Orthodox Union Lay Leadership Mission to Israel Highlights OU’s Critical Impact Nationwide

Since the horrific atrocities of October 7, OU Israel has served as a leading source of physical, emotional, and spiritual chizuk for thousands of traumatized Israelis of all ages. From citizens who have tragically lost loved ones, to evacuees forced to flee their homes, to families with members in Tzahal, to olim experiencing war for the first time, to youth from underprivileged towns in Israel’s periphery, OU Israel is unwavering in its commitment to provide front line care to all of these populations and more.

In solidarity with the State of Israel, its citizens, and OU Israel leadership and staff, 21 Orthodox Union board members recently participated in a four-day lay leadership mission to Israel. The trip presented an opportunity for them to connect with, and offer chizuk to, those directly impacted by the war; to gain meaningful insight into the conflict and its post-war implications; to exchange ideas with Israeli leadership; to draw inspiration from gedolim, politicians, activists, Israeli citizens and chayalim; and to experience and observe OU activities in Israel and connect with staff and constituents.

“Since October 7, the OU leadership’s continual visits, including this most recent mission, have warmed the hearts of all of the OU Israel staff,” says OU Israel Executive Director Rabbi Avi Berman. “Having OU New York’s backing empowers us to act and to be successful in our areas of expertise. On a national level, the OU’s professional and lay leaders’ repeated trips to Israel are noticed and respected by Israeli politicians. They underscore that, as an organization, we’re not simply sitting on the other side of the Atlantic, voicing our opinions during a time of war. We’re here, we’re acting, and we’re making a major impact.”

OU President Mitch Aeder said the mission was designed to offer OU leadership a more personal and profound understanding of Israel's wartime landscape and the complex issues it faces.

“By curating a diverse lineup of speakers and activities, we aimed to provide a multifaceted experience that would challenge perspectives, foster empathy, and inspire action,” he says. “We wanted our participants to engage in meaningful conversations with changemakers, grapple with the realities on the ground, and ultimately, leave with a deeper appreciation of Israel's complexities and a renewed sense of purpose in their roles as advocates and leaders within the OU community. At the same time, we wanted to expose the group to the range of OU programs in Israel and the passionate professionals who lead them.”

OU National Vice President Esti Kaminetzky participated in the mission with her husband Binyamin. The Kaminetzkys were in Israel on Simchat Torah, and this was their second trip back since October 7. Esti says they were truly astounded by the scope of OU’s work in Israel.

“OU Israel does far more than we could possibly have imagined,” she says. “The team runs an array of programming geared to help youth, current refugees, seniors and others. The mission enabled us to actually meet the OU Israel staff — including the therapists and counselors — behind the programs, and to see their passion, dedication and achievements firsthand.”

Organized by OU Israel and OU Headquarters in New York, the wide-ranging itinerary included a tour of Har Herzl’s Heichal HaZikaron National Memorial Hall for Israel’s Fallen and Machlaka Chadasha (new division), led by World Zionist Organization Chairman Yaakov Hagoel; a visit with wounded soldiers at Ra’anana’s Loewenstein Hospital, Israel’s largest rehab center; an art activity with families of Lod’s Kitat Konnenut (local rapid-response team); and a stop at the Rambam’s Kever in Tveria to daven Mincha. In Tveria, the contingent also ran a carnival for evacuated children, sponsored by OU National Vice President Eli and Raizy Levitin.

In the South, participants met with Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi and MK Hili Tropper;

visited Sderot’s police station and chamal (situation room); and toured the Nova music festival site, where they heard the harrowing story of Asaf Aharon, a 26-year-old security guard from Beit Shemesh, who miraculously survived the massacre.

“Each person we met made the experience beyond memorable and was inspirational in their own right,” says Esti. “Mayor Davidi described the horrible events of October 7 and his current efforts to continue to serve his constituents who are now dispersed as refugees throughout Israel. He also casually mentioned that he learns Daf Yomi and five perakim of Tanach daily, and completes Tehillim three times weekly. I was awed by the fact that he makes time for so many of these holy pursuits amid his incredibly overwhelming schedule.”

A day trip to the North included a visit to Tziporit, one of two Tzahal bases in Israel that specialize in maintaining the standards of kavod ha’met for fallen soldiers.

“The strength of the Tziporit soldiers at the ‘Chevrah Kadisha of the North’, remains with me when I go to sleep and wake up,” says Esti. “They are proudly doing Hashem’s work, b’simcha. Experiences like these fill me with hakaras hatov to be part of the OU leadership and to have participated in this mission.”

Participants of the OU Lay Leadership Mission to Israel with President Isaac Herzog

A chayelet addresses mission participants at Har Herzl's Heichal HaZikaron National Memorial Hall for Israel’s Fallen

Nova music festival survivor Asaf Aharon shares his story at Nova with mission participants

OU Israel Executive Director Rabbi Avi Berman, OU Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph, and OU National Vice President Eli Levitin dancing with chayalim at Tziporit army base