Rabbi Katz Visits Israel Amidst Gaza Conflict

The Simchas Torah massacre in Israel has changed our world irrevocably. The tragedy and its accompanying horror have the power to categorize all events going forward as either pre-October 7th or post-October 7th.

The suffering in Israel has also unleashed a massive show of support for the Jewish State from Jews around the globe. It has galvanized Jews worldwide to step up and help their stricken brethren. At the forefront of this effort is the Israel Heritage Foundation (IHF). The catastrophe and the ensuing war have taken on a new dimension of urgency, which has prompted those at the IHF to respond immediately and generously.  

Rabbi David Katz, Executive Director of the IHF, recognized that urgency and travelled to Israel last week to buttress the morale of the Jewish people there. “I went to Israel to give courage and be ‘mechazek’ (strengthen) the soldiers and the people of Israel. They are going through a terrible time and a terrible war.”

The very beginning of Rabbi Katz’s trip itself proved to be providential. “When I got to the El Al terminal at the airport, I only had a carryon with minimal necessities for a few-days trip. I had no intention of checking in a suitcase. As soon as I arrived, I was approached by two guys who asked if I could take a package to Israel. Of course, I refused because of security reasons. Then they came back again and asked if I can take duffle bags. I again said no. Two minutes later, security guards came over and told me that I can take the bags, which had already been cleared, because they were for the Israeli army. Baruch Hashem, I took ten duffle bags to Israel, each weighing over 32 kilos. I felt very good about starting the trip this way.”

Upon landing in Israel Sunday night, Rabbi Katz’s first stop was the Kotel. To his utter amazement, the Kotel, which had been full to capacity during this last summer trip, even at 2:00 in the morning, was completely empty. It was a bittersweet realization of how the war has affected even this holiest site in Jerusalem.

Once in Israel, Rabbi Katz met up with Congressman Derrick Can Orden, Republican from Wisconsin. The congressman was on an independent fact-finding trip to Israel by himself to learn about the tragedy and offer his own support.

The first morning of the trip Rabbi Katz accompanied Rep. Van Orden, who was determined to do something positive for the IDF, to Magen David Adom. Together they toured the facility, saw the many dispatchers at work and learned about the inner workings of the organization. Both Rabbi Katz and Congressman Van Orden were very emotional. The congressman went to every dispatcher, shook his hand and thanked him for his outstanding work.

“It was heartbreaking to hear what they went through that fateful day,” Rabbi Katz remarked of Magen David Adom. “And what they go through every day. It’s also very impressive to see how they answer each call and how they coordinate everything so that their ambulances reach their destinations right away.”

But the congressman didn’t stop there. He went to the upstairs offices, accompanied by Rabbi Katz, in order to donate blood. Rabbi Katz was overcome with emotion at this gesture. “Here is this congressman, who just lost his 32-year-old daughter to cancer two months ago, and he is giving blood. Despite his personal pain, Rep. Van Orden didn’t want to give up his trip to Israel to see the land and the people. Even in his own suffering, he wants to feel the pain of the people of Israel.”

After donating blood, the congressman and Rabbi Katz were approached by the manager. He told them that there are many American volunteer doctors and Hatzalah paramedics who just arrived, and he arranged for the rabbi and the congressman to meet them. There were volunteers from across the Untied States, who brought defibrillators and other supplies for the war effort. The congressman was especially happy to meet a volunteer from his home state of Wisconsin.

Rabbi Katz also escorted Rep. Van Orden on a tour of Yad Vashem. Against the backdrop of the recent massacre, the atrocities of the Nazis took on new and critical meaning. The congressman was specifically touched by the Yad Layeled memorial, the tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust. Emotions ran high with the knowledge of the Israeli children who were tortured and killed in Israeli kibbutzin, like the children in the Holocaust, for no other reason than for being Jewish.

It was a sentiment that stayed with Rabbi Katz and the congressmen when they met with Israeli dignitaries later that night. The dinner meeting took place with Religious Zionism Knesset Member Ohad Tal and Brigadier General (Res.) Amir Avivi, the founder and chairman of Israel’s Defense and Security Forum (IDSF).

The trip took a spiritual bent next when Rabbi Katz arranged for Rep. Van Orden to meet with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the Rabbi of the Western Wall. When the congressman shared the loss of his daughter with Rabbi Rabinovitch, the rabbi took him and Rabbi Katz to the Kotel. There, they said a prayer in memory of his daughter.

After private meetings with members of the Israeli military and government and a tour of the desecrated communities and kibbutzim in Southern Israel, Rep. Van Orden spoke of the indescribable horror he witnessed. He viewed graphic videos of Hamas atrocities and stressed the importance of such evidence. “People are denying that Israelis are being slaughtered…Democrats are trying to downplay what’s been done.”

The viciousness of the attack shocked Rep. Van Orden, who is a retired Navy SEAL. “I have multiple combat tours around the world as a Navy Seal,” the congressman said. “And this is by far in a way, by orders of magnitude, the most shocking and horrific thing I have ever been exposed to.”

As a direct result of the trip, Rep. Van Orden is forming a group of Republicans, a House caucus, to stay in touch with their counterparts in Israel’s government. In addition to supporting the House’s planned appropriation bill to help fund Israel’s defense, he also plans to work to address the medical shortfalls in the Israel’s medical system to better fight the war.

While the congressman paid homage to the murdered civilians and fallen soldiers in southern Israel, Rabbi Katz travelled to an IDF reserve headquarters. There, the Israel Heritage Foundation sponsored a lavish and festive barbeque to cheer on soldiers and boost their morale. Each soldier thanked Rabbi Katz for the generous meal and for the singing, dancing and Divrei Torah that elevated their spirits.

Rabbi Katz continued to inspire and encourage with his trip to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem. His mission was to visit wounded soldiers, and Rabbi Katz described the pain and damage that the soldiers sustained during the massacre. 

“I met Danny in one hospital room. He was only 20 years old. When I asked what happened, he said that he had been called up that Shabbos. When he arrived, he was shot in the foot by a Hamas terrorist. He fell down and called for help. But no help came for over eight hours. So he took his undershirt and tied it around the wound as a tourniquet to prevent bleeding and contaminating his body. When he finally arrived at the hospital, he was told that there was no oxygen or blood flow in the foot as a result. They were forced to amputate his foot. He is now damaged for life.”

The story shook Rabbi Katz. “It took a lot of strength from me. We have no idea what severe danger these soldiers find themselves in. They get wounded and many are injured for life. We hope and daven for real shmirah for these soldiers. Hashem should watch over them, but unfortunately, they are in real danger. When they get wounded, we don’t even know the extent of the damage or what it means. It’s a terrible situation.”

One main goal of Rabbi Katz’s mission to Israel was to disperse the generous funds that the Israel Heritage Foundation raised for the needy in Israel at this time. In addition to distributing these funds throughout the various sites on the trip, Rabbi Katz capped off his mission with a visit to the Chochom Rishon Le’tzion Rav Shlomo Moshe Amar and the Chochom Rav Yosef Talidano, the oldest grandchild of the Baba Sali living in Givat Ze’ev. After donating funds to them, the rabbanim were effusive in their expressions of gratitude to Rabbi Katz for coming to Israel and helping out in this eis tzarah, this time of need. They blessed the donors for their generosity.

Before returning to New York Tuesday night, Rabbi Katz felt fortunate to daven at Kever Rachel. “Wednesday was yahrtzeit of Rochel Imeinu. The kever is usually packed at that time, but now they only allowed in a few rabbis and the families of hostages. Instead, I went to a nearby army base, stationed outside of Beit Lechem, and gave out soda and candy to the soldiers. They asked me for brachos, and I was able to go into Kever Rachel and be mispallel for them.”

At this critical juncture, when Israel faces a formidable existential threat, the people of Israel are grateful for the largesse of the Israel Heritage Foundation. And Rabbi Katz, as its emissary, was grateful to have had the opportunity to give to Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael in this dire time of need.