Federation Leaders Witness Strength of Israelis in Aftermath of War December 6, 2012
"We met a security officer in Sderot, Kobi Harush, who spoke to us about the issues he faces as head of security in the region. And then he spoke to us as a father. He said, 'My children – or any of the children who live in this area – do not know how to play soccer or ride a bike, because we can't let them outside to play. They have to stay within 15 seconds of the bomb shelter,'" said National Campaign Chair Susan K. Stern, during this week’s “Resilience & Recovery” mission to Israel, organized by The Jewish Federations of North America.
"It tore me apart to hear the reality of this man, as head of security, who dedicates his life to the protection of Israel's citizens, and the personal sacrifice his kids are making, just to be kids," she continued. "Operation Pillar of Defense was not just something that took place over eight days; it is everyday life for those who have made a commitment to live where they live."
Stern led nearly 20 other Jewish Federation leaders on the mission from Dec. 4-6, which toured Israel’s south to meet with residents and leaders of the most affected areas, hear from senior military and political figures, and see the response of Jewish Federation partners on the ground to help those in need after eight days of intense rocket fire from terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip.
The mission offered a glimpse of life for many traumatized by the tension in the South of Israel. Participants visited programs and initiatives operated by The Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), World ORT and the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC), where Israelis are benefitting from the Israel Terror Relief Fund – established by JFNA to aid Israelis during and after Operation Pillar of Defense – and other Federation funding.
At the Jewish Agency’s Ibim Absorption Center, the director, Moshe Bata, spoke of Ethiopian immigrants' experiences in adapting to the conflict and barrage of rockets. Many arrived less than two months ago, and are benefitting from the staff’s efforts to create a safe environment for children and adults alike. At the JDC-supported Center for Independent Living in Beersheva, participants learned how Dalia Zilberman, director, relocated the offices and 24 volunteers to her home when the area was threatened by rockets. The volunteers assisted disabled Israelis throughout the area, distributing emergency kits and enabling families to be safe throughout “red alarm” alerts, when caregivers were unable to offer assistance.
During a visit to the ITC resilience center in Sderot, mission participants heard from professionals and volunteers about the continuing needs in Israel’s South, as people exit survival mode and begin therapy and post-trauma treatment. World ORT’s Kadima Mada National Director Avi Ganon met with the group at the Shaar HaNegev High School, where students and staff discussed how it feels to live under constant fear of rocket attack.
“You have to question what the long-term impact is for the youth of this country, especially the boys and girls from the South, as they go through the rest of their lives,” said Brian Bilzin, chair of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, after visiting the school.
Bilzin spoke of meeting Yahel, an 11th-grader living just north of Gaza. “‘I was so scared,’ she said, articulating the normal human reaction to what she'd gone through. This is a fear that has not left Yahel. I don't think any of us are smart enough to know how this plays out for the youth of the country over the next 15 or 20 years, and what it leads to.”
On one evening, the mission dined with MASA participants who had been stationed in Kiryat Moriah during the Operation, as well as leaders from across the religious streams who have offered their support to those in need around Israel. On another occasion, the group met with a woman whose house was destroyed by a rocket.
"We felt like we were in California, walking down a street in a beautiful moshav (village) this morning, but then Mali showed us her home, which was just destroyed by a rocket. Whoever dreams that the house you've built will be destroyed one night when you're sitting calmly with your husband upstairs?” said Gail Norry, JFNA's National Women’s Philanthropy chair.
“We often say, 'kol yisrael arevim zeh le zeh', that we are there one for another, and it's the reason why we're here.”
Before the group left Israel, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro thanked them for devoting their time and passion to helping the people of Israel. “It means a lot to this country, and it also means a lot to us here at the embassy, knowing what you are doing to strengthen the Israeli-American relationship – something that is very important to all of us.”
Although a cease-fire has since gone into effect, many Israelis continue to feel the impacts of the violence. The Israel Terror Relief Fund, set up by JFNA, continues to address the most critical needs in Israel, in collaboration with our partners, The Jewish Agency, JDC, World ORT and the ITC. With support from the broader North American Jewish community, the fund is helping children, people with disabilities and special needs, seniors and families who are victims of terror.
Interested donors can also text ISRAEL to 51818 to donate to the fund. More information on the Israel Terror Relief Fund can be found on JFNA’s resource page.
For more information on planning and organizing special missions, please contact Susan Solow-Dubin at 212-284-6537. For more information on marketing materials related to Operation Pillar of Defense, please contact Lisa Kleinman at 212-284-6593.