More than two dozen American Jewish communal leaders are currently touring communities in southern Israel in an emergency solidarity mission of the Jewish Federations Across North America (JFNA).
The mission is an effort to visit cities and communities directly affected by rocket fire from terrorists in Gaza and to demonstrate that the North American Jewish community stands alongside the people of Israel at this time. The delegates hope to act as “external ambassadors” to express support for and convey Israel’s story to their respective communities. Over 15 communities from North America were represented.
“Our goal in this mission is to serve as external ambassadors and to provide the people of Israel with the reassurance that they are not alone in this battle and that the Jewish communities of North America and all the Diaspora stand behind this effort to protect Israel’s home front,” said Jerry Silverman, JFNA’s President and CEO. “But it also has given us the appreciation for the real trauma that the people of Israel are experiencing. This is a message that the world needs to appreciate, so that Israel can do everything necessary to protect her citizens.”
Silverman, in an interview with Breaking Israel News, explained: “The atmosphere among the communities in North America is one of frustration right now. We’ve just had Operation Cast Lead, and then Operation Pillar of Defense, and now this confrontation. Everyone there is frustrated because we all know that the people of Israel who are focused on building their country need to confront terrorists who just want their destruction. The communities and the federations in North America stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel, will always remain deeply connected, and will always be there for them.”
Silverman continued to say how deeply moving the trip has been for the participants. “We all got a real feel for what the situation here in Israel is really like, more so than in previous trips. We actually went through a number of red alert sirens, and we got to see how responsive and responsible Israel has been,” he said.
“The people and the government here know how to handle a situation like this. We got to see first hand how committed Israel is to protecting its citizens, while across the border hamas is using their people as human shields. Israel is doing everything they can to protect the lives of their own citizens as well as those in Gaza. That is a message which really hits home.”
The current conflict between Israel and Hamas has affected every part of life in Israel. The tour not only shone a light on how different populations deal with the ramifications of living under the constant threat of rocket fire, but also “to see how our dollars are working, and how they help the communities that are in need,” said Silverman.
“One of the more moving experiences we had on as part of the tour was visiting shelters that have basically become day camps for children in the south. We took part, on Tuesday, in sending 3,000 children from the south to a waterpark near Herzliya so as to be able to give them a day of fun in the sun. No child should have to live the way these children do,” said SIlverman.
Silverman also pointed out that hope is not lost, and the leadership in the embattled southern cities is strong and courageous. “Listening to the confidence and strength of the mayors of Beer Sheva and Sderot, who said that the way we respond to rockets and terrorism is by continuing to grow our cities, was a very important message for us to hear, and will be an important message for us to spread.”
The delegates visit to the south was interrupted multiple times over the past few days by the wail of air raid sirens that sounded due to incoming rocket fire from Gaza, in spite of a cease fire that had been brokered by Egypt, accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas.
While the delegates scurried for cover the inspiration they felt for Israel never abated. “Israel has added so much to the world, in science, technology, culture, their environmental work, world experts in desalination, we need to do whatever we can to help support them in their time of need,” concluded Silverman.
The tour was not the only show of solidarity that the JFNA has been involved in over the past few days. The joint organizations have also launched an emergency fund aimed at providing urgent and immediate assistance to Israeli communities under the barrage of rockets attacks from Gaza.
The “Stop the Sirens” campaign is a partnership with the Reform and Conservative movements of Judaism. The campaign will respond to immediate needs being addressed in collaboration with Jewish Federation’s overseas partners, The Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, The Israel Trauma Coalition and other groups and coordinated with the Government of Israel. The campaign is aimed at helping service-providers deliver the medical, psychological and other items required to treat Israeli victims.
Due to partner agencies’ work already on the ground, these funds will be able to counsel and help more than 40,000 children who live within 25 miles of Gaza and have spent a lifetime under fire, as well as, support senior centers that provide thousands of elderly living in poverty—many of them Holocaust survivors—with food and comfort, and offer counseling to the most vulnerable populations in Israel.