Following Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7, President and CEO Michael Balaban of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Chief Impact Officer Naomi S. Knopf of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey traveled with 11 local rabbis on an emergency solidarity mission to Israel on Nov. 5-7 to experience firsthand the emergent needs on the ground and to learn more about current conditions.
As antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment grow in the Greater Philadelphia area and nationwide, the mission aimed to provide rabbis with a deeper understanding of the situation unfolding on the ground so they can share what they witnessed with their congregants.
“As community and faith leaders in Greater Philadelphia, we have a responsibility to help our local community understand the most pressing needs on the ground and respond accordingly with aid and advocacy,” said Balaban of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, who has been on two emergency missions to Israel since Oct.7. “In today’s climate, it’s more important than ever for our Jewish community to be equipped with the knowledge and resources to speak out against misinformation and anti-Israel rhetoric.”
Participants traveled with requested supplies, including mosquito nets, toiletries, towels, and more, to aid lone soldiers at the Lone Soldier Center, in memory of Michael Levin, z”l.
During the mission, the group met with those directly impacted by Hamas’ attacks, including attending a dinner with families of the hostages still held captive, as well as meeting with those evacuated from their homes.
The 13 participants visited some of the Israeli agencies that the Jewish Federation supports in its partner regions of Netivot and Sdot Negev, which border Gaza and have been subjected to an onslaught of terror. In Sdot Negev, the group volunteered at Leket — Israel’s national food bank — which currently has a heightened focus on farmers who have been out of work due to the war.
In Ofakim, which is located in the Southern District of Israel, the participants went to a Resilience Center to learn about coping with trauma.
The group also received a geopolitical briefing from reporter Alon Ben David of Channel 13 and a media briefing from Arab-Israeli journalist Lucy Aharish, the first Arab news presenter on mainstream Hebrew-language Israeli television.
“I felt called to be in Israel, and I am grateful to the Jewish Federation for being given the opportunity to bear witness to the horrors of Oct. 7 with my own eyes, to hear the testimony of brave survivors and rescuers with my own ears, and to be inspired by the extraordinary work of so many Israelis who have come together as one, to help each other during a time of great national need,” said Rabbi Charles Briskin of Congregation Shir Ami.
“My responsibility to my Shir Ami community and beyond is to share these stories of bravery, resilience, and hope, and to keep the plight of the 240 hostages held by Hamas at the forefront of our minds.”
Aside from Briskin, rabbis participating in the mission included: Rabbi Jason Bonder of Congregation Beth Or; Rabbi Shai Cherry of Adath Jeshurun; Rabbi Jon Cutler of Beth Israel Congregation of Chester County; Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin of Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park; Rabbi Abe Friedman of BZBI; Rabbi David Levin of the Jewish Relationships Initiative and Temple Judea of Bucks County; Rabbi Randall Mark of Congregation Shomrei Torah; Rabbi Jordan Millstein of Temple Sinai of Bergen County; Rabbi Loren Monosov of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley; Rabbi Peter Rigler of Temple Sholom in Broomall; and Rabbi Tomer Ronen of Yeshivat He’Atid.
“Especially in times of crisis and solidarity, working together with our partners is critical,” Knopf said. “It is particularly important for us to look beyond our own borders and be part of a global collective to stand up to this existential threat to our Jewish community. We at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey were proud to travel with the Greater Philadelphia community to provide support to Israelis and to bear witness and bring back messages of strength and unity to our communities. We are truly stronger when we stand together.”
In the hours following the attacks on Oct. 7, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia opened a Philly Stands With Israel Fund, an emergency response campaign to provide immediate relief to the people and state of Israel. As of Nov. 13, the Jewish Federation has raised more than $13 million in pledges and already distributed more than $6 million to the victims in Israel. To learn more about how the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is supporting Israel, visit jewishphilly.org/PhillyStandsWithIsrael.