The last place Ben Ribnick wanted to be Tuesday night was at Beth El Synagogue.
The 24-year-old Minnesota native made aliyah to Israel, and two months ago, completed his service in the Israeli Army, where he served as a sharpshooter. As Saturday’s infiltration into Israel by Hamas terrorists unfolded, he watched from afar.
“I not really even supposed to be here right now,” he told the more than 1,700 people at the Gathering for Solidarity With Israel rally. “Two months ago I thought my army service was over. But now I know it’s far from over.”
Silence fell over the crowd as Ribnick told his story. He spoke of the Kibbutz he lived on in southern Israel, a short distance from both Gaza and the Egyptian border. He talked about the family that watched over him, driving him to the bus on cold Sunday mornings so he could sleep a little longer before going back to base.
Part of Ribnick’s talk on the bima was an appeal for donations to help the soldiers in his unit. When he was serving, he told his unit that he wouldn’t appeal to his home community for equipment like proper-fitting helmets, tactical gear, and body armor.
“[Before], I told them to focus on their profession and the mission,” he said. “Now is different. I promised my friends as long as I am not with them, I will help them get the things they need.”
A page has been set up on the Chabad Minneapolis website, where people can donate to Ribnick’s team and the family that supported him on the Kibbutz.
Ribnick said he told the story to give people an illustration of what life is like for Israelis right now.
“Every single Israeli has lost a friend, acquaintance, or loved one,” he said. Ribnick told the story of Amir Fisher, his best friend on the Kibbutz, who was born in the diaspora to Israeli parents. Like Ribnick, he made aliyah and served in an elite unit of the IDF.
“On Oct. 7, Amir fell in battle. He died a hero,” he said. “Amir, it seems like we won’t be making it to Thailand together.”
Ribnick took a beat to compose himself, telling the crowd the worst part of war is the inability to mourn.
“Now is not the time,” he said. “When I spoke with my team, my friends who had mobilized within mere hours of the invasion, that was the sentiment that was echoed. Now is the time for action. We’ll have the chance to mourn later. Our soldiers are not mourning. Our soldiers are focused, determined, and eager for victory. Our soldiers are acting.”