The Jewish People – Am Yisrael – is reeling from the unspeakable horrors that unfolded on Simchas Torah. 

The unprovoked pogrom on thousands of our brethren, has also created a resurgence of antisemitism and various levels of danger and uncertainty for Jews the world over.

In particular, the Jewish people who live in the holy land of Eretz Yisrael are facing security challenges that were hoped to be a relic of the past.

We Jews know that Hashem is with us. 

It is one thing to express faith and belief from the distance, outside of Israel, in places that we consider generally safe please G‑d.

It is a totally different experience, staying faithful and fortified in the holy land of Israel as they faces multiple threats may Hashem protect us.

I write to you as a fellow Jew who has just returned from a deeply emotional visit to Israel. 

My colleagues and I from Chabad of Thailand, paid a solidarity visit to Israel earlier this week. 

What is the mood in Israel right now?

I would like to share with some of my experiences.

First of all, upon landing in Israel at 4:30 AM – the much shorter flight-time being a product of the Abrahamic Accords and the permission of Saudi Arabia to fly over its airspace - we were met with a much emptier airport than usual.

Going outside to get a taxi feels strange. I usually rent a car, but in order to cram our ambitious schedule into the thirty-six hours that we have available, before we rush back to our Bangkok solidarity event, we have hired a driver. He will pick us up later in the morning from Kfar Chabad, so for now it’s a taxi.

It's disconcertingly quiet.

I try to think what is missing. 

It’s a combination of the honking of horns, yelling of irate drivers, clouds of smoke from smokers who have been waiting to get outside the airport to light up, hugs and shouts of delight and loved ones reunite. 

All of that is missing.

In its place is an atmosphere of down-to-earth practicality.

The taxi driver matter-of-factly asks, ‘where are you going?’ ‘To Kfar Chabad’ we respond. ‘Let me take you’. None of the usual haggling on the price or complaining about such a close destination. Just a feeling of kinship. A fellow Jew, a typical Israeli taxi driver who is taking three fellow Jews, to Kfar Chabad. 

As we drive through a police checkpoint at the entrance of Kfar Chabad the driver exclaims, ‘there has never been a checkpoint here before’.

Grabbing a quick bite on the benches outside the local grocery store in Kfar Chabad, we noticed a soldier with a weapon. Unusual for a village like Kfar Chabad in the center of Israel.

Our offers to put on Tefilin fall on receptive ears wherever we go. Even those who decline do so respectfully. 

Something seems different. 

There is an aura of camaraderie and respect.

A very strong pervading sense of unity.

We get into our van and travel down south to Ofakim. A bustling city of close to 40,000 residents. They suffered sixty or more deaths at the hands of the terrorists on Simchas Torah day. Our counterpart, the Chabad rabbi of Ofakim is very happy to see us. He is still in mourning from the loss of a daughter several years ago, and a young married son a few weeks ago. He was emotionally ill equipped to deal with the terror that unfolded that morning. 

When we ask him how can we help, he overlooks his own personal needs, and pleads with us to find donors to help him finish his Synagogue building. 

He insists we visit his bustling soup kitchen which is the apple of his eye as it provides nutrition to hundreds of people every day. 

With the Rabbi Hershkovitz of Ofakim, in the soup kitchen/now food distribution center

We pledge to try and find support.

Our next stop is to pick up an armed guard as we are about to enter the Gaza periphery area. The Chabad rabbi at one of the southern villages joins us to accompany us to the army base he visits frequently at the Gazan border. 

The IDF rabbi of the base meets us at the front gate. He is proud to tell Rabbi Wilhelm that he receives his weekly parsha video in Hebrew. He instructs his assistant to escort us as we visit with the soldiers, laying Tefilin with them, distributing army colored Tzizit and handing out pocket size Tehilim books (Psalms) that we had printed especially for distribution.

Distributing tzizit to the soldiers, with words of thanks and encouragement written on the back.

It is uplifting and heartening to see how nearly every soldier wants these religious items with them at this critical time. Tzizit are in high demand. Laying Tefilin is very popular. And carrying a holy book of Tehillim is treated with much respect. 

Without warning, standing there right near the training area, a young soldier came running over to me and gave me the hug of a lifetime. Tears of emotion filled my eyes. D. was a boy I had taught for his Barmitzvah here in Thailand. He was now in an elite army unit.

  Hug of a lifetime from my — now grown up — Bar Mitzvah student from Thailand

D. proudly put on Tefilin, sharing with his friends that I had been his Bar Mitzvah teacher and then was able to call his parents in Bangkok with a friend’s phone. He told them ‘I have a surprise for you, turn on your camera’. When D’s parents saw me they choked up with emotion and his mother said ‘D, you remember I was telling you just yesterday about Hashem's Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence), this is what I meant’. 

It was a moment of reassurance from Above that Hashem is with us and while He is often concealed, He also injects moments and experiences where He allows Himself to be revealed.


Rabbi Nechemya Wilhelm bumps into S. a reserves soldier he knows from his recent visit to Bangkok’s Chabad House.

S. and the rabbi reminisce about the intense discussion they had a few months ago about creating a movement for Unity in Israel. S. who is an assistant to one of the politicians who is more left and less religious in his views, was seeking to find ways to emphasize the unity between him and those who are more right and more religious in their views. 

Rabbi Nechemya and S. now look at each other and say ‘do you remember that conversation?’ and together they respond ‘it is no longer needed’.

This is the feeling that pervades Israel right now.

Yes, there is an atmosphere of unity.

Right, left, religious, not so religious, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, all of these label’s fade away morphing into the oneness of our people – Am Yisrael – a singular nation. 

Our next stop is paying a visit to a Shiva house in Ashkelon.

Should we follow Waze from Ofakim to Ashkelon or should the driver follow his knowledge of Israel and go via Netivot. In the end Waze wins. Only later in the day do we hear that a barrage of rockets from Gaza fell on Netivot and badly injured a driver in his car. 

The mourners in Ashkelon are mourning their seventy-year-old father. He had visited Thailand several months ago and his family said he shared how uplifting the Shabbat meals at the Chabad House were. The family was touched that rabbi’s from Thailand had stopped by to comfort them.

From there we went to participate at the final shiva prayers of a girl in her twenties who had been feared abducted from the party in Re’im and was later found murdered. T. had participated in one of the Jewish awareness seminars that Chabad runs in Bangkok. Rabbi Nechemya had become friendly with the family and helped them welcome T. back home as she reintegrated into living back at home after a long period of traveling. 

Having Rabbi Nechemya at the ceremony was deeply meaningful to the family and he shared very poignant and touching remarks to the hundreds assembled.

From there we went to an army base in the center of Israel where reservists serve alongside full time army people. We provided a delicious barbeque dinner for all (Thank you Shneur Wolf for superb catering). For the young soldiers who are away from home and the comforts of home cooking this was very much appreciated. We brought Ofir and Shachar with us. Ofir and Shachar are former backpackers through Thailand who are a magnificent duo of music playing and singing. The meaningful songs they performed were followed by words of inspiration that I was honored to deliver. 

Shachar is a very giving person. He has spent the majority of the last few weeks in the excruciating Chevra Kadisha – Holy burial Society – work. The gruesome sights he has seen are beyond description. Yet, notwithstanding his physical and emotional exhaustion, when we told him we needed him to uplift and inspiring soldiers and fellow Jews, he asked his wife permission and came right over to sing. 

Incredibly, he told me about the resilience of our people as he has been invited to sing at several chupah's during these past two weeks. Marriages that took place in the shadow of the tanks as the young groom has been called up to serve in the IDF. 

By 11pm it was time to call it a night and I headed over to our daughter’s apartment in Rehovot for some rest and bonding time with our daughter and grandkids thank G‑d.

I was fortunate that during the one night I slept in Israel, there were no rockets that fell in Rehovot, and I didn’t have to rush downstairs to the basement shelter as millions of residents have had to do in the last few weeks many times.

The kids that during my previous visits always woke up at dawn, slept in till nearly 8 am. The two weeks with no school due to the rockets falling, had altered their sleep pattern. 

The light in their eyes when my daughter told the two older ones (aged 4 and 5) that they have kindergarten, told me everything about the difficulty and disruption that this war has wreaked on the lives of the average citizen in Israel.

Later in the morning we visited wounded soldiers in a Tel Aviv hospital guided by the Chabad rabbi who serves as a beacon of light and assistance at that hospital.

The lady at the front desk of the ward heard that we were from Thailand and exclaimed that in 1994 she had visited with us in Thailand and on that trip, we had asked her to visit some Israeli prisoners who were in jail here. It was heartwarming to get that ‘welcome’ from someone who had experienced Chabad in Thailand during the very early years.

The soldiers we visited had been critically wounded and received lifesaving treatment at the hospital. They were at various stages of recovery. 

The elderly mother of one of the soldiers who tragically lost a leg came over to us with a request. She would like to establish a fund for helping birthing mothers care for their newborn infants in honor of her son’s speedy recovery. What a touching response to a dreadful injury. 

We pledged to help.

Nearly all of the wounded that we visited told us that they had been hosted by Chabad of Thailand for a Shabbat or Holiday meal.

It was uplifting for me to see that wherever we went during our trip, the name ‘Chabad of Thailand’ brought smiles to people’s faces as they reminisced about their visits to Thailand and the special moments of Jewish unity and joy that they had experienced as guests at our Shabbat tables. 

It was amazing to see how over thirty years we have been blessed to host so many of our brothers and sisters and create meaningful Jewish experiences and moments in their lives.

Even with a security blur the joy of reconnecting with Rav Nechemya of Bangkok clearly shows

Clearly, Chabad of Thailand’s work is highly impactful in connecting people to their true inner Jewish identity. These interactions filled me with even more inspired determination to keep the doors of the existing Chabad Houses open. It highlighted the unifying power of hosting complimentary Shabbat and holiday meals for all who would like to join. It motivates me to try to open even more Chabad Houses. So that more and more people can have the unique Jewish experience of ‘home away from home’ at Chabad of Thailand.

Our visit to an outdoor psychological trauma center that has been set up for survivors of the party at Re’im highlighted how much trauma counselling is needed right now in Israel. People have been exposed to sheer barbarism that cannot be comprehended and it is critical that therapeutic counseling be provided. 

A visit to a hotel in Jerusalem highlighted the plight of those who have been displaced from their homes in the attack areas. As well as in the north of Israel. People have left their homes, some with nothing but themselves, as everything they owned was burned to a crisp.

Who can fathom the pain of being uprooted and displaced by the evil atrocities carried out by Hamas on that fateful day nearly three weeks ago.

We had sent out a memo to some of our contacts in Israel, about a small reunion gathering we would host in Kfar Chabad before we headed off to our flight to Thailand.

We didn’t really know if anyone would come. We were pleasantly surprised. With almost no advance notice, nearly one hundred guests came to greet us. Unanimously they thanked us for coming to visit Israel and said that it provided them comfort and strength. Through their visits to Thailand, they have become close friends and many of them look to the rabbi’s of Chabad of Thailand for spiritual and moral guidance.


We shared our thoughts. 

Rabbi Ashkenazi related how it was deeply inspiring to see the people of Israel living in a state of heightened spiritual awareness during this trying time. Living as they are with ‘mesirut nefesh’ it is almost like the country’s populace are at the height of the Yom Kippur experience, albeit during the mundane days our current calendar date.

Rabbi Wilhelm emphasized how very special it was to see the unity that pervades the people of Israel right now.

I shared how much I respect and look up to the people of Israel who are living in Israel. They are true tzadikim. Each and every one of them. 

Though these are difficult times, people in Israel are living with optimism, hope and most of all a pragmatic approach of not ‘what will be’ but ‘what can we do’. People helping people. Appreciating the gifts of what we do have and trying not to focus on what we don’t have.

I felt strengthened and inspired. 

The microphone was then passed around and many participants shared their feelings, their horror stories as well as the miraculous stories of survival. 

Ofir and Shachar performed here as well, with inspirational and prayerful songs. 

I sensed even before I got onto the plane that I would be inspired by my visit to Israel but I had no idea of just how deeply I would be impacted and inspired.

In one word:

AM YISRAEL CHAI – we, the Jewish People are alive. Our Father in Heaven has promised that we are his ‘firstborn son’. 

There is a real feeling of inner fortitude and strength among our people in Israel. The morale of our forces strong. No one knows exactly what the future holds but we believe in the words of King David that 'Hashem the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps'. 

There is a hopeful optimism that please G‑d things will be good.

May G‑d bless Israel. 

May G‑d bless our soldiers. 

May G‑d protect every Jew living in Israel, and may He protect all innocent people, the world over. 

We pray and implore for the return of 200+ of our brethren in captivity. 

We must not rest until these innocent and pure peace-loving people are returned home safe and sound to their families and loved ones

May G‑d give our leaders the wisdom and courage to do what they need to do to protect our people and our homeland. 

May we all have the moral clarity and courage to be outraged by evil and intoxicated by good.

Let us unite as we unleash powerfully unstoppable good into the world. 

May Hashem bless us with peace and security. 

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS This is but a brief report of my visit. 

Should you wish to participate in the causes that Chabad of Thailand is supporting in Israel please respond to this email or click here.