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Diary of a War Room

Editor's Note: As new subscribers join the updates about our Israel partners and friends, I have digested Zoom calls and recent newsletters into a single blogpost as a catch up, but also as a lasting record of my thoughts and reactions to the attrocities inflicted upon innocent Israeli civilians. Our Jewish friends in the US and in Israel are deeply blessed by the outpouring of support during the crisis of war. We have shared your texts, prayers, and gifts and all have been a part of the feeling of solidarity we share. For those new to Commission Fields, Israel's South is where we have spent the majority of our time in travel and in supportive projects to build vibrant community and family life there. The blow we have felt for the inhuman, unimaginable horrors suffered by civilians should change us forever.

Changing Realities

"On Friday we were laughing, today we are crying. Pain radiates in my soul. But our irrepressible love for life can never be repressed." - Dr. Sol Lizerbram, President of Jewish National Fund USA addressed nearly a thousand staff, leaders, and supporters in a live Zoom meeting this morning, sharing with us the latest information about the southern communities we love and serve. CEO Russell Robinson is in Israel with team and staff there, and one of those leaders, a resident in the Gaza envelope, told emotional and difficult stories.

Michal Uziyahu and about 3,000 were gathered for a festival in Sderot when all of a sudden enemies were parachuting in, then in savage rampages by every means possible, on motorcycles, in trucks, on foot...invaded them, invaded the villages and communities around them even going door to door, knocking then bursting in, dragging out children, the elderly even with their caregivers...murdering some instantly and taking others hostage. In Sderot, the police department was taken over. In the savage neighborhood attacks, one house was grandparents taking care of twin one-year olds. Both of them and both children were senselessly murdered.

Through tears and much emotion, she said in all their preparations, in all the drills and things they prepared for, "even our biggest nightmare didn't take it this far. We've always known help would be here within thirty minutes, but for those of us in bomb shelters, we waited for hours." Because of the scale and widespread nature of this act intentionally targetting innocent civilians, response units and military forces appeared to be caught off-guard and were overwhelmed. After reality began to hit as to what could be happening, responders came to them from Halutza and several have not come home since. So many died in Sderot and surrounding areas at the hands of an enemy whose agenda was civilian brutality.

We were also briefed by Col. Reuvan Barshalom from the IDF Public Diplomacy Office who called this the worst attack in Israel's history. The magnitude and scope of the situation is unprecedented, as is the savagism of this concerted Hamas attack. He pointed out the frequent comparison is to 9/11, but here, it is not over in a day; mortars are still hitting. "Resilience," he said, "is not a choice. We are at war. There is no '2-sides of this story,' no need to understand or justify what is happening."

Michal pointed out "we are not having funerals, there is no way to even consider when can I bury my children...there are no funerals, we are in survival mode! There is no time to grieve now, we must fight."

Russell Robinson briefed us that JNF did not wait a second to mobilize aid on all fronts, and not from the 30,000' view but on the ground in real time. Immediate needs were to evacuate 350 families into safer housing. Night time goggles are being provided in areas where there is still no electricity. The basic needs for living are being provided without waiting for anyone to step in to provide. Fire trucks and fire wagons and bomb shelters - you name it, JNF is mobilizing to deliver it - in a massive undertaking to distribute desperately needed gear across Sha'ar Ha-Negev and wherever needed in Israel . Even the 160 American high school students studying at MUSS High School are packing 1300 care packages on Monday for local hospitals that are flooded with injured and suffering.

There is no circle of family in Israel unhurt by this war.

As I heard all these things, I cried as many did...difficult not to. But my mind reeled. Our group was scheduled for visits and activities in these very communities. We were to be in Sderot, in Eshkol to visit the amazing Groove Tech play space that JNF funded, for the children and citizens in Gaza Envelope. Hearing about the valor and loss of those who responded from Halutza crushed my heart...our 2018 group with Arkansas Jewish Federation had planted trees there and walked on the playground and had lunch. Only good has been done there, homes built, streets and street lights added...everything needed for peaceful community life.

I languished all day Saturday hoping to hear back from our friend Eva Lange at the Red Mountain Therapy Riding Center. How were they, where were they? Finally in the overnight, I heard from her! I woke up to her picture of the beautiful fortified classroom and her news that she invited residents who needed shelter to come there. Thank Heaven this project was completed when it was, For such a time as this!

In the Call to Prayer:

· Hope,health, strength, and resilience for all IDF officers and soldiers, for community leaders, responders, and survivors.

· Divine protection over each home in our communities in the South, over all vehicles the soldiers are using, angels keeping charge night & day! In each location we agree for divine covering for rest, shalom, and protection.

· Divine favor to go ahead of Israeli leadership and international leadership seeking their good, day by day, and like the shaking of the lulav reminded us just a matter of days ago, may His Dwelling Presence be above, around, north, south, east and west of Israeli citizens and Eretz Israel.

· Family members who have lost loved ones, neighbors and friends be comforted with a supernatural grace from Heaven.

· Divine wisdom for IDF/JNF/Community leadership and Israeli governmental authorities.

Add power and timeless meaning to your prayers by incorporating Scripture, reminders of divine promises. These prayers are a very real link between us here and those far away. Distance is bridged by our hope, our love, our support here...voiced to Heaven, answered on earth. Here are a few:

  • Psalms 23, 91, & 121 - please read & pray aloud! "The only thing we can say in the moment of crisis is what we have put inside us." - Jonathan Bouldin

  • Isaiah 4:5-6;

In a very practical sense, financial support is also vital; in fact, today's speakers said "Support is part of our resilience." This is family.

Where to begin on Day 3…

The news coming out of Sderot and surrounding area in the Gaza envelope continues to be grim, with the most difficult of stories to hear…elderly Holocaust survivors dragged out of their homes, women and children brutalized, innocent civilians kidnapped, bodies paraded and an unbearable list of atrocities beyond what we thought would ever be seen after WWII.

Just today we learned of terrorists throwing a grenade into a shelter where civilians had fled. Their agenda is kill Jews. While more and more of these stories need to come out and be shared to prevent any movement towards denial or defense of any of these unthinkable things, I will focus here on what immediate needs are known and how they are being met through Jewish National Fund. I continue to be amazed and blessed to witness the speed and unity with which JNF in Israel and in the US have mobilized and leveraged help in all quarters.

In today’s briefing, we heard from Mayor Ofir Libstein’s colleague [Ofir was killed Saturday defending his community, as was the firechief] Maia Ifrach, Director of International Relations for Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, an area very much still in trauma and survival, and from Mark Regev, Advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Despite all the horrors every family in Israel has and is experiencing, all are bracing themselves for the necessary war to defeat the inhumans waging war on them. As difficult as it was, Maia shared how just days ago her boss, the mayor, was telling a group of visitors of his vision for the region, of amenities and good things. What a light extinguished before its time. Mark Regev gave sobering words of preparation for what needs to happen to deal with the threat of terror.

A few highlights in knowing the good and the work of survival, and what “help” looks like right now:

· 2000+ rooms have been readied and opened as evacuations happen, with other housing support arranged and coming.

· 2500 residents of Eshkol region are being moved away from the Gaza border into safer communities. Bedding, toiletries, socks, etc. are gathered and being supplied.

· 350 families are being moved from Shlomit to Halutza and safer areas.

· 200 Ukrainians were in chaos today as responders tried to help them out of their homes, but they could not understand the language and were too fearful to move. Help had to be called in to bridge the language gap so they could be brought to safety. You can imagine the level of traumatic stress these families, once removed from war, are finding themselves in it again in the only Jewish state in the world, where they should be safest!

· Be’er Sheva is absorbing people, and the Lauder Center has become an Emergency Center. Lauder Center had a truckload of water delivered to troops who were in need of supplies.

· Educators are helping mothers with children’s activities, since schools are closed and the majority of dads are called up. Hospitals and every sector of Israeli life is downsized by the massive call up of reservists and soldiers.

· Makom volunteers are helping to distribute the 1300 care packages to wounded soldiers and civilians; these were filled with essentials and notes of encouragement by the 160 American high school students of JNF’s MUSS High School. Students will now be sent back to the US, to their dismay. This has become home & family.

· Ammunition Hill has become a respite center; here and in other centers, psychological support is offered including to children who have witnessed and experienced the catastrophe first hand. [Ammunition Hill is a memorial to the Six Day War of 1967 in which many Israeli soldiers died, and is located in Eastern Jerusalem]

· Firefighting equipment, encrypted radios, bulletproof vests, helmets, tactical wear, phone chargers, and many similar essentials are being amassed and sent into local communities. [These are life-saving things for civilians, not soldiers - CIVILIANS are the primary targets of the terrorist attacks, just as their own civilians are used to shield hostages and their own military sites]

It is impossible to sit and listen in these updates without shedding tears. The surviving leaders from Sha’ar HaNegev have spoken passionately not only of the outrageous suffering, but of the deep commitment to not let their spirits be quenched. This is where we come in. Our constant show of support, our willingness to uphold their arms as Amalek is fought, our prayers, tears, and words of encouragement are life-giving and are our duty. This is not only a defining moment for Israel, but for us. It is a defining moment for Christians and church leaders, for average citizens, for Jews living outside Eretz Israel… it’s all of our moments to unite and say ‘Never again’ and to help the healing and recovery.

My colleague Dr. Doug Wheeler responded, “If we give just once, then we are only bothered by this for a short time then not really connected. My heart is broken, and we may not be able to give much, but we will do something regularly and we will pray a lot every day. We can carry the sorrow in hearts as though this happened to our closest family until this war is resolved, then we must never forget.”

For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be still, until her victory emerge resplendent and her triumph as a flaming torch… Isaiah 62:1, JPS

Reality hit me that at 6am this morning I was supposed to be on an airplane with our team. As many of you, I have shed so many tears, feeling the deep crushing of loss as if our own families have been harmed. We cannot be there, but feel very much in spirit as if we were. Yes, thank God by His grace and goodness, we are here and not stranded somewhere or worse. But the ongoing situations remind me that I cannot sit idly by. We continue our side of the war with our words…and in prayer.

Our farming friend Yedidya Harush, born and raised in Gaza and now living in a nearby community, shared about his harrowing Shabbat with rockets from 6:30a.m. and beyond. A phone call from a friend pinned down in a shelter with his 7 girls prompted Yedidya and his friends to go to help them where only one 60 year old had a pistol against well-outfitted attackers. Yedidya and his friends were valiant, but they did not all make it. He has lost 4 best friends, but thankfully his other heroic friend, Oz, was beside him in the zoom, bandaged and recovering from wounds he sustained – and they are alive. Yedidya gives credit to God for the miracles and trusts His hand to continue with many more that are needed. In many cases, the attackers fled leaving a trail of arms, as Yedidya said, “They are used to encountering babies and they encountered lions!! We are Am Yisrael and we are going to win because of unity.” There wasn’t a dry eye among us on the call as these heroes wept and embraced and voiced their resolve.

We were also informed and helped to understand the options on Israel’s table right now and what this means to them in all its complexity. Ambassador Ido Aharoni Aronoff of Tel Aviv University was clear, this is not the age-old Palestinian-Jewish fight over land, this is Hamas like Isis in its stated goals to annihilate Jews and wipe Israel from the face of the earth. We need this understanding and need to share the resolve to pray for Israel in the direction of Isaiah 62, and Psalm 83. The prophets had much to say about the surrounding nations and God’s plans in dealing with them.

Thank you for your specific prayers for all the communities in the Gaza envelope as they are cleared. Pray for the families of the Central Arava, as they absorb families while strengthening their own hearts and border in watchful eyes on Jordan. Hand of HaShem be on all of our friends!! Russell Robinson reminded us, “We are focused. We are focused on civil defense. This is God’s work today.”

We pray Yeshua’s abbreviated prayer from the Amida for this day:

Our Father in Heaven, Holy is Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give today our daily bread. Forgive our sins as we forgive others. Deliver us from evil and from the evil one. Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, l’olam va’ed – forever, all eternity – amen! – Matthew 6:9-13

Don’t think for a moment that Israel’s sin or unforgiveness brought any of this. The hideous agenda of evil determined against them is an unprovoked enemy spirit and we fight this enemy in the Spirit. The baseless hatred of their enemies is what must be triumphed over. In all of our hearts and communities, between ourselves we stay clear of unproductive clashing with a mutual internal forgiveness that protects and promotes our unity. Pray, too, for the continued unity of their governing bodies and leadership as this season goes on. Stand. Pray. Give. Speak and share. This is no time for silence.

For the Not-Silent Watchmen

All week, we have been grieving, weeping, praying, as you have…because these are people and communities we are spiritually and relationally connected with. I have been in the homes of our Arava friends, on the farms in Israel’s south, on the Kibbutz, and in these areas’ support centers. Yesterday, John and I were struck with even deeper waves of emotion as the realities set in of how spared our group was by God’s grace. In the decision phase of our trip planning, His wisdom directed us to wait for the completion of the fall feasts, and as we all know, the last great day, Simchat Torah, was when our heavenly areas in the south quickly turned to hell! The Gaza Envelope, Eilot Region, Central Arava are the areas we were scheduled for and that we have spent time in, so this has all hit as close to home as family. Your prayers, gifts, texts, and words of encouragement have all been appreciated and so heartening.

· Regions that have taken in evacuees – Eilot Region (Red Mtn Therapy Center is in this region) – 2200…. Ramat HaNegev – 1500….Central Arava (where AICAT, the agricultural school is, and where the Magen David Adom Emergency Response Center is located, built in part by the Arkansas Community) – 1500 [at the time of this writing; some of these figures have now doubled]

· Care packages delivered to the wounded in hospitals

· Lauder Employment Center, where our Arkansan friend works and lives in Be’er Sheva (Megan Chernia) – another place we were scheduled to visit – has been providing trucks of mineral water and packages to IDF troops. This city is one of particular love for me, in realizing there years ago the missional heart of our father Abraham and how he used his wells.

· Immediate needs – evacuation of residents…short term and long term housing solutions…equipment and essentials delivered where needed by community…recovery and therapy, a need that will continue to rise for all age groups.

· Already making life-saving difference: materials delivered in communities of search & rescue lighting, vests, night vision glasses and more.

From Shabbat to Shabbat

In the days that elapsed between last Shabbat to this day, the whole world changed. The worst attack in Israel’s 75 year history was a loss of life equivalent by ration as if 50,000 had died in the US on 9/11. The community as a whole has been hit hard and we in community with them here feel that heart-soreness as well. All week we have heard chilling first hand experiences from Sderot, we have received daily updates on the amazing mobilization of JNF-USA supplying water, housing solutions, tactical wear to protect civilians and much more. We have heard updates from IDF Spokesmen such as Jonathan Conricus as to the options and challenges being addressed. But today, today was a uniting in our time zones to give expressions of faith in God, prayers and songs and the lighting of the Shabbat candles to welcome the Sabbath.

One of the rabbis shared the thought and the unity of the Jewish people and those who love Israel: “If we cannot or do not love one another, we are lost.” Another rabbi quoted R. Abraham Heschel, who said in his 1967 visit to Israel “This is not just a miracle, this is a community of caring.” Friends, we have come into that community with our caring, with our spirits and souls, with awareness and humility in our spiritual connectedness, and even visibly with our financial show of love.

From a shelter, a young woman named Amit lit the Shabbat candles and prayed. Two candles are lit for the two divine instructions about Shabbat, shomer ve zacor, to observe and to remember…and today we remember the lost lives this week, we remember the goodness of God in the miracles of protecting and delivering His people now as He has done before. Today, we let our hearts go to the “rest” of thanksgiving and praise. This week the Torah cycle restarts with B’reshit, In beginning. We focus on His love for His creation, His ability and humility in dwelling in His creation, and we look to Him as the light in darkness. We have been in evening, but there will be morning, and there will be renewed life in Israel.

Light candles, offer thanksgiving to God, kiss your family, and rest in HaShem even as we press in the Spirit for the good of His family. Shabbat Shalom

Prayer Targets for Israel:

· The JNF Situation Room and all board room mobilizing aid, wisdom as they collect needs of communities

· Affected regions’ recovery, safety, healing & deliverance in Eshkol, Sderot, Sha’ar HaNegev

· Peace for all families in Israel, north, south, east and west; in Jerusalem and Judea/Samaria, all Jewish and Christian Israelis and residents – divine protection and for the protection of IDF and special forces. For ALL IDF soldiers we pray an especial peace, as many have had to witness the most horrific attrocities in their history. Even the most seasoned were not prepared to see such slaughter of innocents.

· Regions that have taken in evacuees to be BLESSED, helped, supernaturally protected

· Healing for the massive numbers of wounded in hospitals; grace, strength, and reinforcements for all medical and emergency personnel.

· Safety of Daniel Jacob and Unit 9221 and peace for his family, he’s an officer over the unit – may their needs be met as well.

· Nofei Prat (Judea): Divine Protection over the homes & our garden there.

Pray for the safe release of all hostages, and let us not be silent against media bias. There is no excuse for the attrocities committed.

Day 9

Heart-wrecking to heartwarming both hit close to home. The update was dedicated to the families of the hostages still held in Gaza under Hamas control. Shelly Shem Tov spoke of her 21 year old son, Omer, a vibrant young man, DJ, lover of music, who kissed her goodbye Friday night after Shabbat and headed with his friends to the music festival in Sderot. At 6:30 a.m., she awoke to the sirens of the rockets, but “it was normal.” She called Omer and he was okay, nothing pressing at that moment. It was a while later when her family knew “it wasn’t normal, and it wasn’t okay.” Unable to reach Omer by phone, Shelly and her husband and daughter watched through a phone-follow app as his whereabouts was erratic and going back and forth.

She spoke a last time to him to understand he was in a vehicle, but the call went dead and she watched as his phone ‘went into Gaza.’ Her husband quickly went to Be’er Sheva to every area hospital in search of him, until she made him realize Omer’s phone is in Gaza…he had been overrun by Hamas and captured. “Since then I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, my son is with the devil.” That was Saturday. It was Monday night before someone from the government came to their house to say their son was now a hostage. A mother’s worst nightmare.

If we were not already gut-wrenched looking into this mother’s pained face, watching her good friend and one of our JNF heroes, Talia Tzour, come apart in her grief for her friends was just as devastating. I’ve watched Talia lead task force meetings in the national conferences and she’s a force for good in Israel and in JNF. To see her beyond heartbroken crushed all of our hearts. “I never would have thought in my darkest nightmares I would be bringing my friend to my JNF family for a hostage situation.”

We also heard the personal testimony of a father in his 30’s, Yoni Asher, whose wife, two young daughters, and mother-in-law were all abducted from the mother in law’s home in Sderot. The family was hiding in their security room, listening to the terrorists rifling through the home. Doron Asher, 34, had to end the call with Yoni to protect them. It was after that, no longer able to reach her, he followed her phone and watched it move into Gaza. Later a family member received a video showing Doron’s head being covered, with the children and her mother all being put into the back of a truck. His daughters are 5 and 3. He expressed deep concern for their health issues, and with their young age not being able to endure hardship in captivity.

My head reeled trying to understand the fear, anxiety, loss, and grief these families and over 190 other families are living through. Formed just last week is the Hostages & Missing Families Forum, and we heard from its Strategic Advisor, Ronen Tzur. He and Amos Pickel described their activities organizing help for the families. They are 2500 volunteers strong, and encouraged everyone to speak to influencers in media and government to keep up pressure and awareness for the situation.

36,000 are 80% evacuated while 20% of Sderot’s population and the population of the area remain in their homes. As Hezbollah enters the fray from the north, Lebanon, there are readiness concerns for the upper and west Galilee. This present Resilience Campaign will not slacken as we continue to provide shelter, beds, food, packages for the wounded in hospitals, therapy and aid for the traumatized, tactical gear and wear for civilians still in their communities. The Arava communties continue to absorb refugees and feed them ~ hot meals for entire communities at a time are provided along with services for the children and families.

In so grave a situation, what good news is there? It comes from the South. On this day, as I write, our Southern Roots Israel mission group would have left Jerusalem early this morning enroute to Be’er Sheva and soon down to our beloved Red Mountain Therapy Riding Center, where our fortified classroom, sheltering children and families is now surrounded by a beautiful little oasis of rest and shade. Eva Lange, Development Director who has done an awesome job along with Rafi (the founder), Yoel Crosby and others in developing the play and rest area. From Eva's newsletter:

“At the moment we are working hard to keep our therapeutic ranch open. Most schools are still closed, but things can change very quickly. Some people are scared, by any are very resilient. Our region is taking in around 2000 civilians from the battle zones and regions that are under missile fire. Our people are opening their homes, volunteering, donating, cooking and driving goods and soldiers around. This is part o the binding national effort. If you want to know more about our region, please go to Facebook or Instagram and search for Hevel Eilot.

"We need your support now more than ever, as we prepare for many therapeutic riders coming to our ranch. We are so thankful that we now have our bomb shelter/fortified classroom and surrounding garden. We planned a dedication for our friends who made this possible, but unfortunately we will have to postpone seeing each other in real life. We cannot thank them enough however for making this possible. JNF-USA and all our friends and supporters worldwide, thank you for your continuous donation in good and bad times. Am Yisrael Chai.” [The People of Israel Live!]

We hold onto the many promises prophesied by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others like the one below. Let us take up the Sword of the Spirit in prayer without ceasing. The Bible is a book of miracles! Let's believe for them in our day. Let's require them!

“I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people…The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness – Israel, when I went to give him rest…Yes I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you, and again I will build you and you shall be rebuilt…” – Jeremiah 31:1-4

Photo Credits: Pictures of the destroyed home in Sderot, of supply efforts and the Gaza detailed graphic are courtesy of Reagan Weil, Southwest Executive Director of Jewish National Fund USA and his colleagues on the daily briefings. Daniel Jacob supplied the video with his unit in Judea. He was to be our guide this week.

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