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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and other overseas-based nonprofit organizations have been playing a major role in repairing the damage done to the North by Hizbullah rockets.
Representatives of ICFJ and other aid groups have been meeting with mayors of confrontation-line communities to identify local needs now that life there is returning to normal. The main requests have been for fire engines, firefighting equipment, help in rebuilding homes and aid to families that have fallen into poverty due to the war.
The fellowship, established by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein in 1983, has had programs in place all over the country for years. These longstanding working relationships have facilitated communication between the mayors and the organization.
"Within 24 hours [of the first Katyushas falling] we were out there in the northern cities asking mayors for what they needed," Eckstein told The Jerusalem Post in the capital Wednesday. "Because of our history and the initiative of the staff, we were able to be first on the ground. It's not that we care more than other groups, it's just that we're already in place there."
At the request of the Prime Minister's Office, the fellowship has been providing food aid. The IFCJ spent more than $1 million to provide food and other essential items in the first few days of the war. After the request from the PMO, the fellowship spent $2m. on food aid during a two-week period.
The IFCJ, the Sacta-Rashi Foundation, a French-Israeli organization that focuses on children and special-needs populations in Israel's geographic and social periphery, and other nonprofit groups based in Britain, Canada and the United States, agreed on July 27 to divide the work.
The aid organizations mobilized quickly to help the communities under fire. Eckstein said the first priority had been to raise funds, most of which came from Evangelical Christians in the United States.
Then, he said, the entire system essentially "broke down.
"The government couldn't rally; they weren't organized in a way to sufficiently help the cities, partly because there is no minister of welfare," he said. "It took them two weeks to get their act together," said Eckstein as he discussed the work schedule with Edna Ben-Ari, the project manager for IFCJ Israel. "Unbelievable."
It was this vacuum that motivated the nonprofit associations to pool their resources.
The fellowship paid $1.5m. toward the cost of the seven fire engines and other firefighting equipment, with the government paying the other 60 percent. Most agreements had the IFCJ and the government splitting aid costs 50/50.
The mayors met with the aid representatives on Thursday, now that "the Day After" has arrived, and another meeting is scheduled for Monday.
A point Eckstein emphasizes when distributing donations or meeting with officials is that the money his group offers comes from US Christians who support Israel.
"You have to look at them as analogous to the Jewish community," said Eckstein. "There are people who care deeply about Israel, who are frustrated, and [who] want to do something, and Christians feel the same way.
"They support Israel, and in this case, they see Israel's battle with Hizbullah as part of the American-Western fight against radical Islam," he said.
That support came flooding in over the past month and half, to the tune of at least $11m. When an advertisement ran on Fox News, the IFCJ received 30,000 responses from across the US.
Israeli officials appreciate the donations and the fact that it comes from Christians, Eckstein said. He thinks the fact that the money comes from Christians provides added value to beneficiaries.
"They see it as a positive thing," said Eckstein. "It's not to be expected... You expect it from Jews, but not from Christians in America, who are supplying them basic needs."