Daniel Klein, CEO of Jewish Silicon Valley, at the site of the Nova music festival massacre. (Photo/Courtesy Jewish Silicon Valley)
Daniel Klein, CEO of Jewish Silicon Valley, at the site of the Nova music festival massacre. (Photo/Courtesy Jewish Silicon Valley)

Visiting Israel makes the war and hostage situation more real and urgent

Last month, I had a chance to hear from a variety of leaders and average citizens during the JCC North America Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel, which included more than 40 JCC leaders from across America.

Here are four of the stories and recurring themes we heard on this eye-opening visit.

From President Isaac Herzog: In the pursuit of defeating Hamas and its extreme ideology, the people of Israel, including Arab Israelis, are more united than they’ve been in recent years. Most of the divisive issues facing the nation have been sidelined since Oct. 7.

The president asked if we were going to the south, and we told him we would be visiting Kibbutz Nir Oz. We could already understand the horrors of what happened there by the look on his face as he shared that more than 25% of that community was either murdered or taken hostage, including baby Kfir Bibas, who turned 1 in captivity while we were in Israel.

From former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett: Israelis recognize government failures, but they are not letting those blunders get in the way of supporting one another at this time. Whether picking up arms to fight Hamas or volunteering to fill government voids, Israelis are showing up for one another in meaningful ways. We found it remarkable to see that ourselves.

We also observed a growing belief that the front with Hezbollah in the north will become a battleground. While we were in Israel, a mother and son were killed by a Hezbollah rocket attack. Thousands of rockets have been fired from Lebanon since Oct. 7, with Israeli civilian casualties and 86,000 Israelis displaced from the north, though that’s little discussed outside of Israel. As a community, we must better understand and share Israel’s truth with the rest of the world.

From Rabbi Doron Perez, CEO of the Mizrachi World Movement: There has been a significant political shift to the middle on many fronts. Israelis realize there is no point in fighting one another when two primary goals have become the focus for the nation: to destroy Hamas and to bring all of the hostages home. Such a resolution will allow the country to truly move forward.

Perez understands this firsthand. He has a son who was injured fighting Hamas on Oct. 7 and another son who was taken hostage and remains in captivity in Gaza. Perez and other parents with children held hostage implored us, “Please don’t allow the war to end until all the hostages are home.”

From other Israelis we met: We heard that they constantly relive the trauma of Oct. 7. Every morning, they wake up to their anguish for the hostages and pray for their children, parents, spouses and grandparents who have been called up to fight for their families and their country.

Israeli officials and average citizens say “thank you” to all of us who are standing with Israel through donations, calls to elected officials and solidarity events.

Everyone in Israel knows there will be a “day after” the war, but it is hard to see past Hamas’ reign with the hostages still in their grasp and with the insufficient action of the international community to help dismantle Hamas and do everything possible to deliver food and medical aid.

It became clear on this solidarity mission that the information making its way to the U.S. about daily life in Israel only scratches the surface. One example is the weaponization of the term “cease-fire.” Israelis want the fighting to stop, but the reports we hear outside of Israel seem to imply otherwise. Israelis do want a cease-fire, but the world is not pressing for Hamas to disarm or free the hostages. Those are the circumstances under which Israelis can agree to a lasting cease-fire.

Another misconception is that Israel needs to shift to diplomacy. The fact that Israel has not accepted Hamas’ terms doesn’t mean Israel is not making diplomatic efforts. Israel is working with the U.S. to secure the necessary steps for diplomacy to work. Hamas’ refusal to return the remaining hostages, its ongoing theft of humanitarian aid from the people of Gaza and its continued threats to the existence of the Jewish state prevent a diplomatic solution. This is not due to a lack of effort or interest on the part of Israel.

Finally, as Herzog told us, we need to bring American Jews to Israel, so that they can see firsthand what is happening and share those stories back home. Jewish Silicon Valley and South Bay rabbis are answering this call with a solidarity trip to Israel later this month. As I learned and saw from the heartbreaking and uplifting moments on my trip, seeing it in person makes it so much more real and urgent.

Daniel Klein
Daniel Klein

Daniel Klein is the CEO of Jewish Silicon Valley.