Children from the South on a KKL-JNF-sposored trip to the Jerusalem Forest..
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR)
When the latest confrontation between Israel and Hamas broke out in early July, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and their partners didn’t lose a moment in extending aid to Israel’s most vulnerable populations.
Launched from Gaza City, M-302 rockets can reach as far as 160 kilometers, putting the majority of Israel’s civilian population in the range of Hamas warheads. For two months this summer, Israel’s economy and culture stopped and started according to rocket sirens, from the high-powered tech world of Tel Aviv to the surf scene of Ashdod and Ashkelon. In particular, the residents of the South faced a near-constant barrage of missiles, sending them scrambling to shelters day and night.
As rocket fire escalated, the JFNA’s emergency infrastructure switched on. By July 8, JFNA partner the SOS Fund had already evacuated Sderot families to hotels and granted each $1,000 for basic supplies. Two days later, JFNA partners had disbursed more grants, recruited caseworkers to aid elderly and disabled residents of the South, and sent out communiqués to the parents of young adults traveling on Israeli programs.
And then the ball really got rolling.
On July 10, the JFNA Executive Committee unanimously approved an emergency resolution to raise as much funding as was necessary and possible to alleviate wartime conditions for Israel’s affected population.
In a letter to Benjamin Netanyahu signed by JFNA President Jerry Silverman and Michael Siegal and Diane Feinberg, chairs of its Executive Committee and Board of Trustees, respectively, the JFNA assured the prime minister that the JFNA “stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel’s security forces, government, and especially its people.”
They informed Netanyahu that the JFNA would mobilize its leadership and partners and “begin transmitting cash to address urgent and immediate needs posed by the barrage of rocket attacks.”
And so it did.
By the time a delegation of Jewish Federation leaders touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport on July 13, the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2gether program had diverted thousands of young people to summer programs outside of the range of the rockets. World Ort, another JFNA partner, set up respite activities for another 2,000 schoolchildren from the South, launching educational programs in the relative quiet of Israel’s North.
The list goes on.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee recruited volunteers to run recreational activities in bomb shelters and set up online programs to help seniors deal with stress. The Israel Trauma Coalition operated a hotline for residents struggling with the tension of constant rocket fire. And the Jewish Agency continued to reach out to thousands of Negev residents impacted by the conflict.
In Ashkelon, 8th grader Elinor Izun spent weeks volunteering in bomb shelters, local parks and a shopping mall, where she handed out discount movie tickets and bowling passes. She was able to participate in day trips to locales such as the Kiftzuba Amusement Park thanks to JFNA support. Her mother, Hodaya, chaperoned some of these trips.
Guy Shlomo, a high school student from Kibbut Kfar Aza, found himself unable to sleep because of the chaos of ambulances, sirens and explosions. With the help and support of the JFNA, educational organization World Ort moved him and many of his fellow kibbutzniks to Afula in the Galilee, away from rocket fire.
Outdoing even the generous reputation of the US Jewish community, the JFNA raised $49 million during Operation Protective Edge, amounting to practically $1 million for every day of conflict.
More than $5 million went to aid for vulnerable populations – people with disabilities, the elderly and youth at risk. A comparable amount funded “fear-free days” to transport nearly 100,000 children out of the line of fire. Upwards of $3 million helped NGOs, JFNA partners and local governments reestablish normal routines for civilians and strengthen the resilience of southern municipalities. The rest went into economic recovery for small businesses, assistance for new immigrants in adjusting to the chaos, and support for soldiers and hospital workers, among other projects.
But the actual impact of JFNA’s wartime efforts is impossible to measure. Besides soliciting and distributing funds, the JFNA works with the US government to shore up support for Israel and its people. On July 25, it lauded a decision by the US Department of Homeland Security to grant $12 million to Jewish institutions to bolster the communal security of Jews worldwide –
a partnership the JFNA has championed for years.
It also touched off the #LivingIt campaign, which prompted Israel’s affected residents to post stories online about how their lives were turned upside down by the war. In addition to the catharsis of sharing, this campaign brought the plight of Israelis to a global stage.
The JFNA’s impact is both global, focusing the world’s attention on Israel’s issues, and local, making a positive change in the day-to-day life of residents. It engages civilians across a range of needs – from basic survival to psychological sustenance.
The emergency apparatus deployed by the JFNA during Operation Protective Edge is dormant now, though partner organizations maintain a strong presence across the Jewish state. But as it proved during the conflict, the JFNA is constantly at the ready to rush to the aid of Israel’s residents.