Shabbat Message

from Michael Berger, President of the United Jewish Foundation

January 5, 2024

Just a few weeks ago, I had the honor of joining a delegation of 18 Detroit community leaders on a Federation solidarity mission to Israel. 

Richard Broder, Bubba Urdan, Jonnny Alster, Avi Aviram, Michael Berger

We went to bear witness to the devastation of the Hamas assault of October 7th, to learn about the ongoing impact this has had on the citizens of Israel and their resolve to ensure that this never happens again. 

We went to see, firsthand, the incredible support our community has provided in the wake of this tragedy. 

Most importantly, though, we went to express our unwavering love and commitment to our family in Israel. 

What we encountered there was heartbreaking, shocking, and often difficult to process. 

We met with family members of those who were killed or taken hostage by the terrorists. This included the parents of Omri Ram, a young man who was murdered at the Nova music festival. They told us about the desperate calls they received while Omri and his friends hid and evaded the Hamas terrorists, until finally the calls just stopped. Omri loved surfing and today his memory is kept alive in the messages inscribed on the surfboard that his friends presented to his parents at his memorial.

We spent time with Dani Miran, whose son was kidnapped on October 7th. The depth of his sorrow was unfathomable, but so, too, was his reserve of strength and optimism as he advocates for the release of all the hostages — and waits and prays for his son’s safe return.

At the Sheba Medical Center, we met Avishai Shoshani, a 50-year-old wounded IDF reservist and a father of four from our partnership region who had been shot in both legs while trying to save a fellow soldier. He has served in six different conflicts to defend and protect Israel over the past 30 years. Avishai had been in rehab for five weeks, learning to walk again with remarkable fortitude. His goal is to run in the Mountain to Valley 24-hour run in our Partnership Region in May, and we hope our community can be there to cheer him on!

MIchael Berger with Avishai Shoshani and his family

We visited the graveyard of hundreds of burnt-out vehicles from the Nova festival, a testament to the sheer brutality of the massacre. Technicians there were still combing through the ashes to identify victims, so that all would have a proper burial.

We spent time with our friends and family in our partnership region of the Central Galilee, listening to their experiences and hopes for the future. Above all, we were there to affirm our unbreakable bond, now more important than ever. 

Perhaps the most difficult visit of all was to Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the most successful and beautiful kibbutzim in Israel. The Kibbutz operates a successful state-of-the-art printing business that remains in operation. On October 7th, more than 500 Hamas terrorists invaded this peaceful community, killing 120 individuals and kidnapping 24 others. 

Our guide, Lotan Pinyan, described his personal experience as a member of the kibbutz, recalling the murder of his wife’s parents on that terrible morning. He shared a powerful message with us, saying: “We have lost everything. But we are Jews, and we will rebuild our lives better than before. We have to, for the sake of our children.”  

His children expressed to him an incredible message, as the kibbutz remains in shambles with hundreds of buildings destroyed and deserted that “home is wherever the family lives.”

Betsy Heuer (center), with Kibbutz Gavin evacuees

These messages capture the extraordinary spirit of the Israeli people including the children, who for the past three months have drawn from a deep well of resilience and determination. 

We were all moved by the sincere appreciation from everyone we met, from the families of the hostages to the cab drivers and hotel staff. Their graciousness, together with their strength and courage, was nothing short of extraordinary.

Israel has faced the greatest atrocity in its history and is now embattled with a ruthless and amoral enemy—a fact that too many in our world refuse to acknowledge. Despite this, as Lotan himself said, the people of Israel will prevail, they will continue to thrive as a free and just nation. 

I am proud to say that this is a future that our Detroit community is helping to ensure. I can report, firsthand, that your endless thoughts and prayers, your solidarity and your generous support has made a tremendous difference. The people of Israel know how much we care, and that they are not alone.

It was a great privilege to represent our community, and to return with a simple but essential message: Am Yisrael Chai. We are one family and one people.  

I am so proud of Our Community.  Now and always, we will continue to bear witness, volunteer, contribute and express our love for Israel.

Shabbat Shalom. 

Click here to see the photo gallery.