As we embark on our Federation mission to Israel, my mind is racing. Israel has always been a recreational destination for me, but this feels different.
I have not been able to watch many of the videos on the internet or tolerate the online debates over their authenticity. I know intuitively that unspeakable evil was unleashed October 7th. But if I can be helpful to “the cause” by becoming a conduit for some of the eyewitness accounts, so be it.
What is “the cause?”
When UJF CEO Diane Sloyer woke me at 4:17 am that horrible day, I had a strange gut feeling that the Jewish people — and not just the residents of southern Israel — were in peril. As I initially processed the events, I began to question that feeling. It seemed so irrational from our incredibly privileged vantage point in Fairfield County.
Then the aftermath . . .
Those who could tolerate the online content better than I, like my adult daughters, were crying a lot. Only to be confronted in their two great Midwestern cities with public celebrations of Hamas’s stunning “achievement,” and with stony silence from their non-Jewish friends, their workplaces, and their alma maters.
Longtime supporters of Israel are familiar with the public discourse around this century-old conflict. The arguments and counter arguments, the history of partition plans, wars, and skirmishes, the special vocabulary of terms, are all so well-rehearsed they seem to drone on “out of body” once invoked. Yet they seem newly important.
Some have questioned why we are joining this mission. We can’t do much to help and the resources we necessarily consume in our travels will only be redirected away from more vital activities. I don’t have a great answer. We don’t even have an itinerary yet.
But I’m privileged to represent a special Jewish community in Stamford, New Canaan and Darien. So I want to understand the mood in Israel. I want to be knowledgeable about the events on the ground. I want to feel the unity of a recently-divided nation and understand the peoples’ resolve to defend themselves. I want to bring our community’s outpouring of financial support and message of solidarity to our brethren in need. I want to understand the path forward more clearly and help marshall the immense resources of the American Jewish community toward achieving that path. I want our local community to continue to support and inspire each other, and to feel connected to Israel and our common heritage.
As soon as we clear security at Ben Gurion airport, Diane and I are going to pay a visit to my father’s first cousin, Mordechai Ciechanower, who turns 100 this February. My father and Mordechai played together as children in Ciechanow but my father’s family emigrated to Chicago while Mordechai stayed and found himself in Auschwitz. Mordechai is vital and wise and a nationally recognized leader and educator on the Shoah. He personifies Never Again.
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Thanks to your incredible generosity, we are very near the initial $1 million goal for our Israel Emergency Fund. The Allocation Committee met this morning and we expect to disburse the first $500,000 Tuesday following our Board meeting Monday night. You can contribute to the Israel Emergency Fund at www.ujf.org/Israel.
Please follow UJF social media channels to keep updated!
Am Yisrael Chai!
Michael R. Schlessinger
United Jewish Federation of Greater Stamford, New Canaan, and Darien