March 8, 2024

Our Turn to Take the Baton

Martín Yafé Global Connections Director

Between February 22 and 29, Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ was honored to host a delegation of nine members of our partner communities in Israel who came to share their stories of October 7 and the aftermath. In only eight days, our friends spoke at more than fifty programs across our community. They met with public school students, day school students, and college students. They met with community leaders, legislators, educators, and clergy. They went to synagogues, partner agencies, and private homes.  

From meeting to meeting, with a deep sense of mission, the delegates re-lived over and over the personal tragedies that they are still processing and poured their hearts out to audiences eager to hear their words and offer comfort. They shared about the loss of loved ones, in some cases as personal as siblings, nephews, or students; about living as evacuees displaced in their own country, a situation that remains current for some of them; and about how the war continues forcing them to make life-decisions every day without being able to process the trauma they are experiencing. However, in the next breath, their eyes filled with tears of emotion remembering the “heroes of October 7,” including brave civilians who ran straight into harm’s way, leaving their families behind, to warn their neighbors; the soldiers who are putting their lives on the line to protect Israel every day; the security squads that made the ultimate sacrifice holding off terrorists trying to enter their kibbutzim; and so many others. 

Throughout this incredibly powerful experience, two messages were consistently shared by all the delegates. First, we can only win if we are united. Second, we can only win if the hostages come home.  

It was especially moving to hear them share their sincere appreciation for the support they are receiving from our Greater MetroWest community, both in hugs, love, and visits, as well as in the very necessary emergency funding we have been consistently sending since October 8. For decades we’ve been nurturing these strong relationships with our partner communities in Israel. Through these “living bridges” we have proudly constructed, we developed deep and powerful bonds with our friends in Arad, Kibbutz Erez, Ofakim-Merchavim, Rishon LeZion, and Hurfeish (as well with our partners in Cherkassy, Ukraine). They are family, so after October 7, we did exactly what family does. We worried, we texted, we called. Then we jumped into action, sending five solidarity missions to date, and providing not only financial assistance but also the certainty of knowing that we are, and will continue to be, here for them every step of the way.  

However, understanding that not everyone from our community is able to fly to Israel at this very moment to bear witness and express their solidarity in person, we made the decision to bring Israel here. And the welcome our delegation received here in Greater MetroWest was overwhelming. The outpouring of love, support, and appreciation offered by the thousands who made time to hear them – in some cases multiple times during – is a testament to our community’s Zionism and conviction to stand by our partner communities in Israel. Ever more so, to each partner community, this visit was a breath of fresh air that reassured them that, despite what they may hear in the media and despite what the general perception might be, Israel is not alone. 

Now, after a whirlwind visit, they are back in Israel. The war is not over. More than 130 hostages are still in Gaza. And the trauma will take years to confront. But our relationship with Israel, and with our partner communities, in particular, is stronger than ever. We promised we will be there for them throughout, and that is exactly what we intend to do for as long as it takes.  

We want to express our sincere appreciation to the very large group of people that made such a meaningful visit possible, including the host families who welcomed our Israeli friends in a very particular moment in their lives into their homes; the dozens and dozens of institutions that, oftentimes on a short notice, organized very well-attended events for the delegates to share their stories; the volunteers from Federation who envisioned and supported this important visit including hosting many of them at different events; the professionals from Federation who worked tirelessly to put together each and every one of the 50-plus events together; and the families of our delegates who, despite the challenges they continue facing back in Israel, supported them in coming to our community to fulfill this sacred duty. Now it’s our turn to take the baton, share their stories, and continue offering all the support, love, and presence we possibly can. 

Am Israel Chai! 

Click here to view more photos from the delegation visit.