Kenny Haisfield, a 2012 Birthright Israel alum and founder of the lifestyle brand Kenny Flowers, has…
Birthright Israel hosted a life-changing Solidarity Mission from November 6-8, 2023, bringing together 18 community leaders and supporters from the Birthright Israel family across six countries: the United States, France, Mexico, Uruguay, Canada, and Italy. It was an incredibly special and unique experience for those who participated.
The Mission began with a warm welcome from Gidi Mark, CEO of Birthright Israel, and Lior Shmueli, VP of International Development & Community Relations. This was followed by an exclusive briefing featuring Amos Yadlin, a former general in the Israeli Air Force, Israel Defense Forces military attaché to Washington, D.C., and former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate. Following the briefing, Mission participants had an exceptionally heartfelt meeting with Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin, the parents of Hersh, who was kidnapped and brought to Gaza. They shared a firsthand account of their relentless efforts to bring their son back home. Not a single dry eye remained in the room. Rachel and Jon emphasized that this hostage situation transcends the Israel-Hamas conflict and has become an international issue involving hostages from various nationalities.
First-Hand Accounts from IDF Officers
The afternoon session commenced with lunch with the IDF officers from Southern communities, all of whom were Birthright Israel alumni. The delegation heard firsthand accounts of officers’ personal experiences during the attack on October 7th. These officers also shed light on the support they’ve received from their Birthright Israel friends and discussed their efforts to assist friends living abroad in coping with issues like antisemitism and misinformation. Two of the officers are currently serving in Gaza and made a special effort to join the mission with the approval of their commanders, who recognized the significance of meeting with representatives from communities around the world. These meetings offered a personal and in-depth perspective on the war in Gaza and the situation in Israel, creating an engaging and heartfelt atmosphere where the officers felt both supported and embraced by the mission participants. Mission participants had the privilege of meeting with families from the war-affected community from Sdot Negev Regional Council, hosted at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem. Community members shared their experiences from Moshav Maagalim, Givoli, Yeshiva, and Beit HaGadi. These stories served as a reflection of the entire region’s residents. The families recounted their lives over the past month, characterized by fear, anxiety, concerns, and the quest for a respite from the ongoing conflict.
The afternoon wrapped up with a session featuring Yogev Gradus, Director General of the Budget Department at the Israel Ministry of Finance. Mr. Gradus had the chance to outline various financial scenarios for the future of the Israeli economy through the end of the year. The delegation members were also briefed on the prompt government response and the financial implications of different initiatives.
Dinner with Dr. Miriam Adelson
The first day of the mission culminated with a dinner hosted by Dr. Miriam Adelson with presentations by Dr. Zohar Raviv, International VP of Educational Strategy, Noa Bauer, VP of Global Marketing, and Rotem Gantz, CEO of ARX Advisory. They addressed the vital role of Birthright Israel alumni in promoting the Israeli narrative on a global scale. Dr. Zohar Raviv presented Taglit Birthright Israel’s 5 Points Approach: Reframing our Discussions—Reaffirming our Commitment.
Solidarity Mission Day 2
Day 2 of the Solidarity Mission was focused on the Southern Communities of Israel, which endured a sudden and brutal attack on October 7th. The day began with an informative session led by Danny Kushmaro, Channel 12 news anchor, who shared his personal experiences of reporting from Sderot since October 7th. This session took place during the bus ride from Beit Kama to Kfar Aza.
Following the overview, mission participants visited Kfar Aza, a community located only 3 km from the Gaza border that suffered a devastating attack when 70 Hamas gunmen breached the Israel border fence and gained access to the kibbutz on the morning of October 7th. The mission gained unique insights, shared by Liad Diamond, a Birthright Israel alum who participated in 2002 and remains actively involved with the organization. Liad dedicated time to meet with our group and guided us to the house of the late Rosh Moatza Ofir Libshtein z”l, who valiantly defended his town but tragically lost his life during the fight. Participants also had the opportunity to speak with a Kfar Aza resident visiting his home for the first time since the attack.
The participants visited the house of a family that was murdered and learned about the heartbreaking story of their 3-year-old daughter, Avigail, who escaped to a neighbor’s house and was subsequently kidnapped by terrorists into Gaza. The next visit was to Kibbutz Alumim, another community that faced the unexpected attack on Israel’s southern border on October 7th. Mission participants had the opportunity to listen to a member of the emergency squad who valiantly defended the Kibbutz. Despite the horrors and the constant danger of proximity to Gaza, five dedicated members of the security squad remain on-site to protect the cowshed that was destroyed in the attack and restored thereafter.
Meir Shamir, Chair of the Taglit Israeli Board, shared a personal story highlighting his deep connection to the region, having been born and raised in Beerot Yitzhak. Gidi Mark, International CEO of Taglit Birthright Israel, emphasized the organization’s strong bond with Israel’s periphery communities. He noted that nearly every Birthright Israel group spends significant time in the South of Israel. Over the years, almost 850,000 Taglit Birthright Israel participants have visited and supported Israel’s southern communities.
Next, the mission traveled to Sderot, where they had a meeting with Alon Davidi, the Mayor of Sderot, and Yossi Shelley, the Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office. During the meeting, Mr. Davidi discussed the significant impact that Taglit Birthright Israel participants have had on the city of Sderot and the incredible support from Jews around the world. He also shared his future vision for the city, highlighting how Birthright Israel can be a valuable partner in the efforts to revitalize Sderot into a flourishing and vibrant community. Mr. Shelley underscored Taglit Birthright Israel’s role in fostering global connections within the Jewish community and taking the truth from Israel to the international stage. He closed by emphasizing the significance of our participants’ volunteering efforts and their reconnection with their Zionist heritage. Seeing what happened on the Gaza Border, both the massacres and the heroism, and hearing the stories of survivors, soldiers, and community members who fought, the family members advocating for their kidnapped children, siblings, parents, and friends to be freed forever changed the Mission participants.
The Mission concluded with dinner with the Taglit Israeli Board, hosted by Leon Koffler and Rachelli Mishor. Following the dinner, Eyal Waldman, a member of the Taglit Birthright Israeli Board, shared the heartbreaking story of his daughter, Danielle z”l, who tragically lost her life at the Kibbutz Reim Music Festival. Gidi Mark expressed gratitude to our valued partners for their participation in the Mission and their continued support.
The Solidarity Mission highlighted the resilience of the human spirit, the significance of unity, and the potency of solidarity. Our mission participants are now more dedicated than ever to upholding our Jewish community and our homeland, Israel. Together, we can make a difference – Am Israel Chai!