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Dr. Alissa C Zuchman, Director, 847-291-7788

Yad B’Yad – Hand In Hand Wednesday, March 6, 2024 – 26 Adar I 5784

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A group of strangers came together at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv–Each is from different backgrounds, different demographics, and different ideologies. In four days, this group of strangers became friends and colleagues. We shared our fears, tears, and, more importantly, our hope for a better tomorrow.

This could be written about any conference-type experience for Jewish professionals, but these Jewish professionals came together in Israel during a time of war.

Our journey was organized by The iCenter, and Shorashim for Upstart network professionals. During the trip, we had the opportunity to explore a transformed Israel and gain a deeper understanding of the October 7th event that has dramatically impacted the country and its people. Over four days, we listened to stories of how it affected everyone profoundly.

On day one, we walked Moshav Netiv Haasara, led by Eden Shaked, a resident of the moshav. This beautiful rural community is less than 50 kilometers from the border of Gaza. The Hamas terrorists paraglided into the moshav and left a path of devastation by killing, kidnapping, and displacing families.  (Attached is an article about one family’s heartbreaking experience. )

The bravery shown by regular people in the face of danger is truly remarkable, as demonstrated by Youssef Ziadna, a Bedouin from Rabat who rescued partygoers at the Nova Music festival. It’s important to remember their names and stories so that we can learn from and follow their example. As Mr. Rogers taught us, true heroes are the ones who rush toward danger; and we must celebrate and honor those who display such courage.

We visited the hotels in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that are providing shelter to the displaced residents from the kibbutzim and moshavim. Dedicated volunteers who are working hard to teach the children and keep them entertained along with the support of mental health professionals. However, the living conditions are far from ideal, with entire families crammed into rooms meant for only two people, with as many as six people sharing a single room. Since October 7th, these families have been moving from one temporary accommodation to another, changing schools, and living out of suitcases. Sadly, they are still not allowed to return to their homes.

I have thought about the word “resilient” a lot lately as I listened to people yearning for peace and witnessed the importance of empathy for the suffering of the Palestinians affected by a war in which they, too, have become the innocent victims of the terror perpetrated by Hamas.

Yarden Leal Yablonka, the Senior Deputy Director General of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, discussed the importance of maintaining empathy amid war’s complexity. She emphasized the need to exercise empathy like a muscle to strengthen it, as it is not an easy task. To achieve peace, it is crucial to find partners who share the same goal. Eliaz Cohen, a poet, and peace activist, is one of several individuals available to collaborate with soldiers and help them express themselves during this time of war.

The power of empathy is the common denominator that connects us all. It allows us to see the pain and suffering of others. Unfortunately, many people involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fail to recognize that there are multiple experiences and traumas on both sides of the conflict. It is crucial to acknowledge and address each of them as they are all genuine and relevant. Even the outsiders who are observing from the sidelines need to understand the importance of compassion.

There is no happy ending yet. But there is hope and right now, hope is everything.

Alissa C Zuchman, PhD