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Hi's Eye

The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

Bearing witness: My experience in Israel

Photo by Ava Berman
Gali Berman’s home in “young generation neighborhood” on Kibbutz Kfar Aza

For almost two years now, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as a fellow on the Teen Israel Leadership Council, a leadership training program for Jewish high school students in the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest area to prepare them to be Jewish leaders on college campuses in the midst of rising antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment. As a member of the Teen Israel Leadership Council Class of 2024, I was able to spend eight unforgettable days on a study tour to Israel from Feb. 18 through Feb. 26.

The journey started in a way I’ll never forget. My group (of about 15) landed in Tel Aviv at 6:00 a.m. local time. From there, we headed straight to the south. I knew spending the first day in the south would be difficult prior to landing in Israel, simply because that is where most of the horrific terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 occurred, but I was not at all prepared for what I encountered, and, truly, I don’t think I ever could have been.

Our first stop was Sderot, a city located about a mile away from the Gaza border that I visited in 2022 while studying abroad as a sophomore. I used to describe it as very up-and-coming, gaining more residents each year. The last time I was there, I had the best falafel of my life, talked to locals and hung out at the playground with my friends. If people feared living there before Oct. 7 because of the close proximity to Gaza, I surely didn’t notice it at that time.

This time though, it was as if I walked into a ghost town. Nearly everybody was gone, evacuated from their homes because of the inhumane acts in October. All I saw were abandoned shops, empty homes and the ruins of the local police station that was under siege on Oct. 7.

It was heartbreaking to see such a promising city once filled with joyous people now empty. I couldn’t help but think that some of the people killed in Sderot were people I once talked to, people who once told me to make Aliyah (move to Israel) because they wanted to share the home they loved so much.

Next on our itinerary was a visit to Kfar Aza, a kibbutz where 60 people lost their lives, and where many others were kidnapped from their homes. It is hard to express in words or fully analyze everything I saw. There were simply too many rocket impacts, bullet holes and homes completely destroyed that I could barely make sense of what I was seeing.

What happened there was a massacre. We stood in front of the remains of homes in an area where young adults — not much older than me — lived. Outside of the rubble that remained were signs, including ones that read “Nitzan Libstein was brutally murdered in this house” and “Gali Berman…kidnapped from his house.”

I was able to bear witness, not just to the numbers of lives lost, but to the names of these beautiful people, and the homes they lived in. I also noticed people who had moved back to the kibbutz, which I found quite interesting and also somewhat bizarre, especially given that I could see the Gaza border from the grounds of the kibbutz, the place where Hamas terrorists crossed  into Israel with the only objective to kill as many Israelis as possible.

When asked about the decision to move back home after the attacks, our tour guide explained simply that it was his home, and he was evacuated already for too long. This I found truly inspiring; the risks people would take for their homes, for their homeland, demonstrates a lot about Israel’s culture and exemplifies the character of its people — resilient and full of hope.

That same day in the South, I went to the site of the Nova Festival, another evacuated kibbutz, the site of hundreds of burned cars known as the “Car Cemetery,” and encountered the effects of so much hate. This was one of the most important days of my trip, as I gained an even deeper understanding of current events, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks, and the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.

In contrast to so much darkness, I also witnessed much light. One of my favorite moments was visiting the incredible organization called Save a Child’s Heart, an Israeli-based non-profit organization that has saved over 7000 children suffering from congenital and rheumatic heart disease — children who otherwise would have limited or no access to health care in their respective countries. The kids there go through scary experiences, having intense heart care in a foreign country, so our job was to try and bring them some light. 

In reality though, I think it was they who brought us much needed light. These were adorable, happy children from Zambia, South Sudan, South Africa and countries from all over the world, so yes, there were language barriers, but they seemed nonexistent in the circumstances. 

When I first walked in, I was greeted with a big hug from a seven-year-old girl from Sudan. We solved puzzles together, danced a little, played soccer and basketball, and just enjoyed each other’s company. I formed connections with so many kindhearted children and enjoyed every second of it. 

I was so thankful for this amazing organization to be giving these children long and healthy lives. I wish something like this was reported every once in a while about Israel. Israel has so much love and generosity, lends so much charity and care for the world, yet it is often so unfairly represented in the media. 

I could go on and on about my time there, from all the volunteering I witnessed, to all the incredible speakers I listened to and journalists I spoke to. It was such an educational journey, and one I’ll never forget.

 It’s an unfortunate reality that people make harsh judgments about Israel without knowing anything beyond a singular headline they read or a post on social media they saw. But I know that through my experience, I will be in a better position to defend the beautiful country I love so dearly.

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  • J

    JamesMar 8, 2024 at 9:47 am

    when will you speak up for the innocent Palestinians whose churches and hospitals are being bombed? 30,000 Palestinians, including children, are dead from Israeli war crimes. Are babies “Hamas Terrorists”? Will you ever criticize Israel’s attempt of colonization and ethnic cleansing of Palestine? Or is it “complicated”? Was The Holocaust “Complicated”, Was Native American genocide “Complicated”?