November 15, 2023
As recently announced in EmetMail, Beth Emet is taking the lead in organizing support for the displaced residents of Kibbutz Kissufim, a kibbutz that was largely destroyed in the horrific Hamas attacks of October 7. We ask you to join us in this effort by contributing financially and/or joining our newly formed Kibbutz Aid Committee. As described further below, our immediate financial support is critically needed to help address the trauma experienced by the children of the kibbutz in the aftermath of the attacks. To be clear, however, any financial contributions should be considered separate from and over and above your normal financial support of the synagogue – because the needs of this critical moment demand that we step up.
In addition, a key part of the efforts of the Kibbutz Aid Committee will also be directed at relationship building between members of our congregation and members of the kibbutz – because ongoing expressions of caring and emotional support are also critically needed. In short, this initiative is not just designed for the short term but is intended to be enduring in nature and result in adoptive bonds between our respective communities.
At 6:30 a.m. on October 7, more than 100 Hamas terrorists infiltrated Kibbutz Kissufim, located about 2 km (1.2 miles) from the Gaza Strip. Moving house to house, they set fires, brutally murdered 18 residents, kidnapped three others, and injured dozens. The fight on the kibbutz lasted about 30 hours. 50 Israeli Defense Force members lost their lives repelling the attack.
In addition to the loss of life and casualties, the attack destroyed much of the kibbutz and its physical and economic infrastructure. Kibbutz Kissufim had been a successful agricultural community and among the largest producers of avocados in Israel.
We recently held a Zoom call with members of Kibbutz Kissufim who shared their personal experiences on what they call “Black Saturday.” It is impossible for us to adequately describe the trauma that the 300 survivors, including 58 school-age children, experienced that day.
Kibbutz Kissufim’s members have been relocated to an empty tourist hotel on the Dead Sea, which is being used as temporary housing for various kibbutzim that were attacked. There are no cooking facilities for families; instead, group meals are served in the hotel facilities. Work is largely unavailable and the hotel is too distant to allow those of the kibbutz members who worked on or near the kibbutz to travel back, which in any event remains unsafe at present.
The kibbutz’s members very much want to stay together as a community and are dedicated to making joint decisions about their future. As one member told us, the community has a “very strong need to feel that they have some hold over our future, over our everyday life.” At present, they are searching for another location where the entire community can temporarily relocate. It is likely to be 4 months at the earliest before any move is made, however. And while the kibbutz members hope one day to return to a rebuilt Kibbutz Kissufim, that is unlikely to occur for at least 18 to 24 months, if then.
As mentioned, 58 school-aged children of the kibbutz survived the October 7 attacks. The Ministry of Education has established a temporary school for these children. But these children have experienced profound trauma and have needs both during school hours and afterwards that far exceed the resources the Ministry of Education has been able to provide.
The members of Kibbutz Kissufim have told us that their most pressing need is to hire seven trauma counselors to continue to support their children as they deal with the events of October 7th and the continuing insecurity of living in strange, temporary environments. (Up until now, volunteer counselors have temporarily filled some of these roles but the volunteers are unable to remain in such a capacity.) The counselors will accompany the children throughout the day. That is because even when attending school, the children need additional support; they can break down in the middle of a class, overwhelmed by some traumatic memory or feeling. The kibbutz members have initially budgeted $150,000 for counselor salaries for the next six months, and another $50,000 for recommended programming during that time period. We anticipate that, down the line, Kibbutz Kissufim may also have other, evolving needs for financial assistance.
Beth Emet congregants can do their part by providing financial support now. We hope in the near term to raise at least $100,000, i.e., half the amount the Kibbutz has requested at this time, from the members of our own congregation. We are also reaching out to other area congregations to join us in this project. To donate, click here and select “Kibbutz Kissufim Fund” or send a check payable to Beth Emet and include a “Kibbutz Kissufim” notation in the memo field. Your donation will be fully tax deductible.
We believe that these horrible circumstances have provided us with an important opportunity to join our communities together in mutual support. This goes well beyond financial assistance – it includes building enduring relationships between Beth Emet congregants and the people of Kibbutz Kissufim. Indeed, the members of Kibbutz Kissufim with whom we have spoken have made clear they are looking with hope to our congregants for personal outreaches amidst their insecurity and isolation.
Kibbutz Kissufim is in the process of assembling a team that will collaboratively work with Beth Emet counterparts from the Kibbutz Aid Committee to organize opportunities for community-to-community events, family-to-family or child-to-child interactions, and one-to-one engagements. Some initial ideas that have been suggested include joint lightings of Chanukah candles, letters from our children to the children of Kibbutz Kissufim, or videos from us to them (and vice-versa) introducing ourselves. Every day we speak with members of our wonderful congregation, we hear amazing new ideas of how we might be able to grow together and create lasting bonds. We welcome your active participation and encourage you to indicate your interest in planning or organizing events between our communities by emailing either Rabbi London or David Graham.
In addition to planning and organizing events between our communities, there is a great deal of additional work that needs and will need to be done in connection with this project including (a) further planning and organizing of fundraising activities and logistics, (b) planning and organizing ongoing communications and events within Beth Emet, and (c) coordinating with other synagogues that choose to join this initiative. On that latter point, we are pleased to report that thus far two other area congregations, Congregation Hakafa and Oak Park Temple, have committed to joining us in our work. The participation of these congregations, and potentially others that we have approached, may enable us to expand the scope of this project to include expanded support not only of Kibbutz Kissufim but of other displaced kibbutzim as well.
If you would be willing to help out in any of these areas, once again please email David Graham.