Am Yisrael Chai: 10 takeaways from 10 days in Israel

My family and I traveled to Israel this month concerned about what we would find, but our visit reminded us of the resilience of Israelis in the face of tragedy. Here are my 10 takeaways from 10 days in Israel, and suggestions for supporting Israel in any way you can:

  1. Some things are clear: Israel is negotiating for the return of the hostages with a terrorist organization that does not follow internationally recognized law or order. We want the hostages back, and we must eradicate Hamas.
  1. Others are complicated: Internal strife about government leadership and judicial reform are being debated as potential reasons why the IDF either ignored or missed intelligence warning of the attacks, as is the reduction of military base staff members on Shabbat, the day of the week when Hamas attacked. There is a blame game playing out, complicating feelings while the nation tries to protect itself and heal.
  1. We must bear witness. The most powerful part of my trip was hearing firsthand the stories that I will now share with my community. We are the story holders and have a responsibility to treat the stories of the survivors and their families with dignity and respect: like the account of a woman I met from Ashdod, whose family survived when a rocket destroyed their home and fled to Jerusalem with only the clothes on their backs. For days, her young son didn’t want to go outside; but on the day we met her, he finally, miraculously, did, smiling as my teenage son played with him. 
  1. There are many heroes. In addition to the military, medical and first responder heroes, thousands of civilian volunteers are supporting the 250,000 Israelis who have been evacuated from their homes in the north and the south to hotels around the country with food, clothing, makeshift schools, after school programs, therapy, transportation and more. Nonprofits (including the Jerusalem Civilian Command Center and Brothers and Sisters for Israel in Tel Aviv) are doing their part to ease the pain of those evacuees.
  1. Mental health is an acute and long-term issue. Whether it’s the nature therapy at the Healing Space for survivors of the Nova music festival and their families, trauma counseling provided by Israel Trauma Coalition or the doctors and therapists treating returning hostages and their families at Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, the need for long-term mental health support goes beyond any effort Israel has ever mobilized. 
  1. Sexual violence must be called out. Experts have confirmed numerous acts of sexual violence against women during the attacks. While respecting the privacy of the victims, it’s time for the world to speak up and call out these crimes. 
  1. The Israeli economy is feeling the impact of the war. Israel’s economy depends on tech, tourism, agriculture, financial services and innovation. With 350,000 reservists called up, some sectors of the workforce are on pause. With international airlines canceling flights, tourism is at a standstill. Every shopkeeper, restaurant and organization we visited thanked us for supporting them and coming to Israel. 
  1. Visit Israel. Whether you go with friends, family, your place of worship or a nonprofit, go! 
  1. The “big tent” has never been more important. In the words of Hillel, “If I am only for myself, who am I?” I was inspired by a Haredi man who couldn’t sit on the sidelines — once he felt comfortable that volunteering and doing mitzvot (good deeds) were a form of prayer and saving lives, he and his community members made food for evacuees; some also picked fruit with Leket. We need more Haredi communities to help and say “Hineini — here I am!” 
  1. We in America cannot stand idly by. There are lots of ways you can help: 
  • Volunteer at a local organization that supports Israel. 
  • Organize or join a solidarity or volunteer mission. 
  • Provide Afya with the medical supplies they need. 
  • Share this article with your friends!

Natalie W. Barth is the immediate past president of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City. She currently sits on the Alumni Board of Governors and McDonough School of Business Board at Georgetown University. A graduate of the Wexner Heritage Program and JFNA’s National Young Leadership Cabinet, she is a former trustee of UJA-Federation of New York and the Children’s Museum of the East End. Prior to dedicating her time to philanthropy and family, Natalie’s career in finance included posts at CIBC Oppenheimer, Morgan Stanley and Perella Weinberg Partners.