Rabbi Yanky Kahn’s Trips to Israel a Family Affair

May 30, 2024

When The Journal interviewed Chabad of the Valley’s Rabbi Yanky Kahn after his four previous trips to Israel, his two youngest sons — Menachem Mendel, 10, and Efi, almost 12 — sat quietly in the room. But before giving his perspective on trip number five to the war zone, Kahn invited the boys into the conversation

In almost a whisper, Efi said, “It was, like, sad. Just really sad. I don’t know what I expected. But the streets are empty.” Menachem recalled that Efi found a bullet next to the Nova Festival where 360 Jews were murdered on Oct. 7. “They were finishing putting up a stone for one who had died at the festival,” he said. “It was sad.”

Taking a wider perspective, Rabbi Kahn said that “people are trying to get back into their daily routines. You can feel it in the air. They are trying to adapt. Families who have been evacuated from their homes now have new homes, and they are trying to adapt to their extremely challenging new lives.”

One of the people Kahn and his family met was Shlomo, a father from Kibbutz Nir Oz. He told Kahn that on Oct. 7 all his neighbors on one side of his home were taken hostage while everyone on the other side were burned alive.

When Hamas terrorists took over his home, Shlomo and his wife fled to a nearby bomb shelter. Hamas terrorists spent their time consuming the family’s food supply while noisily destroying their property. “A small, humble house,” Kahn said. “The terrorists came inside and took whatever they wanted. A free-for-all.”

Shlomo told Kahn that he and his wife were just sitting there in a shelter, fighting to keep themselves safe because the shelter did not have a lock on the outside. Only a handle. They used a stamp collection to hold the handle tight. Shlomo stood there for eight hours, trying to protect his wife. The rabbi called it “a miracle” they survived.

Except for Jerusalem, everywhere the Rabbi, Rebbetzin Hindy Kahn and their four children went, there was destruction. “I don’t think there is one Israeli house that has not been affected,” Kahn said, “either by a family member or friends lost or injured, running to shelters, having a father who is running in or out of the army, having a mother who is trying to take care of all of the kids. You realize the stress in every single family. The impact is huge.”

During their two weeks in Israel, the Kahns tried to go all around Israel and visit as many people as we could. “We spent a lot of time next to Gaza and a lot of time in the West Bank, meeting old friends, widows, people who lost their children.”

Rebbetzin Kahn reflected on the first days. “When we landed in Israel, you walk through the airport and see the many signs about hostages,” she said. “You get emotional. These are people who are families, friends. Not just names but actual people with lives that have been cut short. I tried to stop by each sign. Then you feel as if you have connected with each one.” But when they met families of soldiers,” the rebbetzin said, “it was so much more emotional. We were all just crying.” 

What do the rabbi and rebbetzin do to help them? “We danced, believe it or not, with some families whose kids were taken hostage,” Kahn said. “We went to restaurants with some families whose kids were killed. Some families we visited, we gave them money. Just trying to help them. Every family reacts differently.”

Rebbetzin Kahn recalled a particularly touching scene. When the family went to Hostage Square “they were having a large protest, it was the hottest day in Tel Aviv and some family members were fainting,” she said. “Yanky gave a pair of tefillin to a father of one of the hostages. He said ‘This is for your son when he comes back. This is the hope for your son when he comes back, that he is going to put on these tefillin.’  The father was so touched, so happy to receive the tefillin. He was one of the people we were dancing with. The hostage’s brother was there.” Rebbetzin Kahn said nine members were taken from one family. A wife and two of the children were returned.  

On their daily visits with Israeli families victimized by the war, the Kahn were regularly reminded of two constants:

• Households respond in a variety of ways to tragedy.
• We Jews, worldwide, are a single family.

“In Los Angeles we live in one of the largest communities in the world. It is time to realize that we all are really one family. The people of Israel appreciate when Jews from Los Angeles come and give them support.”

In Los Angeles, Kahn said “we live in one of the largest communities in the world. It is time to realize that we all are really one family. The people of Israel appreciate when Jews from Los Angeles come and give them support.”

Near the end of their trip, on the day after Passover, there was a terrorist attack in Israel. Kahn immediately spun into action. “We said ‘We’re going to do something for the police who are risking their lives,’ so the Kahns threw a pizza party for all the police of Jerusalem. 

Every day requests for help come in, which Rabbi Kahn fields via Chabad of the Valley’s WhatsApp feed. (To donate, go to chabadofthevalley.com/israelrelief.) On each of his five trips since Oct. 7, he has pledged: “We will be victorious. The hostages will come home. The soldiers will come home safe. But it’s up to each one of us to do our work.” Since the war against Hamas is not over, Rabbi Kahn  isn’t pausing. Trip number six will be in June or early July.  

Each time he’s traveled to Israel Kahn has delivered a load of gifts – toys, clothes, bullet-proof vests, helmets and money. For his next trip, he ordered 250 mezuzahs.

The rabbi thanked Jeff and Rita Weiss for helping support his trips, and Mr. and Dr. Schmuel Izaac for sponsoring 100 mezuzahs. “Our goal,” Kahn said, “is to make sure every army base has a mezuzah.”

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