In light of the horrific Hamas multipronged terror assault on October 7, which claimed around 1,200 Israeli lives, including the taking of over 230 hostages, the citizens of the Jewish state have found common purpose in defense of their nation.
Though most Western governments have acted swiftly in condemning these unprecedented attacks in what has been deemed the worst attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust, it is still up to its residents to summon their collective physical and mental strength. It has been reported by Israel21c that “more than 1,000 civil initiatives emerged across Israel, and 48.6% of the Israeli population engaged in volunteering, according to a report from the Institute for the Study of Civil Society and Philanthropy in Israel at Hebrew University.” According to this same report, Israelis have come together to “carry out rescue operations, evacuations, temporary shelter provision, distribution of vital food and medical supplies, [as well as] psychological support to survivors and bereaved families.”
Adi Rabinowitz Bedein, the founder and director of Network for Innovation Holocaust Education, is a resident of Tekoa, a community near Jerusalem. Her organization is devoted to “individuals who have a passion for Holocaust education and are actively seeking innovative tools, connections, and collaborations to further advance Holocaust remembrance to future generations.” Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Hila Bar, a mother of six and resident of Srigim, a moshav under the jurisdiction of Mateh Yehudah Regional Council south of Beit Shemesh, is a translator and editor. In an attempt to survey the collective resolve in Israel following this atrocity, the Queens Jewish Link spoke exclusively to Adi and Hila to find some degree of hope and light during these extremely dark times.
QJL: How have each of you been holding up, and how have you helped to galvanize your neighborhoods?
Hila Bar: I visited, WhatsApped, and spoke on the phone to people in distress, especially to those who are more alone. I have been a shoulder to lean on for people who have lost dear ones in the massacre. [These include] single mothers whose children are serving as combat soldiers; and I have given my time to people who are simply struggling with their day-to-day life, which has been exacerbated by the war. People without family support are needier than ever.
Adi Rabinowitz Bedein: [I’ve felt nothing but] horror and pain. When my neighbor came to tell me about what was happening and how the terrorists had penetrated communities in the area, I couldn’t help but think about my sister and her family. This includes her daughter, who serves as a combat soldier in the Navy on the Gaza border, and my husband’s brother. Not a single day goes by without tears. I feel an overwhelming sense of pain for the people who have been murdered, and the profound loss with the number of lives lost and the tragic circumstances of their deaths. My heart aches for those who have been kidnapped.
QJL: What do you consider your role to be in the wake of these atrocities?
Hila Bar: As a translator, I have offered my services for free to various groups that have been formed by media professionals such as video creators, writers, social media professionals, who want to convey Israel’s side of the story to the rest of the world. This means I [am reaching out, too,] to the Hasbara. I have also translated promotional material appealing for donations to rebuild and restore the communities that have been devastated by the terrorist attacks.
Adi Rabinowitz Bedein: Just like all Israelis and many around the world, I want to help in any way that I can, if it means to get donations [or] cook for soldiers. As a Holocaust educator, I feel that I must use this knowledge and teach it – now more than ever – in order to motivate people to act against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and to give strength to those who have suffered a great loss in our country. As founder and director of The Network for Innovative Holocaust Education, with 125 members from 22 countries, I feel that the network has a great role now. We need to unite all Holocaust educators and activists. This is a critical point [and] this is the time to act. I have created an approach called Activist Holocaust Education that makes the messages, which are learned from [that period] relevant to our everyday life in order to inspire people to act against injustices in the world. My agenda is to present the viewpoint of the Holocaust victim and survivor, and not the perpetrators.
QJL: Briefly speak of what you’ve personally done to help your community.
Hila Bar: Times of tragedy are always challenging, be they personal or communal or in the present case, national. An event at any level affects the world on each of the levels. Thus, the national tragedy currently faced by Israel has spurred astounding activity and gestures at all levels around. Right at the outbreak of the war, due to supermarkets being sold out of essential products as a result of the shopping frenzy that took place, someone was searching for a particular brand of baby formula [that had been] out of stock. I saw that our small convenience store had one jar left of that baby formula. I bought it and traveled 40 kilometers (25 miles) to give it to her. She couldn’t express her gratitude enough as she had food for her baby.
My personal fundraising began when a resident in my community of Srigim, another Hila, made a request in the Community WhatsApp group for feminine hygiene products. Her soldier daughter had come home and had mentioned the lack of products available for the female soldiers on base. Members of the community, including me, dropped off donations of pads and tampons, which were taken back to the base the next day. I decided to raise funds to purchase another batch of hygiene products to send to [army] bases that needed them. People responded positively, [as] I was able to not only purchase hygiene products, but basic first aid supplies.
Money also went to an organization supplying hot Shabbat meals for soldiers, and to the funds that I translated for that is collecting to rebuild the southern communities.
QJL: What sources of Jewish texts give you comfort during these most difficult days? Please also comment on Israel’s collective strength.
Adi Bedein Rabinowitz: [I think of the Shoah survivor and psychiatrist] Viktor Frankl’s saying, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” [I also am reminded of] the Pirkei Avot passage, which reads, “Who is a [true] hero? One who conquers his inclinations.” It is all about our approach, attitude, and what’s in our heads. The Israeli people have always been resilient. We choose to build and live on the Gaza border [as] these [southern] towns have grown much in the past decade. You can see it now with the love and support that the people of Israel are showing one another these days [as] everyone wants to volunteer and help. We will not let the enemy break our spirit!
Our civil society is so strong and powerful today. We have created many solutions for people who live on the Gaza border, which include soldiers who need equipment and food, families that lost their homes and loved ones, and Israelis who need emotional support. In many communities, the youth babysit for mothers whose husbands were drafted. This is resilience, and this is heroism.
I think that we can continue to say, “Remember.” This is what we do in Judaism: “Remember the Shabbat,” “Remember the Exodus,” “Remember Jerusalem,” “Remember the Holocaust,” and now, we need to “Remember October 7.” Memory will always be an essential part of our religion and culture. With memory we can connect to our ancestors and heritage. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said, “Only with memory can we create a better future.”