San Diego’s Generosity Makes an Impact in Sha’ar HaNegev

Jewish Federation of San Diego 2

In May 2023, more than 200 San Diegans traveled to Israel on Jewish Federation of San Diego’s CommUNITY Trip and spent a memorable day in San Diego’s sister region, Sha’ar HaNegev, celebrating 25 years of partnership.


Yet only a few months later in November – a small delegation of local Jewish community leaders, donors, and clergy returned to Sha’ar HaNegev during Federation’s Solidarity Mission to Israel – and it became strikingly clear that no place and no one in Sha’ar HaNegev or anywhere in Israel is untouched by the tragedy of October 7, a day many are now calling the Black Sabbath.
Signs of a country in wartime were everywhere. Trucks carrying well-used tanks on the highways. An endless sea of burnt, mangled, twisted cars that once belonged to the beautiful young people who were murdered at the Nova Music Festival. Military guarding all entrances to Sederot and all the kibbutzim in Sha’ar HaNegev. Once vibrant, peace-filled communities now empty of life, filled with grenade-blasted, bullet-riddled homes and the lingering smells of violence.

During the trip, the delegation sat and listened to stories of survivors of the massacres at kibbutzim Kfar Aza and Nahal Oz, who shared the most intimate details of their terrifying experiences.
“Their testimonies were heartbreaking, and yet, showed tremendous strength and courage. It is unimaginable what these families went through… Families with young children who endured this terrorist attack for 20 to 30 hours alone and cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no water, no food, no bathrooms,” said Debbie Kornberg.
Later, the group met with Zaka volunteers, Haredi Jews who care for the bodies of victims of terror before they are laid to rest.

“These men have seen the worst of humanity for years, and yet they were clearly, distressingly traumatized beyond measure by what they saw Hamas had done to women whose bodies they had come to care for. Such evil, it is beyond comprehension,” Federation President and CEO Heidi Gantwerk shared with GB Magazine.

It was an intense, emotional journey for all. And yet, amidst these dark and disturbing accounts, there were moments of hope, inspiration and powerful pride that helped balance the pain. Chief among them were the tangible displays San Diego’s generosity, which has already made an immeasurable impact for countless Israeli refugees.

From the more than $8 million San Diego has raised since October 7 through Federation’s Israel Emergency Response Fund, critical resources such as emergency generators to power communities whose electrical infrastructures had been destroyed, makeshift classrooms for displaced children, relocation assistance for disabled kibbutzim residents, and social/emotional support for teens have already been deployed. These efforts were only made possible because of San Diego’s dedication to supporting the people of Israel in their time of need.

The group returned home more determined than ever to help Israel and Sha’ar HaNegev rebuild. It will be a long, difficult road, but one the San Diego community has already shown it is willing to travel. This outpouring of generosity is a powerful affirmation of the trust and commitment invested in Federation by the community, and the desire to make sure “never again” starts now.
To contribute to the ongoing relief efforts in Israel or to support Federation’s mission of ensuring lasting, vibrant Jewish life in San Diego and around the world, visit

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Esteban Villanueva