With Our Own Eyes: Aya Margalit in Israel

Jan 10, 2024 / 29 Tevet, 5784

Aya Margalit recalls her anguish after October 7, 2023, when she learned that her former student Erez Calderon had been taken hostage by Hamas. “I remembered how fun and how wonderful he was, how he smiled all the time, and I wondered, how will he ever smile again? My biggest fear was that he would lose that.”

After those harrowing weeks in captivity and Erez’ release, along with his sister, Sahar, Aya has her answer. “He hasn’t lost his smile. He’s still very funny, he’s still smiling. There are challenges, obviously, and there are wonderful, amazing moments.”

Aya has been serving as a sh’licha, or Israel ambassador, since August, as a result of a collaboration among Temple Emanu-El, the Jewish Agency for Israel and Greene Family Camp. She arrived back in Israel last week and will stay there through the visit of a leadership delegation from Temple that travels to Israel from Jan. 13-18. Hear from Rabbi David Stern about their experiences at the Shabbat evening service on Jan. 19.

She has been visiting members of her community and giving media interviews. Through it all, she remains profoundly aware of bearing witness – at last. “It’s a time that I’m trying to reconnect with my chosen family, trying to be there and to hear the stories and to support all the people I couldn’t from afar. When you see someone face to face it’s different. This is also a time to process myself. There are a range of emotions, I really thought I didn’t have any more tears. But with every person I see and hug, it brings up everything.”

Aya will visit her home community of Nir Yitzhak with the Temple delegation next week. She is steeling herself for more difficult emotions. “Never in my darkest dream did I think that this would be the way to share my amazing community, when you can see the structures standing but not the soul. For me to go and not see people on bicycles, hear laughter and not be able to go into the dining room, that will be a lot to grasp. My home is not my house; it is the whole community.”

She calls her relationship with Temple Emanu-El and the larger Texas Jewish community as a “light in all the darkness” for her and her family: husband Erez and children Danielle, Roni and Yuval. “Any new connection and any new way to feel part of the Emanu-El community makes us feel stronger and more connected.”

The Margalit family continues to be grateful for the outpouring of donations and support that they and Nir Yitzhak have received from Temple Emanu-El. You may support the kibbutz through a donation here.

“When you see the community and see how they are trying to do everything to rebuild and support one another, it’s a sacred time and I’m happy to be a part of it,” says Aya.