Noa Gerassi, the new Milwaukee community shaliach from Israel, arrived in Milwaukee with her family in mid-August.
Less than two months later, the Israeli emissary, at her temporary home in Fox Point, was up late over Shabbat, with her daughter who couldn’t sleep. Gerassi scrolled through her phone and saw the messages on a WhatsApp group for emissaries like her: Something was happening back home in Israel.
A group member, another emissary, was relaying messages from a kibbutz. The kibbutz was under attack, and the messages were a plea for help. These were the early hours of the horrific Hamas attacks over the weekend of Oct. 7, and the start of a drumbeat of pain and terrible news ever since, reaching across an ocean to Gerassi and her family.
Now, Gerassi finds herself texting with her two brothers, called up from the Israeli reserves, and feeling a tug from a part of her that wishes she was there.
But she knows she can serve in her own way from here. In fact, she advises that we all can serve, by checking on Israelis we know, and on others with connections to Israel through family and friends. We can help as individuals and as part of a larger Jewish community.
“We are all one,” she said. “I want to tell you that in the media, we see these horrible pictures and videos, but on my social media, through my friends, I can see an amazing picture of Israeli society. We are coming together.”
The politics dividing Israeli society has been set aside, she said.
Gerassi cautions that while the world has been generally supportive of Israel so far, the reality is that that can change. She suggests that we can all remember to be supportive of the Jewish people on social media, if Israel should be criticized when she defends herself in the future. We can donate to help, find ways to join with organized efforts and stay in touch, she said.
Gerassi is living and working in the Milwaukee area, with her husband and children here, as part of a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
It was little more than a week ago that she stood before the congregation at Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Glendale, to speak on the Yom Kippur war, 50 years later. Some have drawn comparisons to that conflict, when Israeli intelligence is said to have faltered, and the nation was caught by surprise.
She noted there are differences between then and now. But Israel did rally and overcome its obstacles.
“This is our time to be united,” she said. “I’m devastated. I’m hurt. I’m worried. I’m happy to feel support and the way that the community here has reacted, because it feels like we are one people.”
She has posted names and faces of those lost to her social media; she doesn’t want them to just be numbers.
“I’m looking for personal stories to understand more,” she said. “This is my way to connect.”
But she also notes: “Israeli society is so small that this has affected everyone.”
At the local Solidarity Gathering for Israel on Monday, Oct. 9, Gerassi spoke on her husband’s second cousin, Ophir Testa, 25, who served in the Israeli Armored Forces.
“He grew up in north Jerusalem and studied at the Yeshiva High School,” Gerassi said at the event, adding that he did a gap year before military service to be equipped with good values.
“This morning, his family was informed that Ophir was killed when terrorists infiltrated his unit outpost on the Gaza border. May his memory be for a blessing.”