Lisa Engel's Reflections on Women's Solidarity Mission to Israel

To highlight experiences in our community, this week’s message is a reflection from Lisa Engel on her recent Women’s Solidarity Mission to Israel. Lisa is a past board president of the Birmingham Jewish Federation, current Trustee of the Jewish Federations of North America, and a member of National Women’s Philanthropy.

“How are you?” Simple question, right?

Today, this is the most complicated question you can ask someone in Israel. Most are fine but not fine. Trying to live normally when nothing is normal.

This is what I continuously heard from our Israeli sisters and brothers during my recent JFNA Women’s Solidarity Mission to Israel. On October 7th, everything changed. Israel became a different country than Israel at 75. The world stopped at 6:29 am.

At that exact moment, over 1,000 Hamas terrorists breached the security fences from Gaza and brutally attacked and murdered Israeli civilians, many of them elderly, women, children, and babies. 240 people were taken hostage and paraded through the cheering streets before being hidden in the massive tunnels below.

Every family has been touched. Every person is traumatized by an internal assault of emotions. Everyone feels angry, betrayed, grief-stricken, personally threatened, and exhausted. Yet, to a person, when we looked eye-to-eye, I saw strength, resilience, and a determination to rebuild.

For me, it was two intense days of site visits, reliving the trauma of October 7th. It felt like a lifetime.

How did I find the strength to immerse myself in the brutal terrorism of October 7th? I took you, my Birmingham Jewish community with me. And I told Israelis everywhere that the small but mighty Birmingham Jewish community stands resolutely with Israel. This was not the rote platitude of years past. This was real and it was received with gratitude and a visibly lightened load to carry.

Since returning home, I’ve been continually remembering my experiences and it’s been impossible for my mind to rest. Every time I try to organize my thoughts, another one pushes through insistently. Each one is equally important because each one is a life, and each one is a whole world.

At Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the hardest hit with 10% of its residents murdered and 30 taken hostage, there were walls of individual houses that were peppered with bullet holes. Standing there, I could almost hear the fast, staccato shots from military assault rifles as terrorists indiscriminately sprayed bullets from the outside killing everyone within.

These gunshots are the sounds of my thoughts. Peppering my mind with experiences that I witnessed and insisting that I bear witness to you. Thank you for allowing me to share a small slice of what I saw and heard and for sharing this burden with me.

These thoughts, both tragic and uplifting, are coming out as I experienced them.

Danyelle works for the Jewish Agency and her grandson is 21 months old. He just said his very first sentence, “Outside boom.” A whole generation will be traumatized.

A young woman in the IDF was charged with setting up a temporary school in a hotel. Immediately, she began calling the evacuated parents to recruit students. The first woman she called was distraught and said, “Do you have a father? Now my kids don’t because of you.” The IDF failed her and her family.

Nimrod was one of the organizers of the Nova Music Festival. When the IDF said they were not immediately coming to help the 3,500 people at Nova, he set up a “situation room” from his phone and began rescuing people. But his younger sister was somewhere inside the festival and her texts had stopped. Should he go back and search for her? There was no good answer and Nimrod decided that he didn’t want his mother to bury two children. Ayelet, 22 years old, was later found dead by the IDF responders. 

Sharon’s two beloved brothers, Eli and Yossi, were taken hostage in Gaza and his new job is telling their story. Eli’s wife and two daughters were killed in front of him in cold blood. Yossi’s family survived. Sharon said the terrorists broke their bodies but not their spirits. He implored us to, “look them in the eyes and bring them home.” Hamas just released a video on Monday reporting that Yossi has been murdered while being held captive.

Schneider Children’s Hospital welcomed the 19 released children on November 24th. Dr, Efrat Bron-Harlev, the hospital’s director, passionately said they gave each child a home, a secure environment, and choice, the three things they did not have in captivity. The children could decide when to have treatments, when to eat and when to play. And their family pets were waiting for them at the hospital with unconditional love. “When the children leave, they are done but not completed,” Dr. Efrat said. “It will take a very long time to restore their faith.”

Michal Herzog, wife of President Chaim Herzog has been advocating for the victims of crimes against women on October 7th and also for those who are still victims as hostages. Even when she shares photos and footage, she is continually asked on the world stage, “Where is the evidence?” Michal is determined to stand for the traumatized women who cannot stand for themselves.

Rachel Goldberg-Polin, mother of Hersch, who we have all seen in the media said, “Terrorism is the absence of humanity. We don’t have to lose faith in humanity.” She gets up every day and says the Modeh Ani, thanking God for having faith in her and giving her another day. And, always hoping for Hersh’s release, she says, “Let today be the day.”

Adi from Kibbutz Be’eri who recounted her harrowing account with terrorists said, “It was 8:30 am. I heard bombing. I heard Arabic and cries for help. I texted my siblings: They’re knocking on my door. They’re here.” Miraculously Adi survived.

And here I will stop sharing, although there is so much more. Please know that our contributions to the Israel Emergency Fund of the Birmingham Jewish Federation are supporting all the people that I have written about through the following allocations: Jewish Agency for Israel, Joint Distribution Committee, The Fund for Victims of Terror, The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, Schneider Children’s Medical Center, and Collaboration with Israel’s Ministry of Health.

What else can we do? Tell these real-life stories. And tell the other ones you are reading about. Tell your friends, your acquaintances, the media, your Congressmen, the White House, basically anyone who will listen including posting on social media. In the words of Dr. Cochav Elkayam Levy, Chair of the Commission on Oct. 7 Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children, “Silence dehumanizes us and betrays humanity.” This chapter of our history is still being written and we are helping to write it.


Volunteering with Leket Israel, the country’s national food bank.

Attending the Hostages and Missing Families Forum and hearing from Sharon, whose two brothers, Yossi and Eli, are held hostage in Gaza. 

Destruction at Kibbutz Be’eri, where 10% of the population was murdered and 30 taken hostage.