Showing Solidarity Post Oct. 7

Wexner Heritage Program Alumni in Israel

By Michael Tarlowe

I recently returned from a Wexner Heritage Program (WHP)* alumni trip to Israel alongside 30 other Wexner alum from across the country to show solidarity after the attacks on October 7, 2023. I am proud that Seattle was well-represented, as I was joined by WHP alums Marc Bridge and Miriam (& Jon) Friedman. 

This was unlike any prior Israel trip I experienced. These were intense days filled with a huge sense of loss, but balanced with the strong resiliency by Israelis we met and their gratitude for us showing up. It was a bit of a rollercoaster, going from sharing their grief to being astounded by their strength. I’m not much of a hugger, but I found myself hugging everyone I met. 

We spent time at Kibbutz Be’eri, volunteered in the fields, and heard the harrowing experience of October 7th, resulting in nearly 100 killed and 30 taken hostage. We observed the remnants of houses set ablaze by Hamas and the former school used by terrorists. Despite the devastation, Inbar, a 20-year-old resident of Be’eri, demonstrated immense resiliency, determined to rebuild and raise his family on the same Kibbutz despite stating that it currently “feels like living in a cemetery.” Nearby, we also visited S’derot, located about a mile from Gaza. We heard firsthand from a courageous off-duty police officer (along with video captured that day) about how terrorists murdered 50 and commandeered the police station, which ultimately had to be destroyed by the IDF to eliminate the threat.

We met with members of Moshav Netiv HaAsara, whose families have been displaced and still have no date for when it is safe to return, describing their experience as being a refugee in their own country. We heard from Benny about his experience as terrorists infiltrated their community and he held his close friend and neighbor in his arms as he died from a gunshot wound. Ultimately, though, this was another example of resiliency, as those we met are determined to rebuild and return.  

Our group visited Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, an outdoor space focused on keeping the plight of the hostages front and center in hopes of bringing them home now. It was quite moving when the crowd broke into a spontaneous rendition of Acheinu, a prayer for freeing captives. Hostage Square is full of art installations, a model of a Hamas tunnel you can enter, and an overwhelming desire to stand together and be heard on behalf of the hostages. I was so impressed with the fact that the Hostages and Missing Families Forum is completely volunteer-led, another example of showing up for one another.

empty Shabbat table
memorial in front of fountain
partially destroyed house

We also met with retired IDF generals and heard of their immense bravery on October 7th and in the days that followed, as well as their proposals for how to bring the hostages home now and find a peaceful future. 

Since returning from Israel, so many have asked me how they can help. If you can, I strongly encourage you to travel to Israel. Bearing witness and showing solidarity are critical. We also met with an impressive NGO, Brothers and Sisters in Israel, doing essential work to support impacted communities, and it was heartening to learn that a portion of their funding has come from JFNA’s Israel Emergency campaign, but much more is needed. Please join me in rallying the Seattle community in support of Israel by donating to the Seattle Israel Emergency Fund today.

Am Yisrael Chai

*We participated in the Wexner Heritage Program from ’19-’22, in part due to funding provided by Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and Samis Foundation.