Solidarity Mission to Israel 3

Miracle at Yad Mordechai

February 21, 2024 | By Rabbi David A. Kunin, Congregation Beth David

On Tuesday we journeyed to the South to better understand the horror that overtook Israel and the Jewish people on October 7th.  As the trip was planned, I wondered if visits to the south would add much beyond a prurient almost tourism.  But this could not be further from the truth.  Yes, we all had heard the stories, and seen the videos on our screens, and they are still with us, even after all this time. Yet, much of the impact was lost even in the words, photography, and videos shown on the media during the last 5 months.  It was necessary to be there and bear witness and to remember the horrors, and the heroes and victims. 

A bit more than 75 years kibbutz Yad Mordechai survived a siege during Israel’s war of Independence.  Rather than falling to the Egyptian Army’s onslaught, the kibbutz survived, forcing the Egyptians to bypass the strategic village.  October 7th marked a second Yad Mordechai miracle.  At Yad Mordechai the terrorists were blocked from entering the kibbutz, and again from incursions over the field.  No one on the kibbutz was killed, though many experienced the fear and horrors of the day.  From the outside a small miracle on a day of horror, but for the kibbutz and its members it was a miracle beyond belief.  Our day began gently at Yad Mordechai, with its story of hope and heroism.  Yet its small miracle added for me to the horrors of the remainder of the day.  The differences, where God’s presence seemed absent, were palpable as the day progressed.  There too, in these other places, there were  stories of heroism and survival, but to me that was overwhelmed by the evidence of the pogrom.

Our visit to Yad Mordechai was hosted by Noam, a young soldier, who survived the day with her three siblings, while her parents were away in Tel Aviv.  She told us of the day as we sat near the statue of Mordechai Anielewicz, a hero of the Warsaw Ghetto, and a water tower that had survived the Egyptian onslaught.  For Noam and her siblings, it was a day of uncertainty and fear.  As the alarms went off, and shots were heard, and missiles rained onto the kibbutz, the young people hid in fear in their family’s safe room.  Would their house be attacked by terrorists; would terrorists enter the kibbutz; where would the next missile fall?  Contact with their family was difficult, yet finally Noam’s father was able to reach his children, entering a war zone to drive them to safety.  The only physical casualties on the kibbutz itself were its chickens, who died as electricity was lost.

At Yad Mordechai the terrorists were stopped, and the intense fear and later the sadness of the loss of friends and neighbors from nearby villages were, for the most part, the worst wounds of the day.  Yet, we also heard of a loss of trust (echoed by others as the day progressed).  Where was the IDF and the government as Israel suffered its worst day?

As we drove through the kibbutz it still seems a peaceful village, largely untouched by war beyond the presence of numerous soldiers (there were isolated houses damaged by missiles, as was ironically the kibbutz’s Holocaust Museum).  But it was an empty village beyond a few essential workers, as most of the kibbutz members are housed in hotels and villages far from the war zone.

As the day progressed the differences were magnified by this “gentle” visit.  Instead of a village largely untouched by destruction, with chickens the worst casualties.  We walked through Kfar Aza, with many dead, and many taken hostage.  There was still beauty, but a beauty horribly mitigated by whole streets of burned-out homes, each with a picture of beautiful people (many young) who were murdered or dragged into captivity. There was a beauty too in the forest and field which had hosted the Nova concert, but its peacefulness was shattered as we walked through row after row of trees planted and stood among the more than 300 pictures of the young victims.  Their only crime was joining together for a concert celebrating peace, love and the natural world.  It was these that brought the horror and intense sadness home.  None of us were unaffected.  On that day in October God’s face seemed hidden despite the miracle at Yad Mordechai, and to me as we visited, I too have doubts and only questions.  To these things we bear witness.