A Tower of Strength: After Oct. 7, Reflecting on the Resilience of All Israelis

Keren Idelman landed in Israel a month before the Oct. 7 attacks — and since then, she's worked tirelessly to bring help and hope to all Israelis.

By Keren Idelman - JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps (JSC) Fellow; Jerusalem, Israel | February 27, 2024

Keren Idelman (left) speaks with Tzipi Zipper — a lawyer who found holistic support through the Center for Independent Living (CIL), a JDC program for Israelis with disabilities — in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Last September, Keren Idelman never thought she’d live through one of the most tumultuous moments in Israeli history. She went to Jerusalem on a JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps (JSC) Fellowship, excited to work with at-risk Israeli youth and people with disabilities. On October 7th, she woke up to the attacks — and her year completely changed. In this reflection, Keren describes that fateful day, her intergenerational JDC story, and why there’s nowhere she’d rather be than in Israel, working for the same organization that once helped her own family.

Keren Idelman

I always knew I would live in Israel again. I just didn’t know when. Last weekend, I was at a cafe with a friend in Tel Aviv, and we were laughing about how many different summer programs, internships, and jobs we have applied to in Israel since high school, always looking for a way back. And so, when I was accepted into the JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps (JSC) Fellowship and selected to work in Jerusalem, it felt like so many little pieces of my life had come together, manifesting as the big picture I had long been working toward. 

When I applied for the JSC, I was moved by JDC’s mission to help vulnerable Jews and JDC Entwine’s movement of building strong Jewish leaders globally. I was excited to build on the leadership skills I had developed in Jewish youth organizations when I was younger and spend a year learning about Israeli communities I had not often encountered: at-risk youth, through Ashalim, and people with disabilities, through Israel Unlimited. I was already familiar with JDC’s impact: I grew up hearing stories of JDC sending care packages of clothes and other necessities to my family in the Soviet Union, and I was amazed by the organization’s response to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. I often thought this fellowship was an opportunity for me to give back and develop a connection with an organization that has given my family, and millions of other vulnerable Jewish families all around the world, so much. 

I set out on my fellowship to Israel, and I spent September checking off my “I just moved to a new country” to-do list: getting a new phone number, finding an apartment, learning about Israeli bureaucracy (particularly at the bank), and celebrating familiar holidays in a new way. On October 6th, I had just picked up the keys to my new apartment in Tel Aviv and then joined a beautiful family reunion at the city’s Hayarkon Park. That day, I fell asleep in thoughtful gratitude at my cousin’s house. I was thankful for my family and that I’d had this opportunity to meet them, and to be working in Israel with marginalized communities with JDC. I was ready for a year of acquiring new skills through my time at the Joint.

 On October 7th, I awoke to red-alert notifications lighting my phone screen and sirens in the distance creeping closer and closer, until my family and I were all running to the safe room in the basement. A few hours later, we watched the news in horror, paced anxiously, and called every person we knew. We were inundated with shocking videos of people running from the Nova massacre, harrowing images from kibbutzim in the south, and terrifying rumors of kidnappings. It was dizzying how fast everything had changed.

While trudging through those first few months of war, dazed by the onslaught of information and unsure of what to do, I found myself constantly looking for ways to volunteer and help. There was a collective ache all over Israel, but its people were proving their resilience. I was astounded by how quickly everyone cleared through the smoke to come together and bring clothes, food, and other necessities to displaced people and soldiers. I felt proud to be part of this community of strength and hope, and I was grateful that these were the people I was surrounded by when this war started.

In the first weeks of the war, my friends and family at home were worried, always asking me to come back to the United States. I never felt like I needed to, and I didn’t think returning would be the right decision for me. I chose to apply for the JSC because I wanted to help my community and learn about Israel. Here I was, in Israel on October 7th, working for the leading global Jewish humanitarian organization — this was the perfect time to commit to the goals I had set for myself and to fulfill my personal sense of Jewish mutual responsibility. 

I chose to apply for the JSC because I wanted to help my community and learn more about Israel — this was the perfect time to fulfill my personal sense of Jewish mutual responsibility.

Throughout these dark and heavy months, I have been thankful to be at JDC, watching my colleagues take care of each other at the office, as well as those in need all over Israel, and learning from them. Both of my teams — Ashalim and Israel Unlimited — are so thoughtful and quick on their feet with creating new initiatives in response to the war and working with them made me has made me feel like I’ve been able to help every day. There is a constant discussion of the war, but working through it and spending every day implementing projects to help Israel’s most vulnerable people is the best way to persevere. 

The backdrop of war illuminated how tight-knit Israeli relationships are and how much love they have for their community. At JDC, this has been obvious through the effort put into relief initiatives, daily reminders of our brave colleagues on reserve duty, a hug of support, and meetings where people can take a moment to breathe and talk. In public, I noted a societal push away from stereotypical Israeli brashness in order to be more gentle and forgiving with one another. There are many small communities that are cared for here, but the people also unite to take care of, and be resilient with, all of Israel.

As the war persists, I continue to resonate with JDC and JDC Entwine’s messages, recognizing now more than ever before how vital it is that the Jewish people are a tower of strength for one another and that we continue to support each other. I pray for a swift end to the fighting, but while it continues, I am so grateful to be at JDC.

Here, I find daily inspiration in the profound impact we make possible, and by the community of people that is always extending a helping hand. 

Keren Idelman is a recent graduate of Syracuse University, where she double-majored and received a Bachelor of Music in music education and music history and cultures. Born in Israel to Russian immigrant parents, Keren was always active in her Jewish community, often through USY (United Synagogue Youth) or volunteering at her synagogue. In college, Keren was fortunate to play an active part in Hillel. She served as a member of the Syracuse Hillel Jewish Student Union executive board as well as being Israel chair and being a leader for several fellowships. Keren speaks English, Russian, Hebrew, and French. In her free time, Keren likes to hike, read, play piano, and walk her dog.

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