By AVRAHAM MINTZ | Guest Commentary

January 3, 2024 at 10:22 a.m.


I recently led a delegation of rabbis to Israel to provide financial and moral support to the people there. Around 7,000 miles and over 15 hours of flight time — with a connection in New York — separate Colorado and Tel Aviv, Israel. However, for myself and my community in Denver, these two places couldn’t be any closer.

Following the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7, people turned to me as a communal leader for guidance on how to respond. Immediately, our community sprung to action to help however we could. We held prayer vigils, raised funds, and supported the half-dozen families whose fathers were called for reserve duty by babysitting, grocery shopping and hosting them for dinner.

But more impactful than what we sent to Israel, is what Israel sent to us.

The Shalev family from Kibbutz Be’eri sought refuge in Denver following Oct. 7. With their house destroyed, friends and relatives murdered and a shattered community, they turned to their cousins the Niv’s, longtime Denver residents, to seek a temporary respite.

Oshri and Dekal Shalev and their three young children found themselves on the other side of the world after the lives they had known burned to the ground, and our community wrapped its arms around them.

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, taught that each Jew is like a letter in a Torah scroll. If even one letter is damaged, incomplete or missing, the entire scroll is not kosher. Similarly, if one Jew is broken, hurting, or in need, the entire Jewish people is broken.

This is the power of the Jewish people. It doesn’t matter what background one has or their religious level; at the end of the day, we lend support to each other in times of need.

The community embraced the Shalevs, helping them as they acclimated to Denver. Dedicated individuals tirelessly worked to find them an apartment, enroll the children in the local Jewish school and provide them with financial resources so they could thrive in their temporary new home. We also hosted a welcome dinner for them when they arrived, where over 150 people attended in a show of solidarity.

The unity and oneness we feel with the Shalevs was enhanced on my visit to Israel last week. Our delegation met with dozens of families who had lost relatives on Oct. 7 and those who had relatives still in captivity.

We met with the family of Karina Ariev, a 19 year-old girl who is currently a hostage in Gaza. The family described the horror and heartbreak of not knowing the condition of their daughter, and how a deep sadness has set in for this family. We met with the leaders of the hostage forum in Tel-Aviv who are tirelessly working every day to bring innocent Israelis home.

We visited Tel Hashomer Sheba hospital, where we heard heartbreaking stories from soldiers who were wounded defending the Jewish people. We hosted barbeques for the soldiers on the front lines and spoke with the commanders and generals of the unit. They described the intensely difficult conditions in which they are fighting and how they navigate the battlefield.

In one of our stops, we attended the shiva of Alon Shamriz – one of the hostages recently killed in Gaza. His father approached me and asked me to share a few words with the group of family and friends who had gathered to mourn. As I stood to address the room, I struggled to find the right words. In front of me were people who had suffered unimaginable loss and sadness – what could I possibly say?

Standing there, I reflected upon the weekly Torah portion, which tells the story of the passing of the Biblical patriarch Jacob. Even though the portion deals with his passing, it is titled “Vayechi”, which translates to “and he lived.” This is because although a tremendous figure was lost, the Jewish people nonetheless lived on and were able to continue Jacob’s profound legacy.

Similarly, in our day, even though the Jewish people are still reeling from a devastating loss, we nonetheless persevere. Amid the pain and suffering we experience, our spirit is still alive and we will carry the light forward through dark times.

We finished our trip by visiting Kibbutz Be’eri, the Shalevs’ hometown. A military escort shuttled us through the evacuated town, which has now been designated a military zone near the Gaza border. As we drove through the empty streets and passed what remained of the Shalev family home, I was overcome with a wave of deep emotion.

I recalled our Denver community Chanukah celebration earlier this month, where we gave the Shalev family the honor of lighting the public Menorah. As I watched their family — far from their home in Kibbutz Be’eri kindle the menorah lights, I was in awe and pride for the Jewish people. No matter where we may live or which circumstances we come from, at our essence we are all one, and in times of crisis, we come together in strength, comfort, and support.

Rabbi Avraham Mintz is the CEO of Friendship Circle Colorado and of Chabad Jewish Center of South Metro Denver.