Traveling With A Purpose

By Diane Sloyer,

Chief Executive Officer, United Jewish Federation

In early February I was privileged to lead a UJF Solidarity mission to Israel with 15 participants from the Stamford, New Canaan, and Darien community. We went to connect with people and hear their stories, to show our unity, to bear witness to the unfathomable atrocities which affected nearly every Israeli, to support the Israel Defense Force (IDF), to volunteer, and yes, to support the economy.  

Mission participants put their lives on hold on a moment’s notice to get on a plane, show solidarity and love, bear witness, returning ready to share their experiences. I have never been prouder to lead our Federation and to be part of something so impactful and extraordinary. There was a notable difference from my late October visit. The airport is still empty, but rather than makeshift signs pointing to where the emergency shelter is located, there are now more permanent, professionally hung airport signs. Hostage posters are prominently displayed both on arrival and departure. The Country continues to collectively fight for and pray for the return of all hostages. The Country and the people have moved from the shock stage to functioning, some days better than others. Prior to the recent mission, I had the privilege to attend a family wedding where over 500 people shared sadness and joy and many of the attendees danced the hora with guns slung over their shoulders.

Each day was filled with 14 hours of devastation, destruction, and despair alongside hope, resilience, pride, and more. Together, we cried at the savagery of the atrocities committed on October 7 and the continued loss of innocent lives. We found optimism and courage from everyone we interacted with, including a family of 6 living in one hotel room. We served as emissaries, on behalf of you, UJF donors, to see many of the agencies where your $1 million-plus in donations to our Israel Emergency Campaign made a meaningful difference. We served as emissaries, on behalf of you, our community, to show solidarity and support during these challenging times. Is there a specific takeaway from this mission that is different from previous missions? What resonated for me was the personal interactions and stories we bring back.  

We met with survivors of the Nahal Oz massacre, Clarise and Larry, and longtime member of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Chen, who gave us a personal recounting and tour of the devastation and destruction while IDF army operations could be heard a mile away in Gaza. We met with the hostage families, the displaced families from the North and the South in our hotels, the soldiers on the base where we hosted a BBQ to show our gratitude, and the docent and the National Memorial Hall, part of Har Hertzl. We met with Tomer, a police officer from Sderot who survived a brutal attack on his way to the police station, the many shop owners we engaged in conversation, and numerous family and friends we found a few minutes to connect with and so many more.

When I reflect on our mission, there are moments when I am randomly brought to tears. However I try to find comfort in the hugs we gave, the solidarity we displayed, the stories we continue to share, and the fact that North American Jewish philanthropy is at an all-time high and 91 percent of American Jews believe Israel is necessary for the survival of the Jewish people.

Together, we are making a meaningful difference in rebuilding and strengthening the Zionist dream.

Am Yisrael Chai!

To learn more about the work of UJF in Israel and future mission opportunities, contact