Initiative pairs Pittsburgh with displaced Israeli community
Israel at WarAid from afar

Initiative pairs Pittsburgh with displaced Israeli community

'The whole kibbutz is in one hotel in Eilat, and they’ve been there since Oct 8. You can imagine how miserable it is'

A hotel room occupied by displaced residents of Nir Yitzhak. (Photo courtesy of Kim Salzman)
A hotel room occupied by displaced residents of Nir Yitzhak. (Photo courtesy of Kim Salzman)

An Israeli community displaced by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack is getting some help from Pittsburghers.

The financial assistance — $250,000 each year for the next three years — is thanks to Communities2Gether, a program organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Building off the Partnership2Gether model, Communities2Gether pairs U.S. and Canadian cities with kibbutzim and communities displaced after Oct. 7.

Pittsburgh was matched with Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in the Gaza Envelope in the western Negev desert. Nir Yitzhak’s 600 residents have experienced extreme hardship since Hamas’ attack, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Adam Hertzman said.

“The whole kibbutz is in one hotel in Eilat, and they’ve been there since Oct 8. You can imagine how miserable it is,” Hertzman said. “There’s a lot of large families living in one- or two-bedroom hotel rooms. They have been away from their homes the entire time because it isn’t safe.”

Nearly 600 residents of Nir Yitzhak have had to relocate to a hotel in Eilat since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. (Photo courtesy of Kim Salzman)

Daniel Lanternari, his wife and their three children, 15, 12 and 9, have been displaced since Oct. 7.

Lanternari, 48, told Vatican News about the events of Oct. 7.

“We heard the sirens and locked ourselves in the safe room, where we stayed for several hours,” he said. “When things calmed down a bit, I took my oldest son to the bathroom, and from the window, I saw about 15 terrorists entering from the kibbutz’s entrance, not from the direction of the Gaza Strip. No one expected the terrorists to arrive in cars; we thought they would come on foot from the direction of the Strip. Instead, they entered right through the kibbutz gate where my house is located … I just watched them because I couldn’t believe it was real. Only when they began drilling into our houses and shooting with Kalashnikovs, did I snap
out of the movie I was watching.”

Multiple casualties occurred, according to The Times of Israel and Haaretz.

Along with an IDF soldier, two members of Nir Yitzhak’s security team were killed on Oct. 7. An additional four members of the kibbutz, who were initially assumed captive, were determined to be killed on Oct. 7.

Seven residents were abducted. Among those taken were an elderly couple who, after being escorted on foot toward the Gaza Strip, defiantly told Hamas terrorists they refused to go farther. The couple was immediately released. Three female residents taken on Oct. 7 were released on Nov. 28 during a prisoner exchange. Two male captives, also taken by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, were freed by IDF soldiers during a Feb. 12 operation in Rafah.

The partnership between Pittsburgh and Nir Yitzhak is “about helping them rebuild,” Kim Salzman, Federation’s director of Israel & Overseas Planning & Impact, told the Chronicle.

“The morale right now is awful,” Hertzman said. “People have lost their livelihoods because they are in Eilat and they cannot work.”

Established in 1949 on arid soil, Nir Yitzhak was transformed into a fertile space teeming with agriculture, livestock and poultry.

The kibbutz’s current state is questionable.

On the morning of Oct. 7, Nir Yitzhak was “defended by this old brave group of kibbutzniks, and it was not burned to the ground like a lot of other kibbutzim, but you can imagine what a community that has more or less been abandoned for eight months looks like now,” Hertzman said.

Since the attack, volunteers have fed and milked the cows, along with restoring electricity, Voice of America reported.

Kim Salzman, bottom left, visits members of Nir Yitzhak at a hotel in Eilat. (Photo courtesy of Kim Salzman)

Salzman visited Nir Yitzhak’s displaced residents.

“The community is in a fragile state,” she said. “Some members want to return on Sept. 1 — when the government told them they can go back. Some don’t want to go back. The kibbutz is proud of being united but concerned about splitting up.”

Funding from the Federation will “provide immediate relief to this wide variety of needs,” Hertzman said. “There are psychological needs. There is cleanup that will happen.”

Federation recently approved the first $8,000 of spending on a short video to “attract potential donors to help and a cultural event to boost community morale,” Hertzman added. “The money is coming from foundation funds, private funds, and not coming from the community campaign.”

Salzman hopes Pittsburghers recognize the importance of this new connection.

“I’m looking at this like a real Zionist initiative,” she said. “The kibbutz movement was settled along Israel’s borders.”

Apart from boosting residents’ morale, there’s a strategic need to support Nir Yitzhak, she continued. “Otherwise, the borders will shrink.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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