Visiting Christian group donates $500,000 to Oct. 7 survivors’ post-trauma therapy

Passages had brought some 11,000 visitors to communities Kfar Aza and Netiv Ha’asara in the years leading up to the attack

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Donors and alumni of Passages tour Netiv Ha'asara on January 21, 2024. (Cade Chudy)
Donors and alumni of Passages tour Netiv Ha'asara on January 21, 2024. (Cade Chudy)

Pro-Israel Christians from the United States, in Israel on a solidarity visit, donated $500,000 to help two communities cope with the trauma of the murder of many of their members by Hamas terrorists on October 7.

The delegation of some 20 donors and alumni of Passages, a pro-Israel organization that subsidizes group visits to Israel for young American Christians, split the donation equally between Kibbutz Kfar Aza and Netiv Ha’asara, two communities where gunmen from Gaza butchered dozens of people and set on fire many buildings.

Passages, which was established eight years ago, has had a longstanding connection with both communities because it has brought roughly 11,000 Christian students there on visits several times a year, Paul Webber, Passages’ chief advancement officer, told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

Webber said that despite the devastation at Kfar Aza, “The trees, the grass, the homes were recognizable” to him. But his contacts in Kfar Aza, who came to the now-evacuated kibbutz to meet the delegation there, were not the same, he said.

“These are people we’ve known for years. And now when we’ve met them they seemed scarred, changed for life. The quiver in their lips as the words left their mouths, you could tell that they’re seeing over and over the horror that they had witnessed,” Webber, a 60-year-old father of five who grew up in New York but lives in Arizona, said while holding back tears.

Donors and alumni of Passages tour the Tekuma Region near the Gaza Strip on January 21, 2024. (Cade Chudy)

The encounter made the delegation decide to donate toward various psychological treatments and activities, especially for the many young survivors from the affected communities.

Passages, which has an annual budget of about $15 million, is sometimes called “the Christian Birthright” — a reference to the Jewish nonprofit Taglit Birthright Israel program, which has brought to Israel about 800,000 Jews who’d never visited it before. Passages raised the money it donated to Kfar Aza and Netiv Ha’asara in a special charity drive following October 7.

Donors and alumni of Passages tour Kfar Aza on January 21, 2024. (Cade Chudy)

“As an organization that seeks to build bridges of friendship with Israel and the Jewish community, Passages will show up and continue to show up to stand in solidarity with Israel,” Scott Phillips, CEO of Passages, said in a statement. “We’ll continue to introduce more and more young Christian leaders in America to Israel’s story.”

The head of security at Netiv Ha’asara, Benny Ledom, thanked Passages, noting it is the only Christian group that has donated to the community so far.

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