WESTON, CT — Packing a bag and boarding a 2:30 am flight out of John F. Kennedy International Airport for Israel was an easy decision for Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of the Conservative Synagogue in Westport, Connecticut.
“During times like this, I find myself looking for ways to support Israel however I can. Financial support is desperately needed, advocating for Israel is crucial, but sometimes speaking with our feet is just as important,” Wiederhorn said.
Wiederhorn is one of 40 participants in the New York-based Rabbinical Assembly/Masorti’s Emergency Solidarity Mission to Israel. The show of suppot comes as Operation Protective Edge is in its second week.
The decision to come was made just after the Gaza ground operation began on July 8, said co-chair of the RA/Masorti Rabbi Aaron Melman of Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, Illinois.
“Now as things have evolved around the world – the protests, the US travel ban, the European carriers following suit — it’s more important than ever to come,” Melman said.
Aside from boosting morale in Israel, Melman said he wants to send a message to people abroad.
‘You take necessary precautions. It’s just what you do, it’s the new normal; for now’
“Don’t to stop coming to Israel. It’s very safe,” he said. “We were in Ashkelon today and we had three sirens. You take necessary precautions. It’s just what you do, it’s the new normal; for now.”
Those traveling with RA/Masorti visited Congregation Netzach Yisrael in Ashkelon, Beersheba’s Mayor Rubik Danilowitz, and Rabbi Yonatan Sadoff and his leadership at Kehilat Magen Avraham. RA/Masorti chose these congregations as they have suffered tremendously from the recent rocket fire into Israel, Melman said.
During their time in Israel, the participants will also visit the Knesset and meet with various governmental officials including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein.
The Masorti mission will visit the graves of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel later in the week, Wiederhorn said.
“My hope is that our physical presence this week will bring a little strength and comfort to our brothers and sisters in Israel,” Wiederhorn said.
The Tzohar Rabbinical Organization is also pushing trips. It sent an appeal to Diaspora rabbis and communities earlier this week to show their solidarity for Israel and its citizens by coming to Israel.
“The IDF soldiers are not only protecting the citizens of Israel, they are risking their lives in defense of the entire Jewish People,” Tzohar Chairman Rabbi David Stav said. “It is important that we all show our moral and spiritual support now, not just through words but through action.”
So far several rabbis from communities in both the United States and England have answered the call, said Reuven Spolter, Tzohar’s Overseas Rabbinic Coordinator.
“We are deeply encouraged by the continued expressions of support that we are seeing from across the Diaspora. With every passing day we hear of more and more rabbis who are leading delegations from the US, Canada, the UK, and indeed all over the world,” Spolter said. “This support is critical at this time and we look forward to welcoming many others in the days and weeks ahead because Israel truly needs them.”
Tzohar opened a special Operations Center to help rabbis from abroad coordinate trips to Israel. Like the RA/Masorti mission, visiting rabbis will spend time with citizens in hard-hit areas such as Ashkelon and Beersheba as well as meet with government officials.
The visits are especially meaningful because they coincide with the “Three Weeks,” a traditional mourning period commemorating historical tragedies that concludes with Tish B’Av, which marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples, Stav said.
Melman said the response in Israel has been overwhelming.
“The best way to tell people we love them and we support them is to be here. You can do that from abroad only so much,” Melman said. “People are very proud we are here.”