Israeli Heroes Visit LifeTown

Grieving and recovering from the trauma of October 7 and the aftermath, a delegation from Israel came to the United States to share their stories – to mourn, grieve, and heal together as they connect with American Jews. At LifeTown on a bright Sunday morning in March, they found something they weren’t expecting: hope for a better world.

Michal Greenglick lost her 26-year-old brother fighting in Gaza in late December. He was a singer who had been participating in the Israeli reality show that selects Israel’s Eurovision entry. “I came to the states to try to spread light and hope,” she said. “LifeTown gave that back to me. I saw people laughing, people doing their best to make the world a better place. I got so much from this visit.”

Their visit to LifeTown was unplanned; at a Shabbat meal with LifeTown founders Toba and Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, they were invited to visit. During their tour, they led a spontaneous kumzits, a music and singing session with participants. The children responded with grins and their own spontaneous dancing, so infectious that before long, during a rousing version of Oseh Shalom, the Israeli musicians themselves joined the circle of dancing.

“Singing with everyone gave me strength and hope to deal with this day and all the days to come,” said Greenglick. “It felt so connecting and so powerful singing with everyone ‘Am Yisrael Chai.’ It was just an amazing experience. LifeTown brings light to the world and it brought light to me in this dark moment.” 

For Mordechai Shenvald, the experience was “overwhelming,” he said. Shenvald, a tank commander, was hit with an unexploded RPG and though many thought he would die, music is credited with miraculously saving his life. Although he is still recovering from extensive injuries, including collapsed lungs and broken ribs, he views this tour as the continuation of his service to the State of Israel.

During the kumzits he played the violin and each note sounded like a message from his soul. While he was playing, he said, he felt as though the usual barriers between people disappeared. “Often you feel you have to shut down [your emotions], be serious, be professional, especially in the army. But it was very emotional playing at LifeTown. I just saw neshamot, souls, without limitations; I saw the power in the eyes of the children. It was so special. It was a very gentle, very open, safe place. You can see the emotions and the power of the children. And I reflected the light back [that I received] from them. I played what they gave me. It was so powerful.” 

As the group sang ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ and ‘Machshavot Tovot’ [Good Thoughts], Asher and Orna Naim were watching the children. “The children are happy and the volunteers are so patient and smiling, doing everything with so much love,” said Orna, who added, “Children are the most important thing to us.” Her husband said simply, “I have the chills watching the children here. These special kids should get the best and they are getting the best here. I never imagined that a place like this even exists and it’s here. It’s so real and so, so happy and you can see it on the faces of the kids and the volunteers – it’s amazing.”

The Naims are expecting two grandchildren, one to their daughter and one to their son Amir. Amir, 27, was among the first to respond on October 7 when terrorists came to attack Kibbutz Erez where he and his family lived. Together with squads from both Erez and nearby Kibbutz Or HaNer, he held back dozens of terrorists from entering Kibbutz Erez. His actions kept the residents there from the fate suffered by those at neighboring kibbutzim. In the end, Amir paid with his life, the single casualty at Kibbutz Erez. “He saved the whole community,” said his father. Now, more than five months later, Orna said, “It was very special for us to be here and we could feel the hug in everyone’s eyes.”

After the music ended, Rachel Edri, who survived the attack on her home in Ofakim by offering snacks, including cookies, to the terrorists in her home, was there in the room sharing cookies with the children.

In the end, it was this visit, among the many to communities and schools across New York and New Jersey, that moved them so deeply that, as Greenglick said, “Just being in this amazing place gives me so much hope.”

You may also like...