As gov't dithered, US Jews stepped up

NGOs, philantropists filled in vacuum left in North during Second Lebanon War.

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
April 29, 2007 23:45
2 minute read.
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The Winograd Committee's interim report is expected to highlight the particularly onerous failure of the government to care for the wounded and fleeing citizens of the North during the monthlong Katyusha barrage that shut down northern towns and brought the area's economy to a standstill. Into this vacuum stepped an entire array of Israeli non-profits and at least one media-savvy billionaire, all working to give aid to those whom the government had seemingly abandoned to financial ruin and emotional trauma. But none stepped into this gap as spectacularly as North American Jewry. While some local leaders fled the North during the bombing - according to media leaks from the Winograd Committee, they will be singled out for particular opprobrium - a senior American Jewish Committee (AJC) official drove a large van on several tours of the North's bomb shelters, delivering children's food, first aid kits and other supplies. Under bombardment, the AJC's officials and volunteers delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of supplies, and followed up after the war with equipment for hospitals and a resiliency center in Sderot. But the total funds collected for helping the North reached far beyond any single organization. In a special campaign begun while the war was still raging, the United Jewish Communities, representing the Jewish communal federations of North America, received pledges totaling some $359.5 million. "What happened during the war is more significant than $300m.," said UJC Senior Vice President Nachman Shai. "What happened was that money from the United States was a central element for helping those in the North and Sderot. This amount of money, available immediately, transferred in real-time, this was something new we haven't seen before." Of the pledged sum, some $184m. have already been collected from the federations and transferred to Israel through the UJC, with some of the remainder of the money coming to Israel through other organizations such as Keren Hayesod. While IRS regulations prevented the UJC from meeting needs the Israeli government is legally required to meet, there is much to do beyond the scant requirements of the law, help as basic as care for housebound elderly and repairing toilets in bomb shelters. Thus, over $75m. was distributed during the fighting, whether to the elderly, for the installation of air conditioners, televisions and toilets in bomb shelters, or removing traumatized children to special summer camps in the country's center. Over 8,700 reservists received UJC scholarships to help them pay the year's tuition after the call-up for the war left them unable to work over the summer. After the war, Israeli post-trauma support groups The Israel Trauma Coalition and The Fund for the Victims of Terror, along with therapy programs in schools, received a much-needed $25m. to help deal with the sudden spike in post-traumatic cases in the bombed northern towns. Another $40m. was delivered after the war to educational programs ranging from supporting Ethiopian youth education, to college scholarships for students studying in northern colleges, to training school staff and even to funding a Master's program in psychology for Israeli Arabs. Over $36m. went to employment programs and loans for small businesses devastated by the monthlong shutdown of the regional economy. Whatever the Winograd report finds regarding government action or inaction in the North, it is perhaps worth noting that, for their part, North American Jews came through remarkably, delivering badly-needed supplies and services that, without them, would have been desperately lacking.

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