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“We Leave Nobody Behind”

Some special visitors to Perth this weekend provided some much needed optimism and positive energy.  Our visitors were the most inspiring and heroic Israeli representatives to visit Perth for some time, and they will return to Israel having accomplished far more than simply delivering “chizzuk” to the Perth Jewish community. 

Col(res) Golan Vach heads one of Israel’s most admired and important of the Israel Defence Force, the IDF National Rescue Unit.  He was accompanied by Rabbi Ilan Goldman, a Bnei Akiva educator and former Shaliach, and Educational Director at Mibereshit.

Together Col. Golan and Rav Ilan lead a very unique Aliyah program called Israela.  The program is a revolutionary “group aliyah” concept.  Starting in Latin America and then expanding to the Spanish and French communities of Europe, the program has settled hundreds of families into Israel with a 98% success rate.

It is with great pride that the Perth Jewish community has formed an Israela “garin”, where a group of families will make Aliyah together later this year.  They will collectively choose a destination community, be supported into residency, and be paired with host families.  For 18 months they will receive absorption support, professional assistance and community integration.

The Jewish community of Perth is one of only two Anglo communities in the Diaspora (the other being Manchester, England) with a current Israela group, however many more will follow.  In the wake of the 7 October massacre Israel anticipates that more than a million Jewish people from around the world will emigrate to Israel.  It is the community driven infrastructure such as Israela that can drive much of the innovation required to guide this newly invigorated kibbutz galuyot (ingathering of exiles).

To respect the privacy of the families involved in the Perth Israela, publicity regarding the participants is withheld at this stage.  However, the convenors have invited contact from prospective olim considering joining the initiative. 

Colonel Golan Vach

Colonel Golan Vach, founder and leader of the IDF’s famed National Search and Rescue Unit, has been at the forefront of some of the most challenging disaster rescue and humanitarian aid missions around the world.  Across several public addresses and to students at Carmel School, Col. Golan presented on some of his missions and an account of his more recent action in Gaza.

Golan lives in Beit Rimon, a kibbutz in the lower Galil, and commutes to wherever he is needed.  This week he is travelling from Perth to Melbourne (via Brisbane thanks to Tay tay fans), Sydney, Chicago and Toronto.  Unless disaster strikes and Israel mobilises its emergency field hospitals.  

The IDF National Rescue Unit of the Home Front operates search and rescue missions, aiding in rescue and recovery from terror attacks, floods, earthquakes and other disasters.  He has led dozens of missions including emergency work in Mexico, Haiti, Albania, the Philippines, and at the Surfside condo collapse in Florida where many lives were saved.  He spoke with passion about the rescue mission in Turkey a year ago for which his bravery was recognised and awarded by the Turkish President. 

Through his career as a first responder, saving lives, and building survivor connections, the process of disaster recovery transcends every aspect of national and cultural identity.  Although he does mention that he is not always greeted on arrival without initial scepticism from people who perceive Israeli’s as aggressors, their only exposure to Israel via media coverage. 

Golan then juxtaposed his life work with that of his experiences of the past few months of service in Gaza. 

His interview in Jewish Action magazine captures his words:

The first site we went to was the site of the Supernova outdoor music festival, next to Kibbutz Re’im, where more than 260 people were massacred. That night was the longest and the toughest; it was the most terrifying night I have ever experienced. The terrorists had set cars on fire—and they were still on fire when we got there. It was surreal. Just that morning we were celebrating Simchat Torah, and that night we found ourselves walking among fires and extracting the remains of dozens of young people.

Subsequently, we went through the kibbutzim: Be’eri and Kfar Aza. I will not go into details. I will just say that this was a barbaric massacre.

I do, however, want to make an important point: The soldiers, volunteer security teams of the kibbutzim (Kitat Konenut), police officers and even ordinary civilians stormed into the fire, some of them without ammunition, to stop the terrorists with their bare hands. I saw emergency squads with their pistols emptied out. I saw heroism at the highest level.

This video also captures his service in the aftermath of the massacre:

In early November, deep within Gaza, Golan encountered a unique mission.  He was talking about their activity, digging in the mud to extract bones which were subsequently tested so that the fallen of Israel can be identified and buried. 

Golan was serving alongside his friend Sergeant Major Yossi Hershkovitz. Yossi started singing a new tune he had composed to comfort himself within Gaza.  The lyrics are from King David’s words in psalm 23:

גַּם כִּי אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת

לֹא אִירָא רָע כִּי אַתָּה עִמָּדִי

Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death

I will not fear for you are with me.

Just days later Yossi was attacked and killed inside Gaza.  Golan was able to remember the tune and preserve it for the Hershkovitz family.

Guitar in hand, Golan sang the song to us, our Perth community joining in whilst the hairs on the back of my neck bristled with the sadness and pride of the predicament of the defenders of Israel. 

The Hershkovitz family have now produced a video of Yossi’s melody that they have sung in his memory which I implore you to take a few minutes to listen to.

Read more about this story and link to the video on or watch the song below:

During a Shabbat talk, Golan recounted the unfolding of the massacre on Simchat Torah, and how he was told early in the scenario that he would be spending Chanukah in Gaza.  Encapsulating the mood across Israel he reflected on the political division that had preceded the massacre, and how insignificant some of these internal cultural differences now seemed.  “We had a wake up call” he said.  “One minute we are fighting over a mechitzah on yomtov, and the next we are standing together to defend our State, religious and secular, Jew and Bedouin, old and young, seventh generation Israelis and olim chadashim.” 

The talk prompted discussion regarding the Jewish awakening in Israel.  It is an infusion of a national identity where ancient ideas, texts and traditions are being revitalised with a contemporary expression.  In a religious sense it is obvious to many (but not all) Jews that the miracles and protections extended to our modern State are the work of our creator, but it is also not necessary to enforce observance as each and every person in Israel has an individual pathway to their relationship with their heritage and G-d. 

There is little positive about the Gaza war, but we are still in the midst of a military campaign.  The longer-term implications seem to have already stirred and ignited the irrepressible optimism of all Israel.  Whilst Hamas attacked Israel with genocidal intent, Israel responds with resolve.  Israel has rediscovered how to foster its unity and build its nation with purpose.  This may lead to a new political landscape, even greater economic innovation, resurgent Aliyah and a regeneration of daily living that is naturally infused with Jewish tradition and belief.     

Perhaps we are more broadly discovering that Judaism is not a religion with an historical connection to a land and a culture, albeit that much of the rest of the world chooses to see us that way.  Israel is a Jewish nation, and the components of land (Eretz Yisrael), ethnicity and ethos (Am Yisrael), and religion (Torat Yisrael) are all equally and indivisibly infused.  It is this unique identity that distinguishes Israel from all other nations.

It is this awakening and realisation that is shaking Israel through its current massive and existential Gaza campaign.  Israel is changing fast, and for the better.  The Diaspora has yet to come to terms with this, due in no short measure to having our attention and scarce resources directed towards reactively responding to an unmasked resurgence of anti-Semitism.  We have yet to realise what is happening amidst the Jewish world in which we are immersed.

It is only through the daily connection to our Israeli emissaries – our Shlichim, or daily conversations with friends and family in Israel, and visitors such as Golan and his colleague Ilan, that we catch a glimpse of the true bravery, courage and triumph that has followed the horror of October 7.  But even more, where this will actually take Israel and the Jewish people in the aftermath.

Both Golan and Ilan are extraordinary people who encapsulate the virtues and ideals of Israel.  Their experience is that of Jewish unity in a very practical sense and their brief visit left a legacy of hope, strength and love. 

Whether they are saving lives through emergency response (the genuine definition of humanitarian aid), or pursuing the elimination of terrorism on Israel’s doorstep, or supporting their people in the Diaspora to return home, or collecting the corpses of the fallen, they have a resolve and determination.  Golan defines this mission with absolute clarity – “We will leave nobody behind.”

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