Diaspora Jews ramp up efforts to aid Israeli fire victims

Students around the world raise funds for displaced families.

By
December 1, 2016 17:05
3 minute read.
Haifa area college students inspect the damage to an apartment with the owner in the Romema neighbor

Haifa area college students inspect the damage to an apartment with the owner in the Romema neighborhood of Haifa.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Diaspora Jews have continued their efforts to help rehabilitate victims from areas devastated by wildfires that blazed in various parts of Israel last week, and continued into the beginning of this week.

The brush fires destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced tens of thousands of people in the North and Center of the country.

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Affected residents of Haifa, the city worst hit by the raging fires, on Wednesday received a visit from Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and President of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston Barry Shrage, who distributed aid to families whose homes were severely damaged in the inferno.

60,000 of the city’s residents were evacuated due to the fires, some of which were caused by arsonists.

“In these trying times, the Jewish world is united in concern for those Israelis rendered homeless by the recent wildfires,” said Sharansky. The Jewish Agency is distributing immediate grants of $1,000 to each family unable to return home. On Wednesday alone, it distributed more than a hundred such grant checks in Haifa and across the country. “Every family unable to return home will receive immediate financial assistance from world Jewry, thanks in large part to contributions from the Jewish communities of Chicago, Boston, and other places around the world,” Sharansky said.

The purpose of the donations is to help the families address immediate needs resulting from the loss of their places of residence. The grants were made possible by special contributions from the Jewish Federations of North America, led by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, as well from Keren Hayesod-UIA and other donors. Grantees are being identified via local municipalities in coordination with the National Emergency Authority.

Shrage said the fact that there were no deaths and only a small number of minor injuries caused by the severe fire was a miracle. “The secret of this miracle is hundreds of dedicated intelligent, caring, and committed staff and volunteers, led by some of the very best professionals I’ve ever met,” he said.

“Haifa is a strong community characterized by mutual respect, cooperation, inclusion, and hope,” he added.

Meanwhile, hundreds of university students around the world dug deep into their pockets to donate thousands of dollars to a special fund set up by Chabad on Campus International.

The funds will go directly towards renovating homes of victims of the fire and other expenses, in an operation that is being conducted by Israeli university students affiliated with Chabad on Campus, in collaboration with the University of Haifa Student Union and the City of Haifa. An anonymous donor has pledged to match up to $9,000 raised by the campaign which has set a target goal of $18,000.

“I am so proud of the ahavat Yisrael displayed by our students here and in Israel,” said Rabbi Yossy Gordon, executive vice president of Chabad on Campus International based in New York. “We prayed and watched with concern from around the world as these wildfires fires caused terrible damage and left thousands homeless.” He noted that after students in Israel swiftly began relief efforts to help the victims, students in the diaspora were keen to contribute to the efforts.

“Students really want to work to help the community,” added Rabbi Dovid Kurtz, director of the Israeli branch of Chabad on Campus.

“We just need to help point them in the right direction, and they hit the ground running.”

Rabbi Tanchum Rivkin, Chabad emissary at the University of Haifa, was at the Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries in New York when the fires broke out. Cutting short his trip, he rushed back to Israel to help with the efforts. “This campaign is in place to help provide the victims of the fires whatever they need. From furniture to personal belongings.

In times of crisis, sometimes the bureaucratic process delays the government from helping right away,” he said. We are here to fill that gap and provide immediate assistance in any way we can.”


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