Israel’s Other Secret Weapon
On October 10, President Joe Biden gave a speech from the White House supporting Israel and calling Hamas “pure evil.” He once again shared the story of meeting Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir on the eve of the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago, when he was a young senator. The president recalled how, during a photo op, she told him, “We have a secret weapon here in Israel. We have no place else to go.”
That may be true. But that’s not our only secret weapon. We have another weapon that gives us strength: our strong feelings and obligation toward each other. As it is written in the Talmud, Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, “All of Israel is responsible for each other” (Shavuot 39a).
I can vouch for the power of community. In Tekoa, where I have lived for almost three decades, it was my community that helped me survive the murder of my eldest child 22 years ago. My 13-year-old son, Koby, went hiking with his friend Yosef Ish Ran in the canyon near our home on May 8, 2001; terrorists found them and beat them to death with rocks. A cruel, barbaric death.
My neighbors, friends and family were there for us, listening to us, cleaning our house, cooking for us, taking our kids to school, surrounding us for as long as we needed. They ensured that our family did not fall into the black hole of grief.
When my husband and I visited Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, the late religious authority and prominent psychiatrist, a few weeks after the murder, he told us to be sure not to isolate ourselves. He told us to go to weddings and bar mitzvahs. He told us that we needed community.
We took that sage advice one step further. We made a community for bereaved families and children when we established the Koby Mandell Foundation the same year our son was murdered.
Now, during Israel’s war with Hamas, volunteers and staff from our foundation have opened a hotline and attended shivas. We have continued to run support groups for bereaved families as well as Camp Koby, a summer sleepaway program with additional year-round activities for 400 children that will soon, tragically, include many youngsters newly coping with loss. The camp includes therapy and fun, but what saves these kids is being with others who have endured the same experiences.
Natan Sharansky, a former politician, human rights activist and Soviet refusenik, once visited Camp Koby. One of the campers asked him how he managed to survive the gulag and solitary confinement. He answered that he knew that Jews worldwide cared deeply about him, that they were fighting for his release, and that they would save him. He knew that he was part of a community.
Our enemies have destroyed entire kibbutzim and ravaged towns in the south of Israel. They massacred whole families; they viciously murdered and took hostage the elderly, women, children and even babies. It’s not clear how these communities will rebuild. Yet I believe they will. Because those who remain will need each other.
Community is an integral part of Jewish power and continuity. Look at how Israelis abroad returned to Israel from around the world after the October 7 terrorist attacks. They understood that they were needed to defend their homeland in its time of need. “I couldn’t live with myself if I stayed in America,” one said in a news report.
Matt, a tourist from Denver visiting friends in Tekoa at the outbreak of war, chose not to return to the United States. He stayed and helped my town by reinforcing saferoom doors.
A friend in Jerusalem waited in line for 10 hours to give blood.
A couple I know in their 60s went to Sderot, in the South, to help distribute food.
The whole country wanted to fight or to help.
Wars are won by nations, not just by armies. By the nation becoming a community with a united purpose.
What is Hadassah and the magazine that you are now reading if not a “we”? A community of people connected not only by love of Israel and their heritage, but also by their need to give, to take action, to ensure a strong State of Israel and the future of the Jewish people.
And for the moment, at least as I write this in the early stages of Israel’s war with Hamas, some of the world community is united in their sympathy for Israel, in their abhorrence for the savagery of Hamas.
At Camp Koby, I recently overheard a child say, “We put our broken hearts together and made a new heart.”
Our hearts, for the moment, are all united—the truest definition of community.
May we be victorious as in the days of Hanukkah when we defeated our enemies. May we be blessed with light and happiness.
Sherri Mandell is co-director of the Koby Mandell Foundation, which runs programs for bereaved families in Israel. She is the author of The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration and The Blessing of a Broken Heart, which won a National Jewish Book Award in 2004. Her most recent book is The Kabbalah of Writing: Mystical Practices for Inspiration and Creativity.