Kings Bay Y
Last week in my history class, my teacher became upset with me for using my phone and took it. In desperation, I shouted, “Wait! My grandparents are being bombed!” and began to cry. The teacher looked at me, returned my phone, and also started crying.
This story was shared with me by a student from the Jewish club in their school, where we are working to create a safe space for Jews and those who wish to celebrate Jewish culture.
Last summer, we had the pleasure of hosting a group of 14 specialist counselors from Israel as part of our Kings Bay and JCC Summer Day Camp. Normally, after completing their mandatory army service, young Israelis embark on world-traveling adventures, enjoying the freedom and knowing they can always return home. However, these remarkable individuals chose to do more; before embarking on their personal journeys, they came to our community to be part of New York’s Jewish life. They aimed to build relationships, have fun, bring smiles to campers and counselors, and share their beautiful culture – the Israeli culture. When summer came to an end, our shlichim finally departed for their dream trips and left our hearts aching. On October 7th, all 14 shlichim shortened their travels to find flights back home.
On September 4th, we returned to Brooklyn from Kings Bay Y’s first teen trip to Israel. For most participants, it was their first time in Israel. I knew that seeing the places we visited completely devastated would be extremely challenging. We had just been at the most beautiful kibbutzim with the most wonderful people on the Gaza border. Unfortunately, it was even harder than expected. During the first week of the war, we received the heartbreaking news that our sandboarding guide from our desert activity had died in a terror attack on October 7th – Liran Almosnino, the desert man. He was passionate about connecting agriculture and tourism in the Pitchat Nitzana area. On that fateful Saturday, he rushed out to protect the nearby settlements and never returned.
A few minutes after hearing about his death, Aviya, one of our trip participants, shared a video in our WhatsApp group chat.
I asked her why she searched for his picture on her phone, and she said, “I remember him. I remember that day vividly, and I wanted to see him. I thought I would find a picture of him somewhere in the background, but I found this one when he helped me. He was so sweet. He helped us. Israel is my home. This is my family.”
She felt it too. Her heart is in the east, and the rest of her is at the edge of the west.
And I? I felt it too. I feel it now, and I will feel it here until the day I am back in Israel. Don’t get me wrong; I did consider going back. How can I be here when my homeland is in flames? When my people are dead, murdered? My friends are in the army, my family is in shelters, and all I want is a hug from my parents, assuring me that everything will be okay, that we are strong and will get through it.
My heart is in the east, and the rest of me is at the edge of the west.
I am at the edge of the west.
I am here.
With my new family, with people who hug me every day, with my students who, through their actions, tell me that everything will be okay, that we are strong and will get through this — we are fighting our fight from here. We’ve come together, and we are strong and important.
I know the sun will rise, and everything will be okay.
Am Israel Chai
עם ישראל חי
Israeli Fellow and Teen Services Coordinator