Rabbis Embark on Missions to Israel With Various Organizations

Rabbi Craig Axler in Israel (Courtesy of Rabbi Craig Axler)

As Israel’s efforts against Hamas have raged on for over 100 days, people from around the world have been coming to Israel to provide aid and learn about the situation.

Among them, rabbis have been going to Israel on missions to see first hand what has been happening there and gain a more local perspective. These include several rabbis from Baltimore-area congregations.

Rabbi Craig Axler of Temple Isaiah recently returned from a three-day rabbinic solidarity mission organized by the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition, a cross-denominational organization of Zionist rabbis from across North America. From early morning until late at night, the rabbis traveled from the Gaza Envelope to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to meet with local organizations and citizens affected by the events of Oct. 7, such as those who had close personal relationships with people who were killed or taken hostage.

“What made me commit to going was another colleague who had just returned from a similar mission,” Axler explained. “He said that many people who were affected by Oct. 7 felt like no one cared about them and what they were going through. They told [my colleague] that his presence there, his choosing to travel 5,000 miles to be with them, went a long way towards making them feel less alone.”

Over the course of three days, the rabbis met with parents of Oct. 7 victims, first responders who had saved people during the Nova Music Festival and elected officials, including President Isaac Herzog.

Axler noted that Herzog asked the group about their experiences as American Jews in the wake of Oct. 7, stating that he and the state of Israel have a responsibility toward supporting American Jews and world Jewry in general.

A particularly impactful experience for him was visiting the police station in Sderot, which is less than a mile away from the Gaza Strip. The station had been destroyed on Oct. 7 and the vast majority of police officers had been killed, and all that remained of the station was a cleared open field.

“I led a congregational mission to Israel in March, during the protests against the judicial reforms. I saw first hand how Israel was tearing at the seams and how the country was so incredibly divided in that moment,” Axler said. “Being there in January, I was astonished by how unified the country was. … All of the Israelis that I spoke to had this incredible feeling of unity and togetherness.”

Another local rabbi who journeyed to Israel was Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi of Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation, who made the trip in December. Sabath actually has experience being on the other side of rabbinical missions to Israel — she lived in the country for most of her adult life, and she and her husband raised their children there. She would often meet with rabbis who had traveled to Israel from the U.S.

Sabath traveled to Israel in December with a group of other Reform rabbis as part of a trip organized by Makor Educational Journeys.

“We didn’t call it a solidarity mission,” she said. “It was a mission of identifying with and consoling, a mission of identification and consolation. It had the goals of being there to support the people of Israel, its volunteer organizations and the people who had lost loved ones on Oct. 7, some of whom I know personally.”

Over the course of a week, Sabath visited families in need and distributed seven duffel bags’ worth of donated items from HSOSC members. She also participated in field work with the nonprofit Leket Israel, during which she experienced rockets getting intercepted by the Iron Dome.

“We then got up and continued our work. Everyone is fine. And then from Gaza, the IDF reported two more soldiers killed. All part of the reality of daily life in Israel,” Sabbath wrote in a post on her Facebook page.

Like Axler, Sabath had also embarked on a congregational trip to Israel earlier in the year. Her visit was during Yom Ha’atzmaut on Israel’s 75th anniversary, so the atmosphere was far more lively, but it was still markedly different from her most recent mission.

“I’m very moved by how our synagogue and the Baltimore Jewish community have been able to rise to the occasion of this unprecedentedly difficult time for Israel and the Jewish people,” Sabath added, speaking of the supplies HSOSC congregants donated.

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here