moshav Achituv near Netanya, where they’ve lost all their foreign workers since the war began and packing fresh produce boxes of avocados, peppers, pears and more with Tachlit, an organization based in Jerusalem that relies on more than 400 weekly volunteers to support low-income families.  

We spent time bearing witness, to see with our own eyes the horrors of Black Shabbat with the goal of sharing what we saw with our families, our communities and the rest of the world. To ensure that these lives lost would not be forgotten. We visited the Nova festival site, which felt like a living cemetery, full of photos and memorials of the slain and missing who’s spirits could be felt all around us. And Kfar Aza, one mile from the Gaza border, seeing and hearing the personal stories of those killed like Sivan Elkabets and Naor Hasidim. Sweethearts since middle school,  they were both murdered in their small and modest kibbutz home. They lived in the “young peoples” section of the kibbutz, where 20-somethings start their adult lives, staying connected to the kibbutz community while moving out of their parents homes for the first time.  Sivan’s mother has created a museum of sorts, sharing photos of Sivan’s horrific experience and letters she has written to Sivan since her death as a way to process her grief and make sure that Sivan and Naor do not become footnotes.  We listened to stories of the fallen and the saved, like Adi Vital-Kaploun, the brave mother in Kibbutz Holit who shot one terrorist as she protected her 2 young boys in their safe room before being killed herself.  Miraculously the two boys were released by the terrorists at the Gaza border and are healthy and safe with their father and grandparents today.  

Despite the sadness, death, destruction and hardship, the overwhelming feeling I came away with was hope.  To see smiles on the soldiers' faces, proud of the sacrifice they are making for their country, for their families and for all of us. Our security guard Zeev was a 21 year old medic from the Golani brigade who had just completed his service only days before our trip.  He shared his October 7th experience- first confusion, then terror and then action as he proceeded to tend to the injured giving life support for more than 7 hours to one of his commanders until help arrived. Miraculously his commander survived and is home with his family.   To hear countless stories of families working in volunteer centers, to learn about roadside stands put up by average citizens to offer a cup of coffee and a bite to eat for anyone who needed it.  I even heard people weren’t honking at each other on the roads during the early days of the war.  There was a tremendous sense of unity, solidarity, community and hope for the future, a better future.

In fact every Israeli we met had a smile to share, even those who were suffering with personal loss. Their words of appreciation for us were endless. Yes, packing food boxes and hand-delivering cards Hausner kids made for the soldiers was important work.  But just being there, letting Israelis know that the mishpucha that lives outside of Israel is standing with them and showing up in these difficult times meant so much more.


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