Ahavath Torah members bring Israelis gifts and moral support
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Ahavath Torah members bring Israelis gifts and moral support

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Mayor Michael Wildes and Rabbi Shmuel Goldin give presents to the students at the Amit School in Sderot. Photo courtesy Michael Wildes

Over the course of four recent days, 21 members of Englewood’s Cong. Ahavath Torah brought tangible and emotional support to Israelis affected by the recent Operation Cast Lead.

“What an extraordinary trip this was for us,” commented Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, one of the participants.

“We saw firsthand a country packed with heroes. We had a chance to walk through the streets of Sderot; to meet with proud Israeli soldiers; see missile casings and scarred city streets where missiles had fallen; feel the resiliency of a nation constantly at war; and taste the dissatisfaction with failed diplomacy and the international ‘politics as usual.'”

While in Sderot, the group stayed overnight at its Max and Ruth Schwartz Hesder Yeshiva – where young men commit to five years of Torah study combined with 18 months of army service – and visited its recently dedicated “Kassam-proof” study hall.

“It is especially meaningful for the residents of Sderot to see their fellow Jews from abroad visiting during these troubling times,” said Rabbi David Fendel, the rosh yeshiva of the hesder. “It provides them with the hope and strength they need despite the difficulties living under the fear of rocket attacks.”

The group visited families that had experienced Kassam attacks and saw a display of many of those rockets when it toured the local police station. It toured the city’s new Magen David Adom (first aid) facility and bought toys for schoolchildren. The largesse was distributed at a school run by AMIT, an educational and social network supported by American fund-raising chapters – one of them based in Englewood.

The visitors also brought pizzas to an army base near Gaza and visited wounded soldiers in the trauma department at Soroka Medical Center in Be’ersheva.

“I felt the focus of the mission should be connecting to the people – the ordinary heroes, the victims of terror, those who fought in the war or live on the front lines,” said participant and coordinator Lee Lasher, owner of Lasher Tours.

“Visitors make you feel positive and stronger, especially when you know they picked up from comfortable lives in New Jersey to come,” said Rabbi Seth Mandell, whose son Koby was murdered by terrorists near the family’s home in the village of Tekoa in 2001. Mandell, a past guest speaker at Ahavath Torah, accompanied the group throughout the four days.

Ahavath Torah’s senior rabbi, Shmuel Goldin, said this was the congregation’s 18th mission to Israel. “My goals are always to cement the relationship of our community to Israel, to expose them to as much as I possibly can so that the issues they read about are real to them, and to make them understand the complexities of the situations that confront Israel and make them ambassadors back in New Jersey.”

The itinerary included meetings with journalists and Knesset members intended to cast light on divergent points of view. “It gets me angry when people see things simplistically,” said Goldin. “Our participants walked away with an awareness of the complexity of the issues, such as what it means to go into Gaza, and what the Obama presidency may portend.”

Goldin told the participants over Shabbat dinner that in biblical parlance, “seeing” is to experience first hand, while “hearing” is to understand that experience. “I want them to convince others to come to Israel and to talk about what they saw and what they heard and began to understand,” he said.

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