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Dear Friends,

When Raina and I got on the plane at the end of July after spending a few weeks in an Airbnb in Tel Aviv, I never expected I would be back just a few months later. But then the October 7th massacre happened, and I knew I would go over at the first chance I got. Less than three weeks later, I was on an El Al flight.

Family and friends asked me why I was flying into a war zone. In fact, the first question I was asked when I got to my new friend Shiri’s home in Nes Tziona to drop off suitcases of needed items I brought with me was, “Why would you leave safe New Jersey and come here now?”

The answer was threefold.

I went for myself. Seeing the atrocities Hamas had committed and the pain and trauma they caused created a need in me to be with amcha—with my people in their time of need.

I went for those directly impacted. I didn’t know what, if any, comfort I could bring, but I knew I wanted to be there to show my love and support and to cry and grieve together.

I went for communal solidarity. At a time of such pain and loss, I prayed that bringing the message that we are “Am Echad–Lev Echad: One People–One Heart” would bring some comfort.

It was the most emotionally challenging five days I can remember, but I am beyond grateful that our MetroWest Federation created the opportunity for me to be there.

This Sunday I am headed back to Israel for four days. And while the three “reasons” that drove me to go to Israel in October still hold, there is another reason why I am spending the last week of my sabbatical month this way.

I am heading back to Israel in my capacity as a member of our Greater MetroWest JCRC Steering Committee with fourteen New Jersey legislators and public and private school educators. Some are Jewish. Many are not. Some have been to Israel previously. Most have not. I hope that the mission will help them better understand the reality on the ground.

The sad fact is that social media and mainstream news sources often seek to view the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the current war against Hamas in the most simplistic, reductionist way possible. They often view the region through the lens of American social challenges with little understanding of the history or missed opportunities that led up to this conflict. They try to capture the issue in 280 characters on X (formerly Twitter) and use slogans that are easily repeated, but lack any of the nuance needed to comprehend the region and its complexities.

I hope that our time together will allow these leaders and educators to see the reality on the ground, appreciate the complexity of the moment, and ultimately work even more closely with us as partners as we seek safety and security for Israel and the region as well as our American Jewish community.

I’ll share some pictures and thoughts on our Facebook page starting Sunday.

In the meantime, I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom. Stay safe, stay warm, and if possible stay off the roads.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen