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  • Writer's pictureGary Schiff

Israel's Awakening

Amidst war, Israelis are discovering miracles and a new clarity.

picture in JNS story - The Mordechai Anielewicz statue at the Yad Mordechai kibbutz in southern Israel. Anielewicz was the young leader of the Jewish Fighting Organization, which led the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against Nazi Germans for a month from April into May of 1943.


Gary Schiff is a Jerusalem-based resource consultant and guide connecting Israel and the United States.

(May 7, 2024 / JNS)

Israelis and Jews around the world have responded in remarkable ways to the Oct. 7 attack. Miracles continue. Clarity is guiding the future. The Jewish Diaspora has responded with record donations and non-Jewish friends of Israel have shown extraordinary support.

Unbeknownst to many are the on-the-ground realities of Israel’s awakening. Hamas hoped that their inhuman brutality would crush the Israeli spirit. It now appears that it had the opposite effect.

Here are but a few examples:

On Tu B’Shvat this year, Israeli families planted 404 individual saplings with the help of the JNF. This is one tree for each person murdered or kidnapped at the Nova music festival on Oct. 7. Each tree is individually marked. The message to Hamas is: You want to uproot us? We are putting down more roots.

Two of those murdered responding to the invasion were fathers with young families: Police officer Oriel Avraham and special forces officer Ido Yehoshua. Their families decided to have a Torah scroll written in Oriel and Ido’s memory. After touring the heart-wrenching Nova site, one can sit with a scribe and hold on to his arm as he writes a letter in the new sefer Torah. Tour guide and Rabbi Alon Rogoff notes that each letter corresponds to a Jewish soul and ascends to heaven upon their merit.

After the war in Gaza began, the Shuva brothers set up a free coffee pot on a picnic table to greet and thank soldiers near the Gaza border. The site has grown into an all-hours restaurant and store where soldiers can get last-minute equipment, necessities and a hot meal free of charge before entering or after leaving Gaza.  

As for miracles, Rabbi Herzl Shavi stepped outside his synagogue in Sderot on the morning of Oct. 7 when he heard shooting. He was hit by a bullet in the upper torso. It somehow missed his vital organs and exited through his back. He hung his shirt and jacket, showing the bullet holes, on each side of his synagogue’s ark. While in the hospital recovering, a rocket struck his office and totally destroyed the area in which he would have been sitting. The rabbi sees divine protection in this story and is sharing it in order to encourage Sderot residents.

Yad Mordechai is a kibbutz near Gaza named for Mordechai Anielewicz, who led the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising. In Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, the kibbutz fighters held off the Egyptian army’s artillery and tanks for six days. If Yad Mordechai had fallen, the enemy would have continued up the coast and directly attacked the center of the country, including Tel Aviv.

On Oct. 7, another miracle took place at Yad Mordechai. Terrorists on motorcycles and large pickup trucks streamed towards the entrance. Literally seconds before they reached it, a group of guards and soldiers arrived. They killed the terrorists and prevented a potential massacre.

There is also new clarity. Before the war, thousands of Gazans a month entered Israel for work. Unfortunately, some used that opportunity to map Jewish communities and key locations like the Sderot police station. The most trusting kibbutzim were the hardest hit by the terrorists.

Prior to Oct. 7, terrorists drew graffiti of the Twin Towers in flames on concrete walls at the Erez crossing. It was a sign of things to come. The writing was literally on the wall, but Israel did not receive the message. Now it is clear: The vast majority of Gazans support Hamas. Israelis now understand the evil of Hamas’s ideology and those who sympathize with it.  

In the fields next to Kibbutz Be’eri, which was devastated on Oct. 7, is a trail on which the ruins of Be’er Yitzhak, a religious kibbutz overrun in the War of Independence and relocated, can be seen. It could also well be the site where the events described in a Hebrew Bible story took place. (Place names such as the Gerar Valley have not changed since biblical times.) The story relates how Israel’s first Jew, Abraham, and his son Isaac contended with the Philistine king Avimelech over wells that Abraham dug and allowed Avimelech to take.

A thousand years ago, renowned Torah scholar Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir (the Rashbam) said that God tested Abraham with the binding and aborted sacrifice of Isaac because Abraham was giving away the Land of Israel. After Abraham died, Avimelech failed to honor the original deal. He was jealous of Isaac’s wealth and success and tried to take land from him in this area. How fitting that this site from 3,800 years ago faces Gaza, where the same story is playing out today.

The city of Sderot has been under attack since the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. A resident has just 7.5 seconds to find shelter from a rocket attack. Over the last 18 years, thousands of rockets have been fired at Sderot, including over 100 on the morning of Oct. 7. After the barrage, terrorists drove through the streets of Sderot, killing 50 innocent men, women and children. They took over the local police station. The Israeli Air Force had to bomb it to take it back.

Amazingly, Sderot remains the fastest growing city in Israel on a per capita basis. Construction is everywhere. Cranes dot the skyline. Residents say that even with the oncoming challenges, their sense of purpose and quality of life make living in Sderot worth it. God willing, after the war Sderot families won’t need to worry about incoming rockets.

Rabbi Rogoff tells clients, “We are seeing an amazing phenomenon in Israel and around the world. Different factions, from religious to secular, Jews and non-Jews who support Israel, are coming to appreciate each other and appreciate Israel’s challenge. In a hostile world, Jews are rediscovering their core Jewish identity. It is an awakening of the Jewish spirit.”

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