WESTPORT, Conn. -- At a time when the U.S. government is warning against travel to the Middle East, a group of rabbis and lay people from Norwalk and Westport are in Israel on a solidarity mission.
Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn, Larry Kleinman and Rabbi Orna Stern of Westport, and Rabbi Ron Fish of Norwalk have been visiting in Israel this week with the Rabbinical Assembly and Masorti Foundation and are scheduled to return Thursday.
“We came to support Israel, and the people whose lives have been uprooted during this difficult time," said Wiederhorn, a rabbi at The Conservative Synagogue in Westport.
The four spoke to the Daily Voice in a telephone interview from Jerusalem on Wednesday, July 23.
In their time in Israel, they have met with local community leaders and rabbis as well as Knesset leaders and yeshiva students in the south of Israel. They have paid their respects at the graves of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, three students who were kidnapped and killed recently, and paid a shiva call to the family of Lt. Bar Rahav, who was killed in action last weekend. They also met with Fraenkel's mother.
“She was an inspiration to us. She displayed incredible appreciation and gratitude for life despite the horrible pain in her life," Wiederhorn said. “We were bracing and preparing to be a comfort to her, but instead she was a comfort to us.”
Despite hearing sirens and knowing about the possibility of attacks by Hamas, Wiederhorn, Stern and Kleinman said they haven't feared for their own safety during the mission.
“It’s a concern, but growing up in this country, it becomes a part of your life," said Stern, who grew up in Israel and still has family in Tel Aviv. She said she wanted to help her home country during its time of struggle. She has been struck by the unity among the Israeli people and the support they show for each other.
"It’s incredible. It’s very powerful to see everybody standing together, ready to help each other," Stern said.
Kleinman said he will remember a group of children they met whose summer camp had to be moved indoors to a bomb shelter. Despite the danger in the area, he said, "Over here are people who are coping and doing OK, and are going to be OK."
All expressed hope for a peaceful end to the current conflict, and for a long-term solution to hostilities in the region. Wiederhorn said that he doesn't think the Israelis feel hatred toward the Palestinians, but instead toward groups of terrorists trying to wreak havoc in the country.
“I think the people are anxious and want to move on, to live their lives normally and go to bed without being concerned about hearing sirens go off in the middle of the night," he said. “Hopefully the day will come when we won't have to come over on solidarity missions, when this area can be at peace.”