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The Vanguard Activists: Iris Kalach, Dafnit Soffer, Ronit Bohrer Hillel and Osnat Zemer

Four women dedicated to raising awareness of the plight of the Israeli hostages

Alayne Sulkin

Published on: April 01, 2024

bring them home 2024 superheroes photo credit _Will Austin
Iris Kalach, Osnat Zemer, Ronit Bohrer Hillel and Dafnit Soffer. Photo credit: Will Austin

Four local Israeli women have emerged as passionate activists, dedicating themselves to raising awareness about the plight of hostages in Gaza since Oct. 7. Motivated by a shared sense of country, compassion and a drive for justice, they have embarked on a mission to shed light on the human rights violations occurring in the region. These courageous women represent a diverse array of backgrounds and perspectives, yet they are united in their commitment. In the face of adversity and opposition, they remain undeterred, standing firm that every individual, Arab and Jew, deserves to live free from oppression and violence. Their unwavering dedication serves as a powerful reminder of the strength and resilience of the human spirit in the pursuit of justice.

Iris Kalach

In a world often overwhelmed by strife and conflict, there are individuals like Iris Kalach and her fellow superheroes who refuse to idly stand by. Kalach, a passionate advocate for humanitarian causes, has found her calling in volunteer work, particularly through her involvement with Run for Their Lives, an initiative dedicated to drawing attention to the release of hostages in Gaza.

When asked about her journey into this work, Kalach recounts a pivotal moment in her life: “I love physical activity, and after Oct. 7, I froze. I couldn’t move. I felt numb. When I saw this initiative start in California, I related to this cause, and I missed running.” For Kalach, the motivation lies in raising awareness and preventing people from becoming desensitized to the realities of war. “Although it’s far away, it is close to my heart. I feel I’m not alone. I work and meet people from all over the world, and not everyone wants to talk about the war in Israel. I feel it’s a safe group to feel sad and not to hold back what I think,” she explains.

Navigating the complexities of coordinating a volunteer effort can be challenging, but Kalach is undeterred. She acknowledges the diversity of opinions within the community she serves, emphasizing the need to listen and find common ground. “To navigate between those voices can be challenging,” she admits, but emphasizes the importance of open dialogue and inclusivity in her work.

Despite the hurdles, progress and success are evident. About half of the hostages have been released, and Kalach believes their walk/run efforts helped make a difference. “We united the Israeli and Jewish community,” she proudly declares.

For those looking to make a difference, Kalach extends a simple invitation: “Come walk with us. We are not really running; we are walking. We are not protesting; we walk to raise awareness to release the hostages back home.”

Dafnit Soffer

Dafnit Soffer, a prominent figure in Seattle’s Israeli community, exemplifies this spirit of resilience and social activism. Her journey into community engagement began during her tenure as the Israeli community relations manager at the Israeli-American Council in Seattle. However, it was the events following Oct. 7 that propelled her into a deeper commitment to social causes.

“For me, being socially active served as my therapy,” Soffer explains. “It’s the method I know best for coping with crises — being proactive.” The distance from her homeland further fuels her motivation to engage and contribute. Through her work, Soffer seeks to keep the issue alive in people’s minds, particularly the plight of the 134 hostages in Gaza. “On days that we forget this,” she emphasizes, “we ought to be very concerned about our sense of balance as humans.”

Soffer’s approach to progress and success is simple yet powerful: engage more people every time. It’s a mantra that reflects her unwavering dedication to amplifying voices and catalyzing change within her community. For Soffer, encouraging action means cultivating a collective consciousness that refuses to let important issues fade from daily life. She underscores the importance of setting daily reminders and remaining vigilant in advocating for change. It’s a call to action that resonates with the ethos of responsible citizenship and social accountability.

Beyond her activism, Soffer offers insights into fostering a sense of hope and optimism, especially in the hearts of children. She believes in presenting a somewhat brighter narrative of the world to her own children, acknowledging its complexities while stressing the inherent goodness within humanity. “Children are capable of constructing a narrative that they can comprehend and manage,” she asserts. “It’s our duty to provide them with the tools to do so.”

Ronit Bohrer Hillel

Witnessing the suffering of innocent hostages from around the world and the turmoil facing her homeland, Ronit Bohrer Hillel knew she couldn’t remain idle. Regardless of where she lives, Israel holds a special place in her heart, and this has compelled her to take action.

What motivates her most in her work is the opportunity to have an impact on public opinion, particularly in the United States. She is committed to combating misinformation and ensuring that people are aware of the true nature of events unfolding in Israel. By shedding light on the plight of the hostages and the unjust actions of Hamas, Hillel strives to garner support and solidarity for their release.

At the heart of Hillel’s mission is a simple yet powerful message: Bring them home now. She emphasizes the urgency of freeing innocent people who have been unjustly taken from their homes. There is no defense for such heinous acts, and Hillel believes that it is imperative to prioritize the hostages’ safe return above all else.

She knows progress will be made with the release of the hostages and the unwavering support of the American people. Hillel envisions a world where justice prevails and compassion triumphs over violence.

To encourage action among ParentMap readers, Hillel urges them to reach out to their members of Congress and advocate for the release of the hostages from Hamas. Every voice matters in this critical endeavor, and collective action is essential to effecting meaningful change.

Osnat Zemer

In the wake of the invasion of Israel, the world watched in horror as the conflict unfolded. For Osnat Zemer, an Israeli living abroad, the events hit close to home, igniting a fervent desire to take action. With a heart heavy with worry for her loved ones and a determination to make a difference, Zemer embarked on a journey fueled by passion and empathy.

The news of 240 hostages being seized by Hamas terrorists and held captive in Gaza struck Zemer to her core, and has propelled her into action despite feeling helpless in the face of such hatred and adversity. Among the hostages was the grandson of a former colleague, a 17-year-old boy taken from his girlfriend’s home. The personal connection has intensified Zemer’s resolve to fight for their release, knowing that behind each statistic is a human being with a story, a family and dreams for the future.

When asked about her motivation, Zemer’s response is simple yet profound: “My volunteering has always been motivated by how I can bring value to a cause I believe in.” Whether advocating for peace in the Middle East or volunteering at her children’s school, Zemer’s dedication knows no bounds.

Her most significant endeavor has been comanaging a special delegation of families of hostages that visited Seattle and Olympia for an intense six-day program. Pouring her heart and soul into the project, Zemer juggled the demands of her volunteer work with the responsibilities of daily life, including caring for her own children. Despite the challenges, she has remained unwavering in her commitment to bringing attention to the hostages’ plight and advocating for their release.

She understands that in such a complex and fraught situation, every small victory counts. Success is having meetings with senior officials, politicians and business leaders who listen, are empathetic and will then take action. Success is also getting media coverage that conveys a clear understanding of the horror being experienced by those still trapped in captivity, and that echoes the simple yet urgent plea: “Bring them home now.”

Zemer emphasizes the importance for ParentMap readers to understand the complexity of the conflict. It’s a call for empathy, for critical thinking, learning and for solidarity with those who suffer in the midst of the chaos of war. Encouraging readers to reach out to their elected representatives and engage in informed dialogue, Zemer underscores the power of collective action in effecting change.

What book or podcast are you recommending right now?

Zemer: “The Ezra Klein Show” is always insightful and fascinating, but since the war between Israel and Hamas started, he’s dedicated a few episodes for this, and I find his perspective interesting and helps to shed light on the complexity.

Hillel: Simon Sinek’s podcast “A Bit of Optimism” is a source of inspiration, highlighting the importance of maintaining hope and positivity in challenging times.

Soffer: I am listening to an Israeli podcast with Yael Poliakov that discusses the importance of maintaining positive thoughts even during bad times. It emphasizes staying active and moving forward. According to the podcast, this approach is key to surviving trauma and embracing a fluid life.

Kalach: I’m reading “Hidden Potential, The Science of Achieving Greater Things” by Adam Grant. I decided to read personal development books to be better at work and relationships, and to see life from different angles.

How can parents teach children to repair a broken world?

Zemer: By raising children who are aware of the world around them and unafraid to speak out against injustice.

Hillel: I believe parents can shape a better world for future generations by instilling values of critical thinking and empathy in our children.

Soffer: In my view, my role is to mediate the world to my children in a somewhat better light than the complex reality might present, hoping my approach is the right one. I believe that children are capable of constructing a narrative that they can comprehend and manage, and it's our duty to provide them with the tools to do so. I believe that it’s important to encourage children to be optimistic and to see the good in the world.

Kalach: Hard question. Every day, to do good things even if someone is mean to you. I believe what comes around goes around. You must believe in the good to win, otherwise, it’s depressing.

What daily habit or routine is most important to you?

Zemer: Amidst the chaos, I find solace in the simple ritual of reading bedtime stories with my kids, a reminder of the magic that exists even in the darkest of times.

Hillel: I’m a devoted list-maker and start each day with a clear plan of action.

Soffer: I prioritize gratitude as a grounding force amidst the chaos of the world. Taking a moment to pause and express appreciation for the blessings in my life serves as a small yet significant routine that anchors me amidst the turbulence of the world.

Kalach: I say and show affection to my spouse, kids and family. Relationship is what energizes me and keeps me emotionally healthy.

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