Dallas partners with Zikim community
Photos: Guy Yechiely
Etel Bennett, who moved to Kibbutz Zikim in 1971, shares her history on the kibbutz as well as her Oct. 7, 2023, story with participants of the Dallas Federation’s Solidarity Mission Feb. 20, 2024. That morning it was announced that The Dallas Jewish community will partner with the Zikim community to help it rebuild through the new Jewish Agency for Israel Communities2Gether program. On the screen is Zikim’s anthem, which Bennett wrote for the kibbutz in 1999.

Dallas Federation is one of first to sign on to Communities2Gether

Staff Report

In the wake of the devastating Oct. 7 attacks orchestrated by terrorist organizations, the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, in partnership with the Zikim community in Israel, is embarking on a journey of solidarity and recovery through the newly established Communities2Gether program, spearheaded by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Broadly speaking, the Communities2Gether program pairs impacted Israeli communities with a Jewish community abroad, offering sustained support through an initial three-year commitment. Through funding, resources and personal connections, these partnerships will rebuild infrastructure, mend social bonds and foster lasting connections. While seven of the impacted communities had existing partnerships through JAFI’s longstanding Partnership2Gether program, Dallas can boast that it was the first new community to sign on to this program. As of the beginning of February, 10 additional communities in North America have committed to the program through the Jewish Federations of North America and 12 other communities globally have committed through Keren HaYesod. In all, counting existing partnerships and new and pending partnerships, no community impacted on Oct. 7 will be left behind.

Dallas’ partner in this program, the Zikim community, is situated just south of Ashkelon and has a population of 930 people across 325 households. Founded in 1949, Zikim is a member of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, an area just north of Gaza and south of the city of Ashkelon. Like other Israeli communities on the Gaza periphery, it found itself under siege during the Oct. 7 attacks. The infiltration of Zikim was first detected by an operator in the Israeli navy who saw the terrorists approaching the kibbutz from the sea and immediately alerted the local civilian security forces. For an hour, the 12 members of the security team battled nine terrorists, eventually killing four of them. The other terrorists retreated. During the attack, two members of Kibbutz Zikim were injured. The members of the kibbutz were evacuated to Kibbutz Ma’aleh Hamisha (where the Federation’s recent Solidarity Mission had an opportunity to meet displaced members of the community) and Sdot Yam.

A view of Kibbutz Zikim’s home and the ocean. Terrorists attacked the kibbutz, arriving by boats. They decimated the beach that was considered the second best beach in Israel before Oct. 7, 2023, and murdered 17 people as they made their way to the kibbutz. The kibbutz’s volunteer security force held off the terrorists, saving the hundreds of people who lived there.

At the same time of the attempted infiltration of Kibbutz Zikim, terrorists invaded Zikim Beach and Zikim Army Base, both adjacent to the kibbutz. The terrorists arrived to Zikim Beach from the sea using rubber boats and drones and murdered 17 civilians. Some 30 civilians were able to run from Zikim Beach to the nearby Zikim Army Base, where 90 new Israel Defense Forces recruits were stationed. The base was attacked by 50 terrorists who used grenades, rockets and guns. During the fighting, 22 soldiers were killed and seven more were wounded. Fortunately, the base was never captured.

Despite the harrowing ordeal, the resilience of the community shone through as they rallied to defend their homes and loved ones. Kobi, the CEO of the local mattress plant, a member of the communities Emergency Squad and one of the members of the community management team representing Zikim on the joint steering committee with the Federation, played a pivotal role in thwarting the attackers. He and a small number of impressive community members were able to successfully fend off continued attempts to penetrate the community over many hours.

Since the attacks, the Zikim community has faced numerous challenges, placing a heavy psychological toll on children and adults alike. Educational disruptions have compounded the learning loss already suffered from the pandemic, while behavioral issues induced and exacerbated by the psychological trauma and anxiety have meant that students have struggled to focus or even sit in classrooms for extended periods. Displaced families scattered across Israel have struggled to maintain the close community cohesion that had previously defined them. Scared by a shattering of faith in Israel’s security apparatus, community members differ in their preparedness to move back to Zikim and some have even openly shared that they may never do so.

Leadership from Zikim have shared initial primary goals with the Federation for this partnership, which include educational care, security and personal strength, rehabilitation and development and demographic growth. An early challenge will be to help community members achieve sufficient degrees of psychological safety needed to enable families to return home, even as they are quickly losing patience with displacement. However, despite all these challenges, hope shines through as the community looks towards rebuilding and restoring normalcy.

Rebecca Caspi, the senior vice president for global operations of The Jewish Federations of North America as well as the director general of JFNA’s Israel office, speaking to the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Solidarity Mission participants in Jerusalem on Feb. 22, 2024, lauded the partnership between Dallas and Zikim as a beacon of hope and a model for helping individual communities, emphasizing the importance of community resilience in times of adversity. JAFI echoed this sentiment during their February 2024 Board of Governors meeting, affirming their commitment to a long-term partnership model that aims to rebuild Israeli communities, restore hope and pave the way for a prosperous future.

The road ahead for the Zikim community is not without challenges, but with the unwavering support of partners like the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and the strength and commitment of the Dallas Jewish community, they stand resilient, ready to rebuild and reclaim their sense of normalcy. As they embark on this journey of healing and recovery, the bonds forged through Communities2Gether serve as a testament to the power of solidarity and the enduring spirit of community.

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