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“More Reports from the Front,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

March 15, 2024 | 5 Adar II 5784

I devote this Shabbat Awakenings to more reports of our experience of witnessing on the ground what is happening in Israel. For those who would have wanted to join us there, our three Temple Israel members carried your blessings with them. I asked them to share what they saw as well. I have excerpted their words here:

From Michelle Feller-Kopman

I went to Israel at this time because when I am in Israel I feel on a deep level that I am with family. It could be me living there with my husband and our children serving in the IDF. It could have been my children who were murdered, raped and kidnapped at the Nova Festival. I went to demonstrate empathy and solidarity with my Israeli family who are facing an existential threat and suffering in a manner that was previously unimaginable and unprecedented in our lifetime.

The hostages’ faces appeared everywhere we went from the welcome hall at Ben-Gurion airport to the newly-opened (October 29) National Library where the vast reading room included posters of the hostages with their favorite books. In the United States, we witness the hatred driving the defacement and erasure of the hostage posters. In Israel, nothing mars the beautiful faces of family in horrific captivity. They stare out at you everywhere you go so that you will not forget the barbaric kidnappings, humanitarian crisis of their prolonged captivity, and high priority of their release.

Yet…everywhere, too, there were incredible signs of resilience, strength, heroism and human light. Like Mordechai and Esther in the face of Haman’s evil plot to kill the Jews (the one-letter discrepancy between Haman and Hamas being ironic at best), the Israelis somehow manage to uplift one another as they say — not unlike Mordechai and Esther —“we have no choice”. The “Thank you for being here” we heard repeatedly throughout our short visit, underscored the vast meaning of our empathy and support by being present in those brief moments.


From David Nalven

What we learned from visiting our brothers and sisters in Israel, and being in Israel, is that it is not just life and limb that October 7 has taken; it is above all else Israel’s sense of security and strength, and hope for the future.

From a lifelong resident of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, a paradise on the frontline of Hamas’s attack, we were told simply, “we were caught completely off guard; where was the IDF; this is a catastrophe.” From a young IDF commander in Sderot we heard of disbelieving confusion in the early hours of October 7 and even greater disbelief when along Route 232 he discovered, one after another, bullet-riddled cars trapping bullet-riddled young bodies; who told us that more than military support, his soldiers needed mental health counseling from the horrors they had witnessed. At Mount Herzl, the military cemetery in Jerusalem, aside a freshly dug grave, we heard a company of young soldiers, very young, singing Hatikvah (“The Hope”), but with voices less hopeful than soft, diffident, and sad.

Our guide Uri, an Israeli since the age of 10 and who some may remember from his stint at Temple Israel as the Education Director some 20 years or so ago, reminded us: there is not an Israeli who does not know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who was not killed, injured, or taken hostage in Hamas’s gruesome attack; who does not have a son or daughter (Uri has two) or nephew or niece serving in the IDF, or knows someone who has someone serving; who has not attended a funeral or shiva in the last five months. “While it is hard for an Israeli to say it,” he said, “this is a tough time in Israel . . . it is difficult now to have hope.”

But where hope is all but gone, Israel has found determination. “We all have a role to play,” Uri said. “We do not have the luxury not to play that role.” He, and the many Israel’s we met, thanked us for our visit and asked implicitly that we find our own role in helping to return Israel to the security and strength, and the hope for the future, that October 7 crushed. When will that be? Uri’s closing words: “I don’t know.”


From Marc Maxwell

There are no words to describe what we saw last week in Israel. The utter destruction of lives, families and kibbutzim along the Western Border of Israel is unfathomable. The dire worry of hostage families, and yet the necessity of their hope that their loved ones will be returned speedily, safe and unharmed, is palpable. We’re heard the disappointment, no, disillusionment, of Israelis we spoke with that the government has failed on so many levels, the betrayal of the sense of invincibility, security, coexistence with their neighbors and citizens of different politics, faiths and cultures. We witnessed the incredible dedication of hostage families and their supporters to do everything in their power to not let their loved ones be forgotten. And still we saw the resilience of our people. They have not lost hope. They have created entirely new systems and organizations to support the families of those lost, missing, or held hostage. They have turned their protests of judicial reforms into advocacy, and their communal divisions into a more unified society. We saw commitment to coexistence, and heard of the indivisible and collective bravery of defending their right to exist. We come back with no answers, but with a better awareness of the complexity of Israel, within and beyond its borders. And a reminder that Israel is our Jewish homeland, to which we are connected, with all its faults, and beauty, and anachronistic complexity, including picking lemons for a grateful farmer on a beautiful day, tying us back to the land, the irony of which is not to be underestimated. I wish you all could see what we saw.

Shabbat Shalom!


  • We gather for Qabbalat Shabbat with visiting Israeli Rabbi Itamar Lapid at 6:00 p.m., onsite and online. Register here to join on Zoom or log on via Facebook Live, or our website
  • Shabbat Mishpachah gathers at 5:15 p.m. for a community dinner. During the service, kids will join the Education Department for an ice cream bar.
  • Riverway Community Shabbat Dinner: Cambridge gathers at 7:30 p.m  Register here.
  • Torah Study with visiting Israeli Rabbi Itamar Lapid gathers onsite and online at 9:00 a.m. Register to join on Zoom or log on our websiteWe begin with a short Shabbat service and Torah reading followed by an engaging study and conversation. All levels and abilities are welcomed.
  • Havdalah and Brave Space Conversation with Rabbi Itamar Lapid gathers at 3:00 p.m. Register here
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher