Ways We Can Navigate Through Our Heartbreak Together

A Message from Federation's Executive Director

By Dara Kaufman

Oct 7, 2023, is a day that will forever be seared into the collective psyche of the Jewish people. 

That morning my husband was awakened by a call from a close friend who lives in the Berkshires. Through tears, he shared what had happened in Israel, while we slept peacefully in our beds, unaware of how life as we knew it had changed. He asked if we could come to be with them. His brother-in-law had just texted them, “I am badly injured, the baby is dead, send help.” Then, all communication stopped.

We raced to their house to be with them and hold the space during excruciating hours of the unknown. Then the news came. The attackers had shot through the safe room, wounding their brother-in-law and killing their baby niece. The attackers then set the house on fire, forcing my friend’s sister, her brother-in-law, and her two young nephews to flee, leaving behind their beloved baby girl.

Once outside, the terrorists executed the husband in front of his family, taking the wife and their two boys hostage. Before the attackers could get them out of Israel, they encountered Israeli troops, and despite being shot multiple times during the rescue, my friend’s sister and her two nephews are alive.

They have lost everything. A special fundraising effort is underway through Chabad of the Berkshires to provide direct support to our friends’ family. They will recover from the gunshot and shrapnel wounds, but they will never fully recover from the sheer brutality and trauma they have experienced. Neither will the thousands of people whose lives have been shattered because of this savage and unprovoked assault on Israel.

This is the story I shared at our community vigil last month where 500 community members stood in solidarity with our family and friends in Israel. But is just one of thousands of stories of lives lost, loved ones wounded, and the still unwritten stories of over 225 hostages currently held by Hamas terrorists.

The Jewish Federation system and the infrastructures we have in place locally, nationally, and internationally, have allowed for a rapid response to support our brothers and sisters in Israel during this extraordinary time of need.

In a sign of unity and support, major Jewish organizations, including the Union of Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Hillel International, the JCC Association of North America, and NCJW joined Federation communities across North America to raise close to $700 million dollars to date through Jewish Federation of North America’s (JFNA) operation. Over $211 million has already been allocated to organizations working on the ground in Israel. You can see a full list of organizations and the work they are doing by visiting our website: jewishberkshires.org/israel-crisis-2023.

The Berkshires has already raised over $250,000 with many community members sharing that they made additional donations directly to JFNA or through the Federation of their second communities. No matter the path, we are deeply grateful for this outpouring of support by our community. 

War is devastating. It can often feel like there is not much we can do from so far away but there are ways that you can continue to support and educate during this difficult time.

Support your children and grandchildren on campus: Jewish students are struggling and they need support. My own daughter has had to have hard conversations with friends as she continues to learn and clarify her own feelings on this war. I share articles and help her think through her reactions and responses to ideas and information she is hearing and seeing around her. I shared a helpful resource from an organization called Boundless Israel (boundlessisrael.org) on how to respond to questions and disinformation about Israel. I also made sure she knows how to report antisemitic incidents and how important it is to actually report them.

Hillel International (hillel.org/student-resources) has put together an excellent tool kit. They also offer a 24/7 hotline for mental health, helpful articles, resources on navigating social media, templates for writing to professors and campus leaders, and information on how to identify and report antisemitism on campus.

On December 1, Federation, together with the Williams College Jewish Association and other co-sponsors, hosted a Musical Kabbalat Shabbat and community dinner with Argentinian musicians Lerner & Moguilevsky. The broader Jewish community was invited and more than 100 people were there for dinner. This was a great way to support the Jewish students at Williams.

We invited you to create a custom message asking for support of Israel which, based on your ZIP code, will be sent to ALL of your local, state and federal elected officials. Officials at every level need to understand that no cause or conflict, even one as complex as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, can justify the savage unprovoked attack of rape, torture, and burning of civilians and the taking of 200+ hostages, many of them children, women, and the elderly. Israel has a right to defend herself and needs US support.

Remember the Hostages: As a public act of solidarity with the 224 hostages abducted by Hamas, Jewish Federations of North America and 50 partner organizations have launched a global "Blue Ribbons for Israel" campaign asking people across the world to wear their support for these innocent victims on their shirts and display them on their social media platforms. Individual ribbons are available for pick up at Jewish Federation of the Berkshires offices. Visit blueribbonsforisrael.org for more info, social media posts, and additional ideas on how to raise awareness and support this effort.

Remain Vigilant and Report Antisemitism: As tensions escalate, communal safety is of utmost importance. Federation, with the generous support of former Pittsfield police chief Mike Wynn (retired), has arranged for every Berkshire congregation to receive a full security review. In addition, we have added a home page (jewishberkshires.org) graphic for you to easily access resources and reporting of antisemitism in our community.

This past winter, Federation provided in-person training on countering active threats and we recently encouraged all in our community to participate in an online version offered by the Secure Community Network (SCN). More trainings, including Stop the Bleed are being planned.

Continue to Reach Out to Friends and Family, in Israel and Locally: I connected with Achiya Ben Ari Buganim, the Jewish Agency director of our Afula Gilboa partnership in Israel to see how she and our partnership friends are coping. Achiya shared how kibbutzim in the area have taken in families who had to evacuate from the borders, many people are making meals for soldiers, others have volunteered for security patrols, and the Mishkan Art Museum Ein Harod is welcoming families and children for therapeutic artmaking while schools have been closed. 

Art students at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School have put their creative efforts into sending artwork with messages of support to Israeli peers, who have been participating with them in a cultural art exchange between the Mishkan Art Museum and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.

At a recent Rabbis and Presidents meeting, Rabbi Jodie Gordon of Hevreh took on the task of coordinating with Achiya additional ways we as a community might support our partnership friends. Stay tuned for more information.

Be in Community: Many people have found comfort and support by attending services and participating in the numerous programs and webinars offered through Federation and our Jewish community partners, all of whom are working hard to provide resources and keep you informed, connected, and supported during this challenging time. Check out our weekly newsletter or calendar for upcoming opportunities.

I hope you will join us on Thursday, December 14 at the Mount for our Community Chanukah Celebration where we will also shine a light on antisemitism. This event was rescheduled due to a forecast of heavy rain - we hope to see you then. For more details and to register, click here.

There was a time before Oct. 7 and now we are in the time after. Everyone I speak to is hurting and grieving with a range of emotions. We are only human. The devastation we are witnessing on both sides as a result of the Hamas’ brutal terrorist attack is heartbreaking and difficult to navigate. There really is no single message, ritual, or act that can bring calm or peace in this moment but I fervently believe that as individuals and as a community we can continue to find ways to bring hope and light during this dark and difficult time.

Finally, I want to express my sincere gratitude to all who have reached out to me and my husband, Ofer, to personally inquire about our family in Israel and offer their prayers and support. The care and concern so many have shown us remind me how very blessed I am to be a part of the Berkshire Jewish community. Am Yisrael Chai!  

Dara Kaufman is executive director of Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.