Robert Gilbert of Miami, FL, joined by his son, Evan, a student at Vanderbilt University, arrived at the JFNA solidarity mission in Israel to stand in support with the citizens living in the front lines of Operation Protective edge.
Robert, a trustee of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, stressed how the mission is a real opportunity to show commitment and support to the citizens of Israel.
"The most important part of this mission for me is showing solidarity with the citizens of Israel who have been affected by the crisis," said Evan, 21.
"Many of us feel that solidarity back home in our community," explained Robert. "And our hope and prayer is that by being Israel now, and going back and sharing our experiences with others from our community, more and more will feel the same."
Today, Robert and Evan witnessed some 1200 children from rocket-battered southern Israel participate in rest and recreation activities at Nachshonit Amusment Park, organized by The Jewish Agency for Israel outside the line of fire. The activities were made possible by the support of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and are being undertaken in coordination with the National Emergency Authority, government ministries, and local authorities.
Director General Alan Hoffmann and Chairman Natan Sharansky joined the mission along with a group of our Summer Camp Shlichim to participate in a Drama Therapy session with 9-11 year old kids from Ofakim and Sha'ar Ha'Negev. Together they mimed, played out and demonstrated different concepts from home like Iron Dome, shelter, and peace.
"It’s great to see the kids smiling today, it’s really all about them", said Evan.
"To go from hospital visits, seeing wounded soldiers and everything that represents," said Robert, "to seeing kids here who have an opportunity to smile and spend a day taking their minds off of what is going on in Ofakim – it’s a great day. And we're pleased to be a part of it."
Reflecting on his firsthand Israeli experience in the hard days of Operation Protective Edge, Evan said: "I have been here several times before, but it’s the first time I really got to interact with so many Israelis affected by the conflict. I wasn’t afraid to come now…It was important for me to see how the war is affecting Israeli citizens and to show my support to them."
"We were at the hospital in Ashkelon the other day, and one of the soldiers we met was 20 years old," said Evan with admiration. "It made me feel especially connected to him, and it also made me see how fortunate I am to be able to come here in a show of solidarity and not be in a position of danger. I am very thankful that the IDF soldiers are defending us."
"I couldn’t say it better than my son,” Robert added. “Being here with our Israeli brothers and sisters in times of need is an easy decision for us when you compare it to what they are really going through right now. It's about our desire to stand side by side with our friends here.”
Today, the JFNA mission comes to an end, and tomorrow Robert and Evan will visit friends and family living in Israel before heading back to the States.