Choosing Purpose over Pleasure, CYP Conclude Mission To Israel

Photos: Shalom Ross/Merkos 302

A Group of Chabad Young Professionals from across America spent their winter break traveling to Eretz Yisroel to volunteer: helping farmers, comforting families, and uplifting communities.

By Noa Amouyal/

As the sun began to set in Israel on Wednesday night, 40 young Jewish professionals from across the United States somberly walked through what was once the bucolic town of Kfar Aza, one of the devastated communities along Israel’s southern border. In the aftermath of the Oct. 7 massacre, whatever homes are left standing are stained by black smoke and riddled with bullet holes, and the pall of death looms over like an ominous cloud.

Addressing the group in front of the dilapidated buildings was Yossi Landau, a volunteer for ZAKA—the search and rescue organization responsible for ensuring that terror victims in Israel have a proper Jewish burial—who hauntingly recalled the horrors he saw that day. He spoke of finding dead families, which had been tortured and mutilated, his words often punctuated by muted cries as he attempted to collect himself.

After he finished telling his story, the crowd remained silent until one broke into song. There, among the carnage of Kfar Aza, young Jews from across the United States joined in to sing Vehi Sheamda, the confident cry of the Jewish people from the Passover Haggadah proclaiming that in every generation, G‑d will protect the Jewish people from the enemies that inevitably try to annihilate them.

The young Jewish men and women who chose to come to the scene of one of the most horrific attacks in Jewish history were part of the Chabad Young Professionals (CYP) Mission to Israel. Chabad Young Professionals (CYP) is the world’s largest network of young Jewish communities, with 218 CYP chapters serving like-minded young Jews around the world. Organized by CYP’s chapter on New York City’s Upper East Side and including people from across the country, the group spent the week focusing on providing multifaceted support to the Israeli communities devastated in the wake of the attacks.

While many people in their age range—CYP is geared at those between the ages of 22-39—are spending their winter holiday enjoying leisure and luxury, this group is dedicating their break to hands-on volunteering, psychological support, and financial aid, reflecting a profound sense of global responsibility and familial solidarity. In addition to visiting the destroyed towns of Kfar Aza and Be’eri, their jam-packed itinerary included visits to an army base, where they enjoyed a barbecue with IDF soldiers and put together care packages for soldiers, volunteering at a farm that now lacks employees since many have been called up for reserves or went back to their home countries. They also heard from parents who have lost children, met with those injured in hospitals and talked with family members of hostages.

The trip, however, required far more than just showing up. In addition to paying for airfare and accommodation, all participants were also responsible for raising $1,000 in donations that could be distributed in one of three ways: gifts and experiences for soldiers on active duty; gifts for wounded soldiers and civilians in the hospital; or funding for programming for children in the south of Israel whose fathers are at war or those who lost loved ones.

One of the participants who experienced the importance of resilience in the face of tragedy in Kfar Aza was Aaron Salter, a lawyer currently based in New Haven, Conn., who said he’s been “emotionally paralyzed” since the terrorist attack.

“When Oct. 7 happened, I knew I needed to do something to create a safe space for the New Haven area to come together,” he said.

Salter was especially disturbed by the violently anti-Israel chants he heard on the Yale University campus, which is in close proximity to his office.

“It was debilitating to work while listening to these hateful chants,” he said. “I felt powerless and felt I needed to go to Israel to do something meaningful.”

He was heartened by his law firm sponsoring a modest rally at their office, which showed him how effective it was for people who openly stood behind Israel.

Amanda Oppenheimer, of New York City’s Upper East Side, felt similarly. “Ever since Oct. 7, I’ve been struggling with everything going on and trying to figure out how I can support Israel from New York. Giving donations wasn’t enough. I felt like I was being drawn to Israel and needed to show the people there that we care about them and that they should see our dedication in person.”

The experience itself has been a rollercoaster of emotions for participants.

“We heard some tragic stories, but we also celebrated and danced with people who are alive, strong and doing so much good,” Oppenheimer shared. “We heard a story from someone whose brother was a soldier who was killed in a booby-trapped tunnel in Gaza. The young man spoke about how he showed up to his own wedding four hours late. When his father called to ask why he was late, he said he was at a hospital playing the violin for patients because, ‘It’s a happy day for me, I need to make sure this day is happy for others, too.’”

“It is in these uplifting moments that we see G‑d” she marveled. “People hit with so much tragedy can still be comforted by memories of their loss and make connections with total strangers.”

“I want to retell these stories and share them when we go back home. I want everyone to know that the Israeli people are strong; they are not broken or weak. I need people in New York to recognize their strength,” she stressed.

The mission is also an indication of a massive renewed interest in Jewish life among the Upper East Side said Rabbi Yosef Wilhelm, director of Chabad Young Professionals UES with his wife, Devora.

“Since the war broke out, Jewish life has exploded in all areas for young Jews in the community. We’re seeing them volunteer in Jewish causes and host big Shabbat dinners, but they felt it wasn’t enough. They wanted to go and help Israel,” said Wilhelm, who is leading the trip alongside his wife.

“The trip has been such a meaningful experience. They’ve seen the power of connection not just with themselves but with other Israelis as well. When they embarked on the plane, many of them were strangers. But in moments, they were hugging and singing with each other like they’re one big family. The Jewish people are one,” he added. “This is exactly what the Rebbe wanted when he sent emissaries. He knew it would be representatives from the Diaspora to the Holy Land that will help uplift communities. Ultimately, though, we came to thank the people of Israel, but they were the ones thanking us.”

‘An Incredible Jewish Awakening’

To that end, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch—the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement—explained that the ultimate purpose of this trip is to transform these young professionals into leaders of their community.

“Since Oct. 7, there’s been an incredible Jewish awakening. Participants will come back from the trip able to act as thoughtful members of their community who are passionate about giving and goodness,” he said.

The trip was spearheaded by Rachel Yamin—an Israeli resident of New York’s Upper East Side whose family on the Gaza border barely survived the Oct. 7 terror attacks.

“These trips are critically important right now,” explained Russ Krivor, a community leader at CYP Upper East Side. “First, we must show our Israeli brethren that they are not alone. Social media has been bombarding them with vitriolic ceasefire propaganda, and we must show them Diaspora Jews stand with them.”

Secondly, he said, “we must go and help the country in any way we can: assisting farmers with the fall harvest, delivering crucial supplies, writing Torah scrolls with soldiers, and supporting displaced families.”

And third, “the country’s tourism industry is reeling from a nearly unprecedented halt in visitors. Every Jew must go and support businesses in Israel at this critical time. The Rebbe always said that Israel is the safest place for a Jew.”

After spending the beginning of the week in the south, the cohort will move northward for the weekend to spend what will surely be a moving Shabbat in Neve Ilan, with Rachel Yamin’s family and other members of the Moshav currently resettled there. In constant contact with their daughter, the Yamin family conveyed the unanimous message from their Moshav residents to the U.S group: “Come! We want you to join us for whatever amount of time you can!”

Reprinted with permission from

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