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Witnessing Resilience: Stories from the Solidarity Mission to Israel

Mission dates – January 15-18, 2024

In the wake of October 7th, the Iron Swords War, and the recent challenges faced by the Israeli nation and the Jewish people at large, the Solidarity Mission to Israel emerged as a beacon of unity. It drew individuals from our partnered communities in SE USA and the Czech Republic to stand shoulder to shoulder with a nation facing adversity. Through the eyes of participants – Randi, Lidia, Janet, and Austin – we unravel the profound motivations, impactful experiences, and lasting impressions that kindled a commitment to ongoing and future engagement.


Randi Weiss: A Personal Connection with Israel's Struggle

For Randi Weiss, a Chattanooga resident, the attacks on October 7th struck a personal chord that resonated deep within her, connecting threads woven through multiple visits to Israel.

A seasoned traveler to the Holy Land, Randi says: "I wanted to bear witness, stand in support of Israel, and have first-hand information for when I discuss the current situation with people here at home".

From the Kibbutz Be’eri, where resilient communities stood in the face of adversity, to the NOVA music site echoing the harmony of a nation unbowed, Randi's journey became a tapestry of human stories.

"The things we actually saw – Kibbutz Be’eri, NOVA music site, hostage square – will be forever imprinted in my mind, but hearing peoples’ stories was most impactful".

Randi's most memorable moments were about people. Conversations with former Chattanooga shlichim brought comfort, highlighting the strength of enduring friendships.

Future Commitment:

While the experience didn't fundamentally alter Randi's perspective, it made the connection more personal. With a commitment to stay active in the partnership through teaching and involvement in other programs, she envisions numerous future visits to Israel.

Lidia Nastašinská: Uniting in Adversity

Hailing from the Czech Republic, Lidia, a psychiatrist, and psychotherapist, embarked on the mission with a mission of her own – "I was going to bring to people in difficult situations understanding, support and hope, but those people strengthened me and my own belief in a good future."

Lidia's days were marked by a busy and interesting schedule, immersing herself in the complexity of Israeli life.

Sharing Stories for Solidarity:

Her encounters with locals weren't just transactions but shared moments of understanding. Lidia's mission extended beyond witnessing events; it became a journey to amplify the voices of those affected, spreading awareness, and gaining support across borders:

"Many impressions were very strong and hard. It allows me to talk about the situation to people around me in Czech and on congresses abroad. Many new missions are preparing now in Czech, and I hope to be in Israel again soon."

Janet Hammer: A Seismic Shift and a Call to Witness

For Janet, a retired healthcare professional and volunteer educator from, St. Petersburg Florida, October 7th wasn't just a seismic shift. it became a call to bear witness. Her motivations weren't just personal; they were interwoven with a commitment to safeguard the future of her children and grandchildren.

"I am a mother and grandmother. This is the real reason why I traveled to Israel during the war. To witness and to be an example to my children."

Impacts on Personal and Collective Identity:

Janet says that the attacks on Israel felt like a direct assault on her, shaking the very foundations of her ordinary life. Her decision to travel to Israel during a war wasn't just a choice; it was an imperative driven by the need to bear witness.

"At first I almost felt paralyzed being in America and not knowing how to effectively respond. I came to understand that Hamas uses terrorism to silence us. They want me to feel paralyzed, impotent. This is exactly why we must bear witness".

Standing in Kibbutz Be’eri, among the remnants of homes, Janet felt the weight of every moment. Her encounters with Lotan Pinyan, a survivor of the attacks, provided insights into the ongoing process of rebuilding lives shattered by tragedy.

Future Commitments:

Janet's commitment extends beyond witnessing events. Her role as a storyteller has taken on newfound importance. She recognizes the rising tide of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric, especially in progressive communities, and sees her mission as a beacon to navigate these turbulent waters.




Austin Center: Connecting Through Shared Grief

Austin's continued involvement with the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga as a past Board Chair and current Community Relation Committee Chair, propelled him into action when the call for solidarity rang out. His encounters with individuals like Matan David, whose cousin was still held hostage in Gaza, and Yaron and Jacqui Vital, whose daughter fell victim to terrorism while trying to protect her children in the safe room, became moments etched in his memory.

Personal Encounters:

Meeting Matan David and the Vitals was a shared moment of grief. Austin's interactions with those directly impacted by the October 7th tragedies revealed not just the scars but the strength that emerges from shared sorrow.

"To understand and express what it meant to meet these people, to hear their stories and to share them, is only the start of my, and our, work; this is my call to action to make a difference."

Austin tells us that Negev and Eshel, the sons of Adi z"l and Anani are now with their father Anani safe in Jerusalem, but the trauma of events and losing their mother, daughter, and wife will forever change all their lives. To Austin, keeping their memory alive is of the greatest importance - "As Yaron and Jacqui expressed to us, we should keep Adi’s memory alive and to continue to tell her story and that of those who lost their lives. Yaron and Jacqui, I will honor your wish and bear witness."

Art as a Medium of Connection:

Beyond the mission's conclusion, Austin's commitment takes on an artistic form. Engaging communities through art projects becomes a conduit to honor those affected, turning pain into a lasting connection.

Future Engagements:

Austin's involvement with the partnership goes beyond mere participation. His vision includes specific initiatives to engage communities, using art as a powerful tool to bridge gaps and foster lasting connections.


Advice for Others: A Call to Responsibility

Their collective advice echoes a shared responsibility—to visit, engage, and speak out. Participating in solidarity missions is not just an option; it's an essential step in understanding, supporting, and standing with Israel. Each participant shares their unique perspective on why such missions matter and how they can shape individual and collective responsibility.

Final Thoughts: The Ongoing Journey

As the Golani Soldier aptly expressed, "Our work will be over, but your work is never done." The mission might have concluded, but the commitment to supporting Israel and fostering connections remains an ongoing journey for these individuals. In sharing their stories, Randi, Lidia, Janet, and Austin invite readers to join them on this journey of witness, understanding, and solidarity.


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