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By Andrea Cure, Vice President of Development & Strategic Initiatives 

I recently spent 13 days in Israel. This trip was long-awaited; I knew I needed to get back to the land and people I love, to bear witness and to help. I did so with great trepidation. I was worried I would not be able to bear the pain, but I also knew I needed to. I did not want to infringe on Israel’s mourning, but I needed to mourn there as a Jewish person deeply impacted by this remarkable land.

The evening of my arrival, I met a dear friend at Kikar Dizengoff in Tel Aviv. She offered to accompany me, so I was not alone. The memorials set up around the fountain to honor the lives lost—pictures, stickers, candles and stuffed animals—were heartbreaking. As I walked around, it became clear that many of those memorialized had likely lost their lives at Nova or in defense of the country. I realized these were local young, beautiful people whose lives were brutally ended on that dark Oct. 7 day or in the days and months after.

On a bright, beautiful morning, I met B’nai B’rith’s World Center Director Alan Schneider at the Peres Center for a special viewing of its new exhibition, which featured the renowned photographer Ziv Koren’s shocking and comprehensive documentation of Israeli society since Oct. 7. Koren shared his story, revealing that he has been documenting historical events and humanitarian issues in Israel and around the world for years, but nothing prepared him for the events of Oct. 7, 2023. He was one of the first to document that day under fire.

The exhibition was shocking, brutal, intimate and emotional. Images of destroyed kibbutzim, bedrooms splattered in blood and entire families being buried together under caskets draped in the Israeli flag filled the space. The content was heartbreaking and powerful. It also featured poignant images of released hostages being reunited with their families and the wounded recovering in hospitals and rehab. One image depicted a toddler who suffered severe burns over much of their body; another showed a young adult who lost a limb, doing water therapy. Despite the destruction and trauma, the will to live and move forward was paramount.  After all, that is what we do.

The sheer horror and atrocities inflicted upon the innocent boggle the mind—there are no words to describe this medieval, torturous terror. Further incomprehensible is how the world so quickly forgot the abject horror Israelis have been put through. I can’t understand how the world doesn’t care and only sees Israel as the aggressor, forgetting who started this war. But then I remember: The world and history are accustomed to murderous rampages and pogroms being carried out against the Jews. As Jews, we thought this was behind us, with the post-Shoah mantra of “Never Again.” The massacres of Oct. 7 and the world’s tepid reaction since have been a stark reminder that for too many, it is okay when Jews are murdered.

Those who know me know I am a student of Jewish history, specifically the Holocaust. I have immersed myself in learning all I can to the point it has become somewhat of a joke amongst my family and friends. What I am not sure anyone understands is why I do so—it is because I feel a great sense of responsibility to know the stories of those lives that were cut short. Why? Because I understand what was lost—not only the six million, but also their descendants, generations that never got to be, stories, families, lives and a whole world snuffed out and erased. I cannot just let that go. I always stand in remembrance because I recognize it could have been me, could have been my family. We Jewish people are one; we’ve been forced through history to disperse around the globe, but our roots are in Israel. That is where we come from, and that is where all our branches stem from.

Very early on after Oct. 7, I knew I had to get to Israel. I needed to volunteer, to do something.  I needed to see that Israelis continue to push through and live, though they are not okay and will not be okay as they were prior, maybe ever. The attack on Oct. 7 set Israel back in ways that will be very hard to get past. The attacks defiled the sanctity of the land and the sanctity of home—leaving parents wondering how they can protect their children, wondering if they can ever feel safe in their homes. Yes, Israelis have always lived in an area surrounded by enemies, under pressures we, in the Diaspora, could never understand, and still, life is lived, embraced, and celebrated, but this is different. This attack was so personal and vile—it makes you realize the strength and determination of the people of Israel, the Jewish people, are nothing short of remarkable.

Am Yisrael Chai is not merely a saying; it is a resolute mantra that we as a people must carry forth. There is simply no alternative. Israelis go on living, but I wonder if they are all just collectively holding their breath waiting for an end to a war no one wanted but one that must be finished. So they can breathe again, so Jews around the world can as well.

Israel is our strength and pride, and any member of the Jewish community who is sitting on the sidelines waiting for this to pass is doing a great disservice not only to the Jewish people but to the world. Silence and laying low have never saved us, and it won’t do so now. We must raise our collective voices and continue to remind the world what happened on Oct. 7 and that there are still hostages being held.

We only have one another and Israel, and now is the time to double down on that. Raise your head and be proud. Scream to remind the world what happened on that black day and scream even louder to return the hostages. We are one people, one family.

When we launched our Israel Emergency Fund on the evening of Oct. 7, we were not sure where the funds we were raising would go. To help the people of Israel, of course, but how?

This is when we began to work closely with B’nai B’rith Israel, which had mobilized thousands of members across the country to provide for those who lost their homes or had been evacuated. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis were forced to leave their homes with just the clothes on their backs. We worked with B’nai B’rith Israel to provide clothing, toys, electronics, toiletries—anything and everything, because there was so much need.

Even nearly eight months later, as I volunteered in a center where those living in adjacent hotels could come for items such as clothes, toiletries, household goods, and more, I was awe-struck by the sheer love and compassion B’nai B’rith Israel members had for the people they help. The conversations, the coffee and wafers shared—it felt like family. We selected sets of clothing for children with the same care I use when choosing clothing for my own children.

I met with B’nai B’rith Israel leadership several times and was deeply impressed by their commitment to helping others. All volunteers, giving their time selflessly—this is how B’nai B’rith started, and this is how it continues in our Jewish homeland to this day.

Ilan Shchori, chairman of the Tel Aviv Regional Council and member of the Executive Committee, dedicated so much of his time to show me Tel Aviv, sharing snippets of history and unique vignettes that gave so much more fullness to my favorite city. B’nai B’rith Israel rolled out the red carpet for me—I had dinner with its leadership and their families. A city where people work, play, and wait for news, which is often not good.

As helicopters fly over the Tel Aviv shoreline, it is likely that wounded soldiers are being evacuated from the front, passing over those playing matkot on the beach. To watch the recently released Nahal Oz soldier video, seeing girls not even 20-years-old, shell-shocked, beaten, covered in the blood of their friends, being taunted as the Zionists they will get pregnant, is horrifying. This is what the nation watches on the 6 o’clock news. This is what hangs over their heads. But again, they live. Each heart and soul tied together, hoping for an end, for the hostages to come home, for an end to the war. That is all Israelis want. They want to live. They want their children to live, and they wish the same for their Palestinian neighbors. This was not a war Israelis sought, but this is a war against terror that must be won, not only for the sake of Israel but for the sake of all of us who value democratic ideals, freedom and the desire to just live.

So, in all of this, it might be considered ironic that I will say I am at peace the most when I am in Israel. My soul, my entire being, is relaxed in a place that I will never live but is so very much my home. Absolutely surreal and indescribable, Israelis exist and persist, trying to live in a twilight zone where they are continuously pummeled by the world for simply existing. What other people have been subjected to such double standards and obscene mandates? What other people have been killed time and time again without justice? Israel will do what it must to protect its people because the world does not care when Jews die. That is why it is so important to remember we are one people, one family and all we have is one another—and Israel.