“You’re going BACK?” was a common question I heard when sharing that I was heading back to Israel on CJP’s third solidarity mission, just three weeks after being there with our first trip. But rather than feeling tired or worried about returning, I felt a complete sense of relief once I knew I was going back.  

After my last trip with CJP, I realized quickly that not knowing when I would be back in Israel was causing me anxiety. As soon as I had another plane ticket waiting in my inbox, I immediately felt a sense of peace. 

This third solidarity trip was CJP’s largest to date, with 30 incredible community members strong. As a group, we affectionately came to call ourselves “eclectic,” and we meant it in the best sense of the word—joyful, different, vibrant, and all in Israel to bear witness and fill our souls by experiencing the resilience of our family and friends in Israel. Our group was lucky to share many of the experiences of our prior two missions, but there are two moments of beauty and hope—even amid horror and despair—that keep replaying in my mind.  

Nova Music Festival Site
(Photo: Stacey Suckerman)

On this trip, we had the opportunity to walk the field of the Nova music festival, a serene, picture-perfect location currently covered in the Israeli national flower. The red anemone coronaria was everywhere—a gorgeous, flowering, bright red bloom spread across green grass. Before Oct. 7, the cheerful flower was a symbol of wonder and awe for Israelis. Now, it symbolizes a blanket of blood, reminding all of us of the 364 beautiful lives taken on the soil we walked across, and the 40 people dragged through the very spot we stood into Gaza as hostages.  

As we walked toward the memorial, with hundreds of posters of victims and hostages standing at eye level on sticks, we felt the youthful exuberance of their smiling faces looking directly into our eyes. “They are dancing in the field,” my colleague JulieSue later told me—and she was right. They are dancing there forever now, with their true fates so far from the idealism and hope captured in every smiling picture, extinguished from this earth in the most brutal, inhumane ways possible.  

After we walked the field, we gathered in a circle, underneath some thin trees, all the while realizing how little protection this field offered, how there was nowhere to hide. We could feel the death, we could see the ruin, but in the middle of what felt like a sea of helplessness, our tour guide Yonit produced a small, flowering bush. She asked us all to gather sticks, natural tools lying on the ground waiting for us. She asked us to drop to our knees, and to begin digging. To feel the earth, and to create a home for this flowering plant. To bring life back to this beautiful space, a white flowering bush in the sea of the red anemones.  

Mission participants plant flowers at the site of the Nova Music Festival
Mission participants plant flowers at the site of the Nova music festival (Photo: JulieSue Goldwasser)

So, we knelt, we dug, we planted, and we watered. We encircled the new life in the ground, and we mourned together in song and in prayer. It wasn’t any less sad, but it was deeply hopeful. It was deeply inspiring. And it was deeply impactful. We left more life at Nova than was there when we arrived, taking the memories of each dancing soul with us, and leaving behind a new flower and some tiny modicum of hope in the ground. 

The second moment that is replaying in my mind comes from our last morning, as our bus drove along the Tel Aviv coast. The day before had been about bearing witness, but this day was about turning the page and looking toward the future. We were departing Tel Aviv and heading to Jerusalem. As we drove out of Tel Aviv, with the sparkling water reflecting into our bus and the sun flooding the aisles, we blasted Am Yisrael Chai over the sound system. We sang, we laughed, and I felt hope reverberating in each chorus of the song. Our bus was filled with smiles and waves. We were still in Israel—she’s still there.  

We were still part of a global people who have been through death and destruction too many times to count. We still had ruach (spirit), and the awe of being in a country our ancestors could have only dreamed of. It was three minutes that brought me back to every happy moment I’ve had in Israel, and seeing the uplift in spirits across our bus reminded me that there will be so many more fun and optimistic moments in this country and with these people I love so much. 

As I shared in my last reflection, Israel is still at war. On the southern border, you hear the booms coming from Gaza. Every single person has lost someone or knows someone who has lost someone. Everyone is connected to this tragedy.  

We don’t know whether tomorrow will be better or worse. But what I did know during this trip is that Boston is continuing to make a bigger difference. Everywhere we went, people said, “Boston is showing up—literally.” And we are—and you are. And we will, for each day forward and for as long as it takes. Am Yisrael Chai.