by Lisa Libin, Jordan Balaban and Adam Silver
(Calgary) – We are honoured to have spent three days in Israel on a trip beyond description. We were joined by Jewish community leaders from across the country and five Canadian members of Parliament – The Honourable Michelle Rempel Garner, The Honourable Melissa Lantsman, and The Honourable Marty Morantz from the Conservative Party and The Honourable Anthony Housefather and The Honourable Marco Medocino from the Liberal Party.
While it is going to take us all some time to process what we saw in Israel, despite the sadness we witnessed visiting Sderot and Kibbutz Kfar Aza, the biggest takeaway we have come away with is STRENGTH.
We have experienced intense highs and lows over the last few days. We received exclusive access to the southern Gaza envelope towns where we met with the mayor of Sderot – a city of almost 30,000 that are now displaced. We took the stomach-turning tour through Kibbutz Kfar Aza where we not only witnessed the devastation – between 52 and 60 people were brutally killed and another 17 are believed to have been taken hostage – but heard some of the stories of what Search and Rescue witnessed, and also saw some of the photos of the victims they tragically found. As well, we went to the lot where hundreds of vehicles from the Nova Music Festival sit because the DNA are in these vehicles, and are all that is left from the brutal attacks. Over the past three days we also met with family members of hostages and victims. The strength of their being able to share their story is beyond comprehension given the grief and loss they experienced just 45 days ago.
We also visited IDF army sites where soldiers were provided food trucks and an entire store of supplies and snacks – all free for the soldiers every day, and all donated by the diaspora. The soldiers, who were coming out of Gaza were eating, dancing, and singing – and their strength of solidarity and strength was infectious! Despite what we had just witnessed just a few kilometres down the road, we could not help but come away with immense strength and pride.
Pitching in, we took part in packing hundreds of boxes of food for displaced Israelis and spent an evening singing our hearts out with displaced children and families at a heart-warming sing-along. There are 300,000 displaced Israelis right now from both the north and south that have no idea how long it will be before they can, or will, return home. They are living in hotels – mostly women and children as their fathers are off fighting for their country. This is something that as a community we need to be more aware of, and an area in which we are providing direct support for these Israelis, in the form of food and essentials, trauma counseling, and activities to keep them connected as a community.
We listened to a number of amazing speakers including author and professor Gil Troy, members of the Knesset, Deputy mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, and former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. The message from all of them is clear: Israel is STRONG. Israel is UNITED. And Israel will not stop until the hostages are home and Hamas’ military capabilities are eliminated!
As we awoke this morning and watch the transfer of 13 Israeli hostages, we do so with bittersweet emotions. We have seen the love Israel holds for these hostages. Every single Israeli has been impacted by October 7 and these hostages are their family. They are our family. Israelis are united in the knowledge that these hostages are the number one priority, but also recognize the high price the country is paying to Bring Them Home.
As we returned to Canadian soil, with tired and emotion-filled eyes, some things are visibly clear:
- Israel is the strongest it has ever been. These are the words from citizens and soldiers alike. The IDF is at its strongest point. Israel will win this war.
- Israel is very grateful for Canadian support. We have witnessed first hand where the dollars from our Emergency Fund are going and where they will need to go – which includes trauma support and critical support for the displaced citizens. Our Canadian community plays a hugely, impactful role in what will be a massive, long-term rebuild of this country – both mentally and physically.
- Israelis are very aware of the hate we are seeing across the world. Despite the sadness and trauma they have personally endured, they feel badly for what our Diaspora community is experiencing. We need to take the strength and resilience they have experienced and apply it locally. Israel will keep fighting. Israel will continue to be questioned and criticized for fighting. And we will not be able to change the loud minority of voices spreading the lies and propaganda about Israel.
- Instead, we need to focus on the messages around October 7 – that kidnapping and murdering babies is evil; that a terrorist organization massacred innocent civilians; that anyone with a moral compass should not question the need to fight to get 40 children home. This is the message and it is one we are committed to spreading until all of our Israeli families feel safe and secure, and the hostages and the displaced are home.
Over the coming weeks, we will formally present our trip and what our amazing Calgary Jewish community can do. A date will be announced soon.
We want to thank our wonderful community for all the notes and outreach while we were away. It meant so much to know our local family was thinking of us during this trip. We are glad to be back, but we are also sad to have left. We are committed to going again as soon as we can. Israel needs us.
Lisa Libin is president, Jordan Balaban is past president and Adam Silver is CEO, Calgary Jewish Federation.