And you shall love
Photo: Guy Yechiely
Igor Alterman, Dallas Federation president and CEO, reassures Galit Bereket, head of the Zikim leadership committee, that the Zikim community is not alone.

By Igor Alterman

Gali Berman may be a stranger to most of us, but as you finish reading this paragraph, I guarantee you will recognize him. Torn jeans, beat-up Blundstone boots, infectious smile, genuine curiosity about American Jewish life and a profound seriousness when discussing friendship, loyalty and Israel. Sounds familiar? Gali is not just a face in the crowd. He could be the sleepaway camp counselor you entrust your children to, the Israel Fellow on campus, your travel buddy, the soldier on a Birthright trip. Yet, for the past 140 days, Gali has been among 132 hostages abducted by Hamas, leaving a void in our hearts and a stark reminder of the harsh realities Israel woke up to on Oct. 7.

As I stood before the remnants of Gali’s home in Kfar Aza, the gravity of the situation became all too real. The scattered towels, abandoned shoes and silent speakers painted a vivid picture of an average 20-year-old’s life abruptly interrupted. As my gaze shifted to the door covered with stickers — reminiscent of my own garage fridge adorned with memories from cherished places — one sticker stood out. In bold Hebrew letters, right in the center, was the word “ve’ahavta” — “and you shall love.” This quintessential Jewish prayer, the foundational principle of loving one’s God, has become a guiding light for many; Gali chose to affix it at the entrance to his home.

“And you shall love” extends beyond personal connections; it encompasses the broader community. Kibbutz Kfar Aza, just a few miles from Gaza, became a symbol of resilience and peace. The members, predominantly left-leaning, exemplified coexistence until the tragic events of Oct. 7 shattered that narrative.

Here in Dallas, ever since the first, agonizing days of the war I knew that the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas must lead both at home and in our homeland. We’ve been working decisively in the Metroplex and with a longstanding presence in Western Galilee, the Federation is actively engaged in supporting displaced Israelis, investing in rebuilding shelters in Akko and assisting communities scattered around various hotels and kibbutzim as tensions persist along the northern border.

Photo: Sharon Wisch-Ray
The front of Gali Berman’s home at Kfar Aza from which he was abducted Oct. 7, 2023.

Mobilizing the community became imperative, prompting the decision to send a solidarity mission to Israel. Nearly 50 representatives from major congregations, schools, museums and lead organizations, accompanied by key philanthropists and Federation leadership, constituted the largest solidarity mission welcomed by Israel since Oct. 7.

Photo: Igor Alterman
A closeup of the sticker saying “ve’ahavta” — “and you shall love,” affixed atop Gali Berman’s front door.

My choice of words is intentional. Despite the hardships faced by Israel in those early October days, the warmth, gratitude, tears and smiles with which they welcomed us conveyed that we were not just “another group,” but family providing much-needed support.

During our visit to Kibbutz Zikim, one of the founding community members said, “We feel so alone. Ever since the war has started, all we see around the world is people marching on the streets, spewing hate against Israel.” In response, our group assured them, “You are not alone. We are here to help and here to stay,” solidifying a partnership that will extend for the next three years.

“And you shall love” — Jewish Dallas leads with love. Our unconditional love for Israel and its people is grounded in deep humility and a profound understanding of the challenges faced by Israelis and Jews worldwide. In the face of hate, our love stands stronger. We lead with action, demonstrating our commitment through numbers. Until Gali is safely back home on his beloved kibbutz, until all hostages are released and until Zikim is rebuilt, our voices will not waver. Israel, you are not alone — we love you and we are here for you, always.

Am Yisrael chai!

Igor Alterman is president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas.

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