Epstein Hillel School students at the Community Walk for Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

Epstein Hillel School leads effort to help kibbutz rise from the ashes of Hamas attack

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Epstein Hillel School leads effort to help kibbutz rise from the ashes of Hamas attack

Epstein Hillel School students at the Community Walk for Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

On Dec.10, approximately 175 people gathered in Marblehead for a charity walk to raise money for Kibbutz Nahal Oz, a community near the Gaza Strip that was targeted by the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7.

Sponsored by Epstein Hillel School, the walk began at Devereux Beach and continued in a 1.5-mile loop around Marblehead Neck. Walkers of all ages included current EHS families, alumni families, members of the North Shore Jewish community, and supporters from around Greater Boston.

Eva Mintz-Bacon is an EHS parent who participated in the walk along with her three children and their dog. “I have always tried my best to imbue a strong Jewish identity and a love of Israel into my children’s lives,” she said. “At the walk, I watched these values come to life … With each step they took, my children were determined to help restore the beautiful Kibbutz Nahal Oz and also determined to rebuild a sense of peace in their own Jewish lives.”

The walk was the culmination of a two-month-long effort by Epstein Hillel School to raise awareness about Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip and support Kibbutz Nahal Oz as residents prepare to rebuild. Nahal Oz is a 70-year-old kibbutz just half a mile from the border with Gaza. On Oct. 7, the Hamas attackers killed 14 residents of the kibbutz and kidnapped five, including two young children and one elderly woman. The terrorists destroyed communal buildings, homes, and the farms and agriculture that the kibbutz relies on for income. The kibbutz residents have been relocated until it is safe to go home. It’s still unknown when that time will be.

There is a personal connection between the North Shore Jewish community and Kibbutz Nahal Oz. In July 2023, Amy Gold, EHS head of school, and Hebrew and Jewish studies teacher Miri Sharon visited the kibbutz as part of a Jewish National Fund educational leadership trip. Gold and Sharon toured Nahal Oz and learned from Ofir Libstein z”l, who was the mayor of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Libstein worked tirelessly to create meaningful partnerships between the Israeli communities in the Negev and their Palestinian neighbors in Gaza. He was actively working on projects that would provide jobs for Palestinians as well as renewable energy resources for the people in Gaza.

Libstein was killed on Oct. 7 while defending his kibbutz community from the terrorists. In late November, it was announced that a new town in Israel’s Negev region will be named “Ofir” in Libstein’s memory.

Upon hearing the inconceivable news out of Israel on Oct. 7 and learning that Libstein was killed, Gold and Sharon decided that the Epstein Hillel community had to spring into action to help Israel, and specifically the Negev region.

“The first piece had to be education,” said Sharon. “In order for our community to help, they had to understand who they were helping and why it was important.”

For this purpose, EHS held an educational forum on Nov. 7. Nearly 100 came to hear guest speaker Zohar Vloski, Israel Defense Forces Lieutenant Colonel (Reserve) and Global Executive Director of Zionist Education at JNF. Vloski shared what life is like living in the kibbutzim of the Negev region and talked about his dear friend Ofir Libstein’s life and legacy.

The event also introduced the community to Kibbutz Nahal Oz through a video message from kibbutz member Naomi. She shared that on Oct. 6, the night before the attacks, the entire kibbutz was rehearsing for its 70th anniversary celebration performance, which was slated for Saturday evening.

Just hours later, all dreams of that celebration were destroyed. “We are shattered and heartbroken and trying the best we can to repair our hearts and souls and bodies from the damage and the catastrophe that we endured. We still have a long way to go,” said Naomi.

Following that educational event, Epstein Hillel School launched its fund-raising campaign to help Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Since then, the campaign – combined with the community walk on Dec. 10 – has raised $15,000 for the kibbutz, far exceeding the original $7,000 goal.

“I’m so proud of EHS and our North Shore Jewish community for stepping up to help this kibbutz in Israel,” said Gold. “There is now a strong bond between our community and theirs. We will continue to send them our support and our wishes for resilience and strength for the long and challenging road they have ahead as they rebuild and hopefully return to their homes soon.” Θ

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