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  • Writer's pictureRabbi David Gerber

From the Valley of the Shadows

Updated: Mar 21

Listen as the sound of mortars breaks the serenity of the eucalyptus fields:


At the Nova Music Festival, revelers came from all over the world to dance, sing, rejoice, and watch the sun rise. At Kibbutz Be'eri, intergenerational families share traditions and the pursuit of peace. All of these people chose to be in this part of Israel because of their love for humanity.

The proximity to Gaza allowed residents like Vivian Silver to transport Palestinians in Gaza to and from the hospital. It allowed the residents at Be'eri to employ Palestinians and build bridges of peace. She spent her life tirelessly trying to create a peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs. The image to the right is where she was murdered in her home. Our guide said that he hoped in her last moments that she didn't feel like her work was in vain.

The Gaza Envelope (the area surrounding the Gaza Strip) is full of peaceniks. On October 7th, it didn't matter. The very Gazans who were welcomed into these communities came back and murdered indiscriminately. The burned houses, schools, and dining halls. They trapped families in shelters and riddled them with bullets. They shot babies in the arms of their parents. They didn't stop to ask whether the person was a Zionist, a Jew, a hawk, or a dove. They just murdered.

And for those who don't believe these things happened, I watched them on video. They happened. And they are worse than you can imagine.

Today the site of the Nova music festival is populated with memorials. Pictures of the beautiful lives taken far too soon stare at you as you listen to the artillery shells in nearby Gaza.

Candles, red flowers, messages of love serve as the roots of these memorials.

The asymmetry is impossible to miss.

On one side of the fence are the sounds of music, words of love, smells of eucalyptus. On the other is baseless hatred.

Even in the valley of the shadow of death, the people we met hope for peace. They want to live in security. They want to have neighbors who seek prosperity and harmony.

Somehow, our host in Kibbutz Be'eri managed to tell the stories of the countless lost loved ones from his village. He knew every single one of them. How they died and how they lived.

The hope and resilience of Israel is truly astounding. In this area you can't travel very far without coming across a bomb shelter. You wouldn't know it though. They are painted to look like Ice Cream Trucks, Gardens, Musical instruments...etc.

It reminds me a bit of New Orleans. We don't complain about the massive pot holes. We decorate them and swim in them. They are part of our lives that we receive with joy. That the citizens of Southern Israel are able to take such a painful reminder of their mortality and turn it into something beautiful is inspiring. Even the children in the kindergartens learn to sing songs that guide them to the bomb shelters. God bless them.

After talking with a number of Israelis, I've heard many opinions about the government, the war, and the path forward. But one thing is abundantly clear: The thing Israelis want most is to bring the hostages home NOW. Their heart is trapped in Gaza.

My trip concluded with a visit to Rosh Haayin, the sister city of New Orleans. They asked how we felt coming to a country at war. Were we nervous? Collectively, we answered with a resounding "no."

Right now Israel is the safest place to be for Jewish people.

More than ever, Israelis appreciate our presence here. They are buoyed by our love and commitment to Am Yisrael. Every person that was murdered or kidnapped feels like an entire world lost to them, but every visitor from outside Israel and every expression of solidarity feels like a hug from the entire world. We owe it to them to provide all the warmth and support we can. As they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, WE are with them.

I'll be sad to leave Israel tomorrow. I'll be leaving a peace of my heart here. But I feel like I have met so many people and heard so many stories that my cup runneth over. I hope to share as much as I can from the lives of the Israelis upon my return, as do the many people on my trip.

Am Yisrael Chai. The people of Israel LIVE.


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