From the Bronx to Israel

Torres joins Bronxites at Oct. 7 terror sites


It wasn’t Rep. Ritchie Torres’ first trip to Israel, but it was his first since last Oct. 7.

The two-day trip, led by Torres and sponsored by the UJA Federation of New York, included 10 Bronx religious and civic leaders, who met with families of hostages and saw the devastation of Kibbutz Nir Oz firsthand.

“What I found in Israel was a deep reservoir of gratitude for the United States,” Torres said. “I went to Israel with a simple message: You are not alone.”

Travelers included Riverdale Jewish Center Rabbi Dovid Zirkind; Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club President Virginia Krompinger; and SAR’s principal, Rabbi Binyamin Krauss. Rabbi Krauss said that even though this was his fifth trip since Oct. 7, it was still an emotional and powerful experience.

“You could walk through Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and feel like everything’s normal,” Rabbi Krauss said. “The cafes are open and things like that, but then you just peel one layer. Everybody’s got a child serving or who has been serving or it’s very easy to meet someone who’s suffered loss or has a hostage in Gaza.”

Upon landing in Israel Sunday night, March 31, the group went straight to Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, where they met with families of some of the hostages and were led to an installation to simulate what it would feel like to be an Israeli hostage in a tunnel.

The next morning, they met Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, briefed them on what’s going on both in the south and north. The travelers then visited Kibbutz Nir Oz near the Gaza border down south, where about a quarter of 400 residents were either killed, injured, or abducted by Hamas on Oct. 7.

Torres said meeting affected residents was a visceral experience.

“I saw bullet markings and ashes everywhere,” he said. “I spoke to family members of hostages. I spoke to one survivor who personally knows half of the hostages in captivity, which is a level of trauma that most of us cannot even begin to fathom.”

The group later visited the Tribe of Nova music festival site, where more than 360 were killed and Hamas took at least 40 hostages. Two survivors from the massacre shared their stories.

“It was just a lot to take in and a lot to see,” Rabbi Krauss said. “But very powerful in terms of their resilience. Their motto is ‘we will dance again’.”

He said the group was about a quarter of a mile from the Gaza border and could hear the sound of conflict. He described it as unnerving.

Along the way, the travelers talked to those with opposing views, meeting leader of the United Arab List and Knesset member Mansour Abbas, as well as former Israel Prime Minister Yair Lapid, now an opposition leader.

“I have been traveling to Israel for about a decade and there is no politician in Israel who has inspired me more than Mansour Abbas,” Torres said. “He was the first Arab to enter the Israeli government, creating the most diverse government in the history of Israel. He is deeply committed to coexistence between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs.”

The trip ended with a tribute at the Kotel for the late Joe Lieberman, a former Connecticut senator who died at his Riverdale home a few days prior to the trip and was a champion of Israel.

Torres left Tuesday, one day after seven World Central Kitchen aid workers were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza. He said those killed were heroes and expressed condolences to their families.

“Israel did the right thing in apologizing and conducting a swift investigation and holding accountable those responsible for the tragedy,” Torres said. “And every country including Israel has an obligation to learn from its mistakes and apply lessons learned in order to prevent these tragedies and accidents from happening in the future.”