Bearing witness and holding onto hope

Today is the 13th day of the Omer, corresponding to the kabbalistic sefirot– divine energies- of Yesod she’beGevurah– Foundation in Strength. 

Today is Yom HaShoah- Holocaust Remembrance Day.  

And today is Day 213 since October 7th. We pray with all our hearts that the recent news of a ceasefire-hostage release deal comes true.

Yesterday, many communities saw their largest Yom HaShoah gatherings in years; the need to come together and strengthen each other is so clear right now. The agony in Israel and the fury of anti-Israel campus protests nationwide…Never Again feels almost like a question this year.

One month ago, just before I joined our second Adamah Israel Farm Volunteering Mission, I spent Sunday April 7th in the Gaza envelope, visiting Kibbutz Nir Oz, the Nova Festival site, Kibbutz Nir Am, and Sderot. The kibbutzim are mostly empty now, eerily quiet without the sights and sounds of kids and families. At Nir Oz, the IDF arrived an unfathomable eight hours after the kibbutz came under attack; by then Hamas had already come and gone. I met there with Nir Metzger, the Director General of the kibbutz; he and his neighbors lost over a quarter of their community, including Nir’s parents who were both taken hostage. His mother, Tami Metzger, was released on November 28th. His father, Yoram, is still held hostage; Nir’s wife, Ayala, has spoken at recent rallies in Tel Aviv. Nir showed me the destroyed homes, the pictures of the murdered and kidnapped, and told me what happened that day: the horror and the heroism, the lives that were lost and those that were saved. The Nir Oz community is broken, feeling abandoned and betrayed by their government and their country. They continue to fight for the release of their friends, and somehow Nir and his neighbors find the strength to persevere. He told me that sharing their story is part of the healing, rebuilding process.

Nir Metzger, Director General of Kibbutz Nir Oz
Nir Metzger, Director General of Kibbutz Nir Oz
Looking out over the Nir Oz fields, towards Khan Younis and the Gaza Strip
Tamar and Yonatan Siman Tov, and their daughters Shahar and Arbel, and son Omer. They were murdered at Nir Oz.

Part of what happened at Nir Oz, Nir Am, and elsewhere was Hamas’s agricultural terrorism: 

Terrorists targeted farmland, livestock, plants and infrastructure as they made their way across the western Negev, which produces roughly 70% of the country’s vegetables, 20% of its fruit and 6% of its milk. “The attack was designed to intentionally destroy agricultural production, but more than that, it was meant to destroy the identity of the region, to break the community,” says Danielle Abraham, executive director of Volcani International Partnerships, a nonprofit that addresses global hunger using Israeli technological innovation.

Sugar, Rebecca. “Hamas’s Agricultural Terrorism.” Wall Street Journal – Feb 26, 2024

Read the full article; it reveals the ferocious intensity and impact of this attack on farmers, not as collateral damage but as intentional targets, because food and farming are at the heart of Israeli history, culture, and society.

And so is music and celebration, which brought so many young people to the Nova Music Festival before the most horrific massacre in Israel’s history. I walked the site, saw the pictures of all those who died that day, and stopped to see some of the memorials celebrating the lives of those lost—each precious, unique, beloved. I was not alone there that Sunday in April; there were many, many Israelis there who had come to bear witness—including young Israeli soldiers in training. These soldiers are so, so young. To see them there, protecting the country, carrying such heavy burdens at such a young age…is sorrow heaped upon sorrow.

Memorials at Nova festival site
Young Israeli soldiers sitting together at the Nova festival site
37 Kibbutz members still missing from Nir Oz

There were moments that day that held a haunting resonance with what I felt 20 years ago during my Holocaust studies and trip to Poland, but at least one thing was viscerally different: while we walked through the Nova site and looked out over the Nir Oz fields on the Gaza border, we felt deep booms in the distance. Because this is not history, this is now. Just over the horizon, shaking us to our core.

My guide that day was Ron Maoz, a nice Israeli guy living in Tel Aviv. After October 7th Ron quit his job and dedicated his life for the past 7 months to volunteering with Brothers and Sisters in Arms, supporting Israeli communities near Gaza who were ravaged on October 7th, with so many people traumatized, displaced, relocated, and with futures uncertain. Ron did not know these people before 10/7, but now they are like his own neighbors.

He writes,
Thank you for being with us, for choosing to come and strengthen these days. I would be very happy to keep in touch and build a better future together for Israel. The most important message to remember is to be grateful for what we have, so please hug your children and family tightly. I am full of hope that the next time you arrive, all the hostages and soldiers will be home safely, and we will meet again in Nir Am and Nir Oz where children run along the paths and we will hear their laughter loudly.

If Ron Maoz and Nir Metzger can hold onto hope, you and I can too. And in that spirit, please join us for a powerful new online Adamah program called Katzir: Harvesting Connections. This weekly program starting Wednesday May 8th is led by Avihay Aharoni, our Pearlstone Shaliach, aiming to cultivate connections, bonds, and bridges between Judaism, ecology and Israel.

Sending strength, love, and hope.

Jakir Manela
Chief Executive Officer