A country ‘still in the traumatic phase’

A country ‘still in the traumatic phase’

Emanu-El members tour Israel with the American Friends of Magen David Adom

The Closter cohort at the Kotel, from left: Michael Herz, Arlene Slan, Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, Amy Zagin, Susan Heidenberg, Dr. Eric Morgenstern, Dr. Sharon Scherl, and Robin Rogers.
The Closter cohort at the Kotel, from left: Michael Herz, Arlene Slan, Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, Amy Zagin, Susan Heidenberg, Dr. Eric Morgenstern, Dr. Sharon Scherl, and Robin Rogers.

From 6,000 miles away, you might mistakenly assume that Israel’s wounds from October 7 and its aftermath have started scabbing over, David-Seth Kirshner, the rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, said.

But when he was up close, he said, “I was reminded that this is a fresh wound oozing blood. And we have to be reminded about that. When we hear noises at home about ceasefire and negotiations, we have to remember that this isn’t a post-traumatic situation in Israel. This is still in the traumatic phase.”

Rabbi Kirshner was in Israel through April 4 on a five-day American Friends of Magen David Adom rabbinic solidarity mission.

This was the inaugural initiative of the new AFMDA Rabbinic Advisory Council, intended as an apolitical, nonpartisan resource to positively engage American Jewish communities with Israel in general and AFMDA in particular.

MDA is Israel’s national rescue, first-response, and blood services organization, affiliated with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Members of the mission learned about MDA operations in wartime and in less tumultuous times. They visited MDA’s William H. Bloomberg Center in Jerusalem, its helicopter team at Sde Teman, and its new Marcus National Blood Services Center in Ramleh.

A chance meeting at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem brought together Robin Rogers, Rep Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), and Amy Zagin.Robin Rogers

“Last summer, I toured the new blood center and thought that all the security measures were over the top, but now I realize everything they did makes total sense,” Rabbi Kirshner said.

The visitors were impressed by how MDA professionals and volunteers have been handling the extra burden since the day of the attacks.

“We forget that MDA not only came and did amazing heroic rescues on and post-October 7, during which many people endangered or sacrificed their lives to save other lives, and provided trauma care for the wounded and for first responders, but that they also continued responding to heart attacks, accidents, and all the other day-to-day emergencies that make up the work of MDA,” Rabbi Kirshner said.

The group visited Western Negev communities that Hamas terrorists attacked on October 7; the site of the Supernova party massacre, where they met retired general and current Knesset member Benny Gantz; families of victims at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv; and recovering soldiers in hospital rehabilitation wards. They were briefed by officials including U.S. Embassy charge d’affaires Stephanie Hallett, Mossad chief psychologist Glen Cohen, and Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Jerusalem deputy mayor and Foreign Ministry special envoy for innovation.

Though it was Rabbi Kirshner’s fifth visit since the Hamas attacks, he learned new things. “In the immediate wake of October 7, we learned about triage and what first responders did,” he said. “Now we are learning what second responders do, on an emotional level, for citizens like the women coping alone with young children, a household, and a job, because their husbands have been serving in the army for the past six months in the South or the North.”

Mission participants also heard from the special commission whose grim task it is to try to determine if individual captives are dead or alive in Gaza.

Amy Zagin and Dr. Sharon Scherl chop parsley at Hamal Jerusalem. (Photo by Robin Rogers)

And they talked with evacuees who have made the difficult decision to stay longer in their temporary quarters because they don’t feel safe going home yet.

“These are new angles we weren’t looking at two or three months ago,” he said. “It is a new reality.”

Rabbi Kirshner, who writes an Israeli dining blog titled “2 Plate Solution,” noticed that many stores and eateries have gone out of business since his last visit, including one of his favorite restaurants.

He made all these observations in the company of seven congregants.

While most of the 10 rabbis on the mission brought along lay leaders from their congregations, Temple Emanu-El had the largest contingent, consisting of Daniel Herz, Dr. Eric Morgenstern, Arlene Slan, Dr. Sharon Scherl, Robin Rogers, Susan Heidenberg, and Amy Zagin.

“Some were coming for the first time since October 7, but even for those of us who’ve been here before, the cracking of shattered glass under our feet while walking through Kfar Aza or Nir Oz” — two of the destroyed Gaza border kibbutzim — “still sent shivers up the spine,” Rabbi Kirshner said.

Temple Emanu-El raised $2.1 million for Israel between October 8 and December 31, he noted. More than $200,000 of that amount is earmarked for emergency medical groups. He said that his decision to join the inaugural AFMDA Rabbinic Advisory Council was a no-brainer.

“When it comes to MDA and other organizations like it, it’s not about left or right, pro- or anti-Bibi or pro- or anti-ceasefire, it’s simply about the important Jewish value of saving and preserving life,” he added.

Temple Emanu-El will run a blood drive in cooperation with partners equipped to ship the blood to MDA in Israel, Rabbi Kirshner said. Other initiatives in support of MDA will likely follow. “Our synagogue wants to deepen our connections and be helpful in every thoughtful way we can,” he said.

“If we’re the same people on April 6 as we were on October 6, then the lessons of October 7 have no application. This has to be something that changes the Jewish people. I don’t want us to go back the old normal.”

This is one reason he’s brought congregants with him on four of his five trips to Israel over the past six months.

Even as Rabbi Kirshner was heading back to New Jersey, 24 young leaders from Temple Emanu-El, from 25 to 36 years old, were arriving in Israel for a five-day mission. Another trip is planned after Passover.

“As painful as it is to see places like Kibbutz Be’eri and Kibbutz Nahal Oz, it is satisfying to watch our congregants develop an appetite for Zionism, connect with the land, and become more muscular in their Jewish identity,” Rabbi Kirshner said. “That’s the reward of coming back.”

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