Adapted from a presentation at Temple B’nai Abraham
My name is Lidor Avitan. I am a rishon, which means that I am doing a gap year of service here in the Jewish community of Greater MetroWest. I work, among other places, at Temple B’nai Abraham.
In Israel, I live in a youth village called Eshel Hanasi, which is located in the Merhavim Regional Council, about 7 minutes from the city of Ofakim.
The kibbutzim you’ve read about are kibbutzim where my friends and I would go hiking to see the breathtaking nature. The neighborhoods that have been filmed are neighborhoods I would drive through on weekends after having a meal with my family.
I arrived in NJ two months ago, after a very long preparation course, but no course and no workshop could prepare me for this situation.
I stand here today almost three weeks after the outbreak of the war.
Three weeks that feel like a year.
Three weeks without good news or joyful tidings.
I stand here today to honor the memory of Bechor Swid, from moshav Shlomit. Bechor was my teacher in middle school: a man of integrity, whose love for the land of Israel was his supreme value. Bechor left his community at 7 in the morning, and drove towards his sister’s house, after hearing gunshots. He wanted to protect them. Bechor was 32 years old.
I stand here to honor the memory of Noya Dahan. A 12-year-old girl, a Harry Potter fan, a student at the Rotman School for children with special needs. Noya was murdered with her grandmother in Kibbutz Nir Oz.
I stand here to honor the memory of Ronen Daitzman, a physics teacher, mentor, beloved and wise man, father of two children, Noya, age 12 and Guy, age 9. Ronen taught me in school, and was murdered at the Nova music festival by Hamas terrorists.
From the sidelines, I watch the situation happening in my country, with tens if not hundreds of thousands of people volunteering, and sending food, children preparing cards for the soldiers, citizens donating blood, people coming to accompany strangers on their final journey, just because of the fear that not enough people will come for a minyan.
The great fracture and tragedy makes us understand that we need to put aside our differences. For or against reform, right or left, all this does not matter when having to deal with a crisis of this magnitude.
My father, a chief of police in the southern district, has been going between stations and checkpoints for two weeks now, managing crime scenes and minimizing incidents. A few days ago, he told me about a group of citizens from Ofakim, who stopped and began distributing sandwiches and hot meals to soldiers and police at one of the checkpoints. He asked them who had donated the large amount of food and they told him it was from the MetroWest community in New Jersey. This is the power of community. This is greatness. It’s not something to be taken for granted. People who don’t have family in the country, who don’t necessarily know Israelis personally, choose to invest their time, resources and money in a country that is 6,000 miles away from them.
I want to thank you, members of the community, for making me feel at home since I arrived, for showing me how much we have in common. People showed me how much they really care and how supportive, embracing and loving they are. I’m glad I found my second home in the United States, the amazing and special community that is tied to the rope of my community at home. Thank you.
After arriving here, I realized how different the childhood experience in Israel is from the childhood experience here. Israel is my home, with its amazing nature, the people, the sense of collective family, the food and the atmosphere. However, growing up in an area where it is normal to have 45 seconds to run to the bomb shelter, otherwise you might get hit by a missile, suddenly does not seem very normal to me.
I do not wish for any more children in the state of Israel to grow up with a sense of fear, surprise and stress that these sirens cause. I was hoping not to hear about another case where children experience post-traumatic stress and grow up in fear.
We cannot stand idly by in the face of the large, brutal, inhuman murder of innocent civilians. Entire families, children, women and the elderly. Holocaust survivors! Terror does not distinguish between Jews and Arabs, Christians. It harms anyone it sees.
Today more than ever it is our time, as human beings, to condemn the rule of terror, and not let anyone justify it.
I ask you, not to stand aside in the face of these actions. Because “Never Again” is now.
I hope that when I return to Israel at the end of the year, I will arrive to a peaceful place. I will return to the green fields, to the family atmosphere and the magical feeling that accompanies the area. I hope that when I return to Israel, I will not have to choose places to meet friends based on whether there is a missile-proof shelter there. I hope to return to a united, whole society, that has put politics and disputes aside.