Little Rock rabbi back from trip to Israel

Rabbi Barry Block volunteered to do agricultural work while in Israel last month, helping to prune tomatoes.
(Courtesy photo)
Rabbi Barry Block volunteered to do agricultural work while in Israel last month, helping to prune tomatoes. (Courtesy photo)

Little Rock Rabbi Barry Block traveled to Israel last month, meeting with survivors of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and showing solidarity with fellow Reform Judaism leaders.

Block, who serves at Congregation B'nai Israel, also visited family members during the trip.

Hamas' killing of 1,200 people, most of them civilians, has left scars on the land and its people.

Those who were attacked were living within the internationally recognized borders of Israel, he noted.

"The whole country is traumatized in a way that's going to take decades and maybe generations to recover," Block said. "Just about everyone in Israel knows somebody who was killed or injured and, if not, they're a maximum of one degree of separation away."

"Because these were people living inside Israel proper -- I really want to emphasize this -- not in occupied territory, frankly there's a sense that the government and the army were not there where they should have been to protect them," he said.

When Hamas breached the border, they were able to travel, often unimpeded, into Israeli villages.

"There's a lot of evidence that the [Israeli Defense Forces] brigades were moved away from Gaza to the West Bank because of the nature of the current government that's so strongly in support of ... settlements in occupied West Bank, including settlements that were established illegally," Block said.

During his visit, he met with parents who had lost sons on Oct. 7 as well as survivors of the attacks.

Hamas not only killed 1,200 people but they also kidnapped roughly 250 people, including at least 10 Americans, according to news reports.

One U.S. citizen, a 4-year-old girl, was released on Sunday. Another American was reportedly released Thursday.

"There are more American citizens held hostage right now than at any time since Jan. 20, 1981, when the hostages were freed from Tehran," he said.

Block was one of several leaders of the Central Conference of American Rabbis making a pastoral visit to Israel. The Arkansan is the group's vice president of organizational relationships.

While there, he also did a little farm work.

"I spent a few hours pruning and gleaning in a tomato hothouse," Block said.

Average Israelis have stepped up to complete agricultural tasks that might otherwise go undone, he said.

"When they're not working [they're] volunteering," he said. "The whole society is mobilized in support of Israelis who are suffering."

"The Israeli people have stepped into the breach left by their government," he said.

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