Rabbi Harold Kravitz has been to Israel countless times, in addition to two years of studying there in rabbinical school and a half-year there with his family while on Sabbatical. But the 30 hours on the ground last week was a different sort of experience.
“Every hour on the trip felt like a day because it was so packed and intense,” said Kravitz, the rabbi emeritus at Adath Jeshurun Congregation and president of the Rabbinical Assembly. “And moving.”
It was in his role with the RA that he was part of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ mission to Israel, along with, among others the leadership of the Reform and Orthodox movements, the CEO of Hadassah, and Minnesota Vikings owner Mark Wilf, who is the president of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
“I did some soul searching about going given that people in the reserves are trying to get back home, family members are trying to get there to support their family; Should I be taking up a seat? Should this group of people be taking up seats?” Kravitz said. “The role of being president puts you into different places, and you never know what’s going to come. This whole situation is just really inconceivable. It’s not imaginable.”
Once he was there, however, Kravitz said he was thankful to be there.
“One shouldn’t underestimate the power of national leaders of American Jewish organizations showing up in Israel during a time of unbelievable crisis to say, ‘we’re here for you.’ And that’s how it was received,” he said.
The group met with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog, as well as some of the families of the more than 200 hostages held by Hamas, the Iranian-backed terrorist group that controls Gaza, that were taken after the Oct. 7 attacks that have killed more than 1,400 Israelis.
“It was really powerful,’ he said. “And of course with it comes obligations to come back and bring up and talk about what we saw and learned and to provide support as best we can.”
For Kravitz, that means speaking to other media outlets, congressional representatives and other religious leaders to talk about what’s going on and how they can provide support, healing, and a better understanding.
Kravitz’s trip started on Tuesday, Oct. 17, in Washington, D.C., where he gave a prayer for the hostages at an event at the Sixth & I Synagogue, with congressional leadership and Jewish leaders from around the country in attendance. He left that afternoon and arrived in Israel in the morning of Oct. 18, and got back to Ben-Gurion Airport for his flight home the night of Oct. 19.
What comes next remains to be seen. He said he saw a lot of anger among Israelis about this could have happened. But for the community here, he said that donating to efforts supporting Israel, becoming better informed on the situation there, and talking with non-Jewish neighbors to help them understand how personal this is to many is important.
“There’s hardly a member of our community who doesn’t have more than one degree of separation to somebody who’s been killed or taken hostage or is serving is or has been called up for military service,” Kravitz said. “It’s very personal. Speaking to our neighbors to help them understand that and feel how painful this is, I think something we can all do.”