gaza war

83-year-old LI leader brings chizuk to Israel


The 83-year rabbi emeritus of a Long Island synagogue said his visit to four of the communities savaged by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 “was exhausting, sad and exhilarating.”

“They had planned this for years, to attack and infiltrate the kibbutzim,” Barry Dov Schwartz said. “When you see it and witness it, it’s altogether different. It will take me weeks to process and absorb everything I experienced.”

Schwartz, who led of Congregation B’nai Sholom-Beth David in Rockville Centre for 37 years before retiring in 2010, visited Israel on a goodwill mission sponsored by the Israel Law Center.

In kibbutzim near the Gaza border — Sderot, Be’eri, Kfar Aza and Nirim — Schwartz “saw what they did, how they ransacked and bombed our homes.”

He walked through one of the tunnels used to infiltrate Israel and saw how terrorists destroyed a police station near the border to handicap a defense by law enforcement. The attacks claimed the lives of at least 1,200 people who were massacred in their homes, on the streets and at the Nova Music Festival. More than 250 people were taken as hostages in Gaza.

Schwartz said that after seeing the impact of the attacks up close, he was in disbelief that there are so many people in the United States protesting against the victims.

“Many want to reward the enemy for what they did,” Schwartz said. “I know how Israelis feel. They feel alone. They feel isolated. I wanted to show them there are people who care.”

He explained that since there are so many men and women serving in the IDF, there have been shortages in the workforce. That is why, during the trip, Schwartz and others volunteered to spend an afternoon in fields, picking avocados and clementine oranges.

Months after the attacks, Schwartz said, the Israeli people are simply trying to get back to life as usual. Stores are reopening and people are going back to work.

“Some might think that the Israelis are angry,” he said. “They’re not. They just want to live their lives. If anything, they’re angry at themselves for not being more vigilant.”

Throughout his mission, Schwartz carried a bag filled with more than 200 letters, written by Rockville Centre children and adults, which he gave to Israeli soldiers and citizens.

He said that one of the soldiers was so taken with the gesture, that he took his letter and affixed it to his tank. “You never thought a letter from a stranger would be received so enthusiastically,” Schwartz said.

The mission was organized by the Israel Law Center, an organization that fights terrorism through the courts by bringing lawsuits against those who support violent acts and warfare. The group consisted of several people, Jews and non-Jews alike, from all across the United States, who came to show their support.

At each of the localities along the way, they heard from a number of different speakers about the attacks, and in the evening would return to their hotel in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, where more panel discussions were held with lawyers, journalists and other experts in their field.

“It was very emotionally straining,” Schwartz said. “At the same time it was beautiful to see the Israeli people united and full of love.”

He said that during one presentation, a woman shared how her son was killed by friendly fire. She stood up and said that she has no hatred in her heart and that in every war, there is friendly fire.

Instead, she suggested people embrace each other and respond with more love.

“The main concern of every Israeli, no matter what the political nuances, is to get those hostages home.”

He explained how in Tel Aviv, people have set up a long table with place settings for all of the approxiately 130 hostages still being held in Gaza by Hamas, in the hopes that they will soon come home and eat with them once more.

He said that it was important for him to bear witness to what was happening in the country and to be there to show support and goodwill.

“I really don’t know what the solution is,” Schwartz said. “The world has to remember we didn’t start the war … because right now there is too much going against the victims and not against the perpetrators.”

A version of this story appeared in this week’s Rockville Centre Herald.