(Editor’s Note: In light of the situation in Israel, we are suspending our usual Friday Piday posts which highlight the amazing things our Brothers are doing on their campuses and in their communities or professions to feature stories of our Brothers and their reflections on and actions to support Israel.
Moshe Lencer is AEPi’s former Director of Jewish Enrichment and Education and today serves as the Associate Director of Partnership Development at The iCenter. He is a 2015 graduate of AEPi’s Aleph chapter at Reichman University)
The Simchat Torah weekend began on a positive note as we hosted an out-of-town friend and enjoyed an evening downtown, complete with dinner and drinks. Our plans for the next day included a campus tour and even the possibility of joining a dog Halloween parade. However, my overzealous nighttime thirst disrupted the serenity. At 3:30 am EDT, I stumbled out of bed, craving a drink, and took a detour to the fridge. Glancing at my phone, my heart sank. Being born and raised in Israel, most of my family and friends still reside there, making their Saturday morning messages and photos something I cherish. Yet, this time, the content was far from what I had expected.
As I looked at my phone, the weight of the situation pressed heavily on me. I couldn’t help but reflect on the unspoken fear that lingers in the hearts of those living in regions plagued by conflict. The comfortable plans we had made for the weekend felt insignificant in the face of the turmoil erupting thousands of miles away.
In our family group chat, messages filled with concern, “Are you okay?” and “Did you make it to the bomb shelter?” flooded the conversation. My family had woken up to the deafening roar of several thousand rockets fired from Gaza. I learned that my sister had hastily packed up her husband and two toddlers, driving them to our parents’ house for safety.
Turning my attention to my friends’ group, I encountered an even more alarming situation. Amid the standard bomb shelter check-ins, one of them reported something utterly grim: “There are terrorists on vans in Sderot (a city in the south of Israel), and they are just shooting people.” I initially dismissed it as unfounded rumors and checked the news sources, but nothing was there. I reluctantly decided to explore X (formerly Twitter) for anything related to Israel. That’s when I encountered a horrifying reality I couldn’t have fathomed.
Videos from the SuperNova festival, depicting people desperately fleeing for their lives, as well as footage from Sderot showcasing pickup trucks filled with Hamas terrorists roaming the streets and the security fence between Israel and Gaza being demolished, flooded my screen. Civilians were being dragged around Gaza, and the chaos was indescribable.
I lost track of time while watching these videos, and the next thing I knew, my family was sharing updates about terrorists invading several kibbutzim around Gaza. The casualty count escalated rapidly. Initially, it was 50, then 100, but the grim truth unveiled a much higher toll. As I write this, the numbers have surpassed 1,000 on that fateful day alone and over 1,300 in total. The rumors of civilians being taken to Gaza added to the anguish, ensuring that sleep would elude me for several nights.
Even as I pen these words, my family members in Israel, whether bound by blood or chosen, are answering the call for reserves, volunteering to create care packages, finding housing solutions for displaced families, and advocating for the return of their loved ones held captive by Hamas. It’s a dark time in Jewish and Israeli history, but amidst the darkness, there’s a glimmer of beauty.
The people of Israel, who were divided for months over a judicial overhaul, have rallied together in unprecedented unity. Everyone is contributing in any way they can. Blood banks have set up stations in soccer stadiums to meet the overwhelming demand to help. Reservists have reported for duty even when not officially called. Jewish communities worldwide – including my AEPi Brothers — are displaying their unwavering support through rallies, information sharing, fundraising, and the shipment of supplies.
In Hebrew, there’s a saying: “עם הנצח לא מפחד מדרך ארוכה,” which translates to “The people of eternity are not afraid of a long journey.” This journey will undoubtedly take time, but the Jewish people will emerge from this dark chapter stronger and more resilient than ever before. As we share our personal reflections and join hands in the pursuit of peace, there is a collective hope that brighter days lie ahead.