In response to the devastating attack and massacre that took place on October 7 in Israel, Rabbi Pinny Andrusier, Director of Chabad SW Broward in Florida, recently gathered a group of young leaders from his community to join him on a special mission to the Holy Land.
Helping lead the special mission was Koby Lerner, 23, who serves as Chabad SWB’s Administrative Director and has overseen Chabad’s Israel Relief effort since news of the heinous attack was reported.
Within days of the massacre, Chabad SWB organized and sent 52 bags filled with tactical gear and medical equipment. Shortly thereafter, Rabbi Pinny recruited longtime humanitarian aid activist, Cassidy Daiagi, to join Chabad’s efforts. Cassidy, 30, recognized the critical and lifesaving work Chabad SWB was doing and excitedly joined the team.
Despite all their relief efforts, the team realized that there was still much more needed. The group therefore embarked on a special mission to personally deliver more critical supplies and spread a message of hope, love and unity.
Although brief in duration, the mission was very focused and extremely impactful. The group of five men and two women spent four emotion-filled days traversing the Holy Land. Visiting soldiers at the border, bringing hope to the loved ones of hostages, praying with wounded victims at the hospital, and spending time with children who have experienced more tragedy than kids should ever be forced to bear.
Immediately upon touching down early Wednesday morning at Ben Gurion Airport, the group loaded their van with the 39 oversized cargo bags filled with supplies and headed straight to deliver baby furniture, toys, formula, and other necessities for children who were orphaned and displaced during the attack.
Knowing the soldiers on the front lines of the Gaza border were in critical need of tactical gear, the group continued with their efforts, racing south to deliver the equipment and supplies they brought for the IDF units facing imminent threats on the border.
In addition, they marched from unit to unit, boosting the spirits of the troops and offering individualized spiritual care, such as assisting the brave and courageous members of Israel’s elite army with the donning of Tefillin.
Early the next morning, the dedicated group drove to the most northern point of Israel and visited army bases situated mere meters from the Lebanese border. In particular, they visited the unit of Omer Balva, the lone soldier who was killed by an anti tank missile shot from Lebanon by Hezbollah terrorists. Rabbi Sholom Raichik of Chabad Gaithersberg, MD, and Balva’s personal rabbi, had asked Rabbi Pinny and his group to join him to help console the unit, and to offer encouragement and bolster their morale.
From daybreak till late evening the group continued visiting many other IDF army posts situated on Israel’s border with Lebanon, similarly delivering much needed items, prayers and cheer.
On Friday, Rabbi Menachem Kutner, Israel’s executive director of Chabad Terror Victims Project, arranged for the group to visit the Hostage HQ in Tel Aviv where they met the families of loved ones taken captive by Hamas terrorists on that horrid day, one month ago. Hostage families, unsure of whether or not their loved ones are still alive, told gut wrenching tales of how their family members were forcibly snatched from their homes.
The group then proceeded to Tel Hashomer Hospital where they visited wounded soldiers, many of whom were still in critical condition. Rabbi Pinny led his group and the family members present in a special prayer for each soldier’s speedy recovery. They were also joined by a guitarist strumming upbeat Jewish music and Shabbat songs in light of the onset of the Sabbath only hours away. The dedicated visitors also offered blessings, comfort and hope for each individual’s personal healing and for Israel’s imminent peace and victory as well. The group’s visit was very much appreciated by all. In fact, many of the wounded soldiers would not let them leave their hospital room until they sang one or more joyous melody.
The journey took on even more meaning when on Friday at 2pm, Lerner learned that six displaced families from the southern town of Netivot, consisting of 30 men, women and children, were in need of a place for Shabbat dinner.
With an estimated 500,000 Israelis being displaced due to the attack and needing temporary housing, nearly every hotel, rental property and even retirement home in central Israel are filled to capacity. Following the raid and massacre of their kibbutz, these six families could only find a vacancy inside a Christian museum in Jerusalem.
Their accommodations were certainly not ideal. However, with no other choice they accepted to sleep in the back rooms of the museum. In addition, because kosher food was not being provided, they were seeking somewhere to celebrate a traditional Friday night Shabbat dinner.
Excited at the opportunity to host the displaced families, the visiting group from Florida immediately ordered a gourmet three course dinner from a local reputable caterer. Upon learning of the circumstance, Jerusalem’s Chabad of Rechavia graciously offered their center for the group to host the delicious Shabbat dinner.
The two women of the group, Chana Andrusier and Cassidy, made certain to create a warm and welcoming Shabbat setting. The ladies decorated the dinner table with beautiful paper goods and pretty flowers.
Though having never met before, all in attendance felt as if they were long lost family members finally reunited. The visiting hosts from Florida and the displaced guests from Israel’s south embraced the opportunity to enjoy a truly special evening of unity, stories and song.
The dinner lasted well past midnight and as the guests tearfully said their emotional goodbyes, they expressed their appreciation to the group for putting together such a wonderful evening for their families who have lost so much.
“I never imagined my first trip to Israel would be for this purpose,” said Daiagi. “However, we did so much good and brought so much joy to so many in these three short days … and especially being able to provide displaced families with a home away from home … it capped off the most special and meaningful thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Sadly as the war is still going on, Chabad SW Broward continues to collect and send items to Israel. They are also planning a second mission in the next week or two. For more information contact [email protected].