ORT Board Members Bear Witness to the Aftermath of October 7 at Kfar Silver

Over the past month, ORT America National Board Members Austin Center and Bubba Urdan traveled to Israel to bear witness to the aftermath of the devastating attacks on October 7. Both visited ORT’s Kfar Silver Youth Village to show solidarity with the brave and resilient staff, teachers and students, many of whom call the school home. Read their first-hand accounts of these impactful visits.

Bubba Urdan

As a lay leader of The Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit, I was able to travel to Israel for a 48-hour Solidarity mission in December. Since speaking with Amos Gopher and Nicole Miller on the morning of October 7th, and hearing about what was happening, I was extremely anxious for the simple fact that I wasn’t there to help. Kfar Silver, being just 8 miles from the border, was in the Crosshairs of Hamas. Heroically, Amos and his team were able to get the few students, teachers, and staff left at the youth village bussed to safety later that afternoon.

Amos Gofer CEO Kfar Silver Youth Village with Bubba Urdan

My trip 3 months later was to bear witness and bring support from Federation and ORT America where I serve on the Board. With 19 other lay leaders and board members of the Jewish Federation of Detroit, a major donor to Kfar Silver, we had lunch with students and teachers and listened to their stories of the way their lives were forever changed on October 7th. It was very clear to my fellow participants that these children were smart, happy, and most important, they were safe.

But at any moment that could change. While these children were doing remarkably well, they described the anxiety that almost all of them were dealing with. There were a couple of children we met that were not as happy, those we were told had lost a family member. Counseling and mental health resources are needed for the whole State of Israel, and they will be for a long time.

But if I can leave you with something positive, while the Israeli People are hurting, they are the most resilient people I have ever met. Israel will persevere and with help from God, and the Jews, Muslims and Christians who make up the population, the people will continue to live together in peace for many years to come. Am Yisrael Chai!

Detroit Federations Israel and Overseas Committee member Betsy Heuer with students at Kfar Silver

Austin Center

This past month I had the opportunity to visit our World ORT Youth Village Kfar Silver and create an art project with the students there. We collaborated on a colorful and inspiring “Tree of Life” The inspiration and idea for this project can be traced back to a piece I was asked to create for a Kindertransport Chapel in Chattanooga Tennessee the spring of 2020, in honor of those who were saved by the Jewish Community and the Kindertransport before the Nazi’s took over.

Austin Center stands next to the finished artwork with the Kfar Silver students and staff who worked on it

I was given these words below by the donor family whose mother was saved by the Kindertransport to use for inspiration:

“Mothers’ and Fathers’, hearts heavy with the knowledge that their ‘kinder’ may one day be the only ‘seed’ to carry forward their memory and their families’ legacy. From those tiny seeds, have grown trees. Each generation giving life to roots, branches, and leaves honoring those that were lost but who never will be forgotten.”

As an artist, and working with ORT, I had the opportunity in 2022 to visit one of our International Cooperation Programs in partnership with the IRIDA Center in Thessaloniki Greece and create an art project.  Drawing from my “Tree of Life” inspiration, we created a project with the refugee women. We used our handprints as the leaves, writing our names and our families on cardboard strips in our native languages for the bark of the tree, and then our footprints as the roots.  Any women who came to the center could add their name and prints to our “Tree of Life.”

Austin Center working on the Tree of Life at Kfar Silver with students and teachers

This past month I had the opportunity to join our Students at our World ORT Kfar Silver, Youth Village and create an art project.  In carrying on the inspiration of these “Tree of Life” projects, the students and I created a “Tree of Life” using our handprints for the leaves, fingerprints as the sky and grass, and our names in our native languages as the bark of the tree. We created an inspiring and colorful “Tree of Life”, and then hung in it the Cafeteria at Kfar Silver for all to see.

JFNA and Detroit Board members visit Kfar Silver Youth Village in Israel

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