NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — The CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans has returned home after meeting with survivors in Israel.

Robert French was on one of the few flights making the trip overseas. He traveled there to join the effort in supporting victims and hoping to share stories of those impacted by the war.

“It was really important for me to go to Israel in the last couple of days to show solidarity and to witness firsthand what happened there,” French said. “It’s a war zone there. it’s like exactly like a movie in terms of seeing that. It was heartbreaking. I will tell you it was absolutely heartbreaking.”

French says it’s an image impossible to forget and a feeling unfamiliar from his past visits.

“I came to Israel many times. When I landed in Tel Aviv, you could see all the empty aprons of the airplanes that normally are that from countries around the world,” said French. “The airport was empty. People are frozen. They are in such shock about the horrific attacks, and what happened to them. They’re lacking a sense of security. The streets of the city are deserted. The restaurants are hardly open. There are no customers.”

French leads the Greater Jewish Federation of New Orleans and was one of several to fly overseas, helping those directly affected by the terrorist attacks from Hamas.

“I saw the bullet-riddled buildings and homes, the bloodstains all over the walls. I mean, we saw everything,” said French. “It was just unbelievable. I turned to one of the people in the city and said, ‘How are you walking us through this? How are you not falling apart?’ and he said to me, ‘Robert, I haven’t left my house in four weeks. This is the first time I have, to show you and walk you through.'”

French spent many of his days in Israel hugging survivors and praying for their safety.

“I mean, keep saying the word survivors in 2023 in Israel. I mean, what does that conjure up for Jewish people and talk about the word pogrom? I mean, it’s just so horrific to think this is happening. What we are asking for is for people to understand this is Israel’s fight for Israel, but also for civilization. Israel is fighting for democracy across the world,” said French.

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