Torres takes Bronx leaders on trip to Israel


It wasn’t U.S. 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 United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York, included 10 Bronx 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 and Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club president Virginia Krompinger.

One person Torres asked to join him on the trip was SAR Academy principal Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, making his fifth trip since Oct. 7, but, Krauss said, it was still an emotional and powerful experience.

“You could walk through Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and feel like everything’s normal,” 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 Bronx contingent 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, the group met with Israel defense minister Yoav Gallant, who gave a briefing on what’s going on both in the south and north. The travelers then went down south to visit Kibbutz Nir Oz, where about a quarter of 400 residents were either killed, injured, or abducted by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023. Krauss said one of the remaining residents walked the group through the houses.

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 civilians were killed and Hamas took at least 40 hostages. Two survivors from the massacre shared their stories, including who suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

Krauss said he found meeting the Kibbutz Nir Oz residents both heavy and inspiring.

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

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

Along the way, the travelers also talked to those with opposing views. The group met with 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 Western Wall for the late Joe Lieberman, a former Connecticut senator who died at his Riverdale home just a few days prior to the trip and was a champion of Israel.

Torres left Tuesday, just one day after seven World Central Kitchen aid workers were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza. He called those killed heroes and gave his 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.”

Ritchie Torres Bronx leaders Israel trip United Jewish Appeal Federation Kibbutz Nir Oz Hostages Square Israel defense minister Hamas Tribe of Nova Gaza border Mansour Abbas Yair Lapid Western Wall Joe Lieberman World Central Kitchen