Reflections From a Mission to Israel

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By Barak Hermann

I arrived back in Baltimore with a lot on my mind and in my heart. I just returned from Israel on a solidarity mission led by the JCC Association of North America and Ministry of Diaspora Affair, along with more than 30 other leaders representing JCCs and Jewish communities in North America. Our group of leaders promised to not only bear witness to the facts, but to also be the voice for Israelis in our respective communities in North America. This solidarity mission inspired me to develop new ways to bring about a greater people-to-people connection to Israel as well as to foster a stronger connection to the land and security of our Jewish state. Throughout this four-day journey, I looked for ways to connect, listen, learn and collaborate. I also sought opportunities to bring positivity and solidarity with Israel back to our community.

Being in Israel at this most complex and challenging time was emotionally and physically draining.

Traveling in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, we felt devastation and sadness everywhere. Pictures of the hostages are ubiquitous as reminders of the innocent people kidnapped from their kibbutzim and the Nova music festival. It’s hard to fathom the lack of condemnation from the outside world on the orchestrated mass rape and mutilation of girls and women. Is it because they are Jewish?

I am driven to ask everyone I can reach to please not eradicate Jewish history to defend your opinions of Israel’s response to Oct. 7. Hamas are Nazis. This isn’t a war about land. This is a deep hatred that calls for Jewish people to not exist. Israel would only be a first stage of a gruesome master plan to eliminate Jews from the world.

The many sites and individuals we visited on our mission showed us the incredible amount of resilience and unity Israelis have and continue to demonstrate. While issues and devastation can divide us, Israel and Jews worldwide are unified in this new realization of the collective experience we are all feeling.

After the Holocaust, we said Never Again. We promised to never forget the Shoah and the loss of 6 million Jews and millions more who died because of the Nazis’ goal to rid the world of Jews and other demographic groups. Here we are in 2024, 80 years later, experiencing profound and horrific terrorism and innocent loss of life. We know many will ask for a cease-fire. We know we absolutely need the hostages released.

We know Hamas controls everything in Gaza and teaches their children from the youngest ages to want to hate and kill Jews. They portray us as animals. We know this war has created generations of hatred. We know we have hundreds of thousands of people in the Israel Defense Forces and in the reserves who know this war is not just about the land of Israel but an extremist radical plan to rid the world of Jews.

We know the global reaction has been anti-Jewish and anti-Israel as many people sympathize with the perceived oppression of Palestinians.

I can admit that Israel has public relations and leadership problems. It’s painful to see any innocent loss of life. However, this is a war for Israel’s right to exist and live safely. The rise in antisemitism in Europe, South Africa and other countries makes it unsafe for Jews to live comfortably. We need to ensure Israel’s ability to be a safe haven for Jews worldwide to come and feel they can be their authentic selves.

But what can we do here in Baltimore?

The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s emergency campaign support since Oct. 7 is going a long way. It’s great to see how some of the funds have been used to support Ashkelon with critical supplies going to the city and its residents.

We need to continue our efforts and incredible work at the JCC, and in Baltimore, to create a wonderful place to be a Jewish community. At the same time, we need to continue to focus on strengthening and deepening our relationships with the larger community. It’s critically needed to ensure strong Jewish communities in the diaspora.

“Gam vegam” — which means “this and that” — is an often-used phrase to describe the times we face. Let’s hold on to the idea of wanting multiple things at one time and the struggle of making choices. We need to emphasize the theme of wanting “both” rather than wanting to choose one thing over another.

I pray for peace, the hostages and the IDF, who are the heroes protecting and saving Israel.

Barak Hermann is the CEO of the JCC of Greater Baltimore.

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