Keeping Pace: Reflections from Israel

May 28, 2024
Courtney Saxe

Las Vegas, Nevada, United States

Class of 2023

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As I reflect on the year and the many communities I have been able to visit, I never imagined I would have the opportunity to go to Israel. Visiting the holy land, often a tradition for international presidents, seemed out of reach given the state of the world. Our original flight was booked for October 14th, just a week after the murderous attacks wiping out thousands of lives. However, I remained hopeful and optimistic when conversations came up again for the possibility of traveling to Israel as one of our last stops on the Road to 100 tour. In my life, I have only been to Israel once before, two years ago, when I attended BBYO’s ILSI (International Leadership Seminar in Israel). As I boarded my plane about a week ago, I felt nervous. Not because of the safety of the country or the conflict, but rather because I was unsure of what Israel would look like in a post-October 7th world.

This experience has been one of the most impactful visits of my entire year traveling as international president. TJ and I were invited to be a part of the Maccabi World Union Congress to meet with Maccabi staff from all over the world and work towards ensuring a bright future for Jewish youth. MWU has an incredible partnership with BBYO, and our organization has even worked towards donating thousands of dollars to help create homes for displaced families post-October 7th. The conference was not only impactful but also brought me to sites I never thought I would visit.

On the second day of the conference, I took a bus heading south, near the Gaza Strip. This bus trip took us through the horrific sites and results of the attacks on October 7th.

Starting at Kfar Aza near Gaza, I witnessed the horrible evidence of the massacre that claimed the lives of so many people and where others were taken hostage. This is a place of broken and abandoned homes, where many have either perished or fled, leaving behind a broken town. During my visit, I heard first hand stories of the atrocities that happened here from the few remaining civilians who live here.

Next, I headed to the site where the Nova Festival took place. These grounds were made for people to dance and celebrate but have now become a memorial for the hundreds of lives lost in the terrorist attacks. There were numerous stories from people visiting the site who had a connection to one of the victims. In the distance, I could hear the noise of artillery being fired, which made the situation even more realistic and unsettling.

The last stop was the military base Shoah, where murdered soldiers in Israel go to have their bodies prepared for burial. On October 7th the base opened up its facilities to civilian casualties. At one point, hundreds of bodies laid on the floors waiting for their families to identify them so they could be put to rest. The soldiers shared stories of trucks coming into the base piled with bodies and having to sort and clean all of their belongings.

When I arrived back at my hotel, I felt numb. In conversations with peers after my return, I didn’t know how to talk about the experience I just had. When I finally had a moment alone in my hotel room, I broke down in tears. How could this happen to people? Why is this still going on? Why is there nothing I can do to stop this?

After more reflection, and continuing with the conference, I realized the purpose behind our visit to these real and horrific sites is to share the stories for those who cannot. The hostages still in Gaza, the civilians who have been displaced from their homes, and those who don’t have a way to speak out from their experience. A few days later I was able to see the structures of Hostage Square, the thousands of letters in the Kotel walls, and attend a protest filling the streets on Saturday night demanding peace. I also experienced the beauty of the beaches in Tel Aviv, caught up with old friends from Israel, and visited the incredible teens of Maccabi Tzair. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to train the amazing Israeli Madrichim who are heading to Perlman and CLTC this summer.

So when asked about my experience in Israel, I find it difficult to put into words. I feel empowered, enraged, and prepared for the future. Israel in a post-October 7th world is different. We are facing events that will be remembered in history forever, and it is important for every Jew to see for themselves. Being the president of a pluralistic youth organization has taught me not to be scared and to speak out for what I believe in. This experience in Israel is a perfect closure to such a monumental year, and I am excited to head off to University in the fall. I will be attending the University of Arizona, studying Communications and Psychology, feeling excited to be a strong Jewish advocate within the community. I also look forward to the future of this organization and the future leaders who will make history for the Jewish people. Thank you for believing in me, and thank you for the most incredible year of my life.

Courtney Saxe is a BBG from Mountain Region is serving as the 79th Anita M. Perlman International N'siah.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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