North American Jewish Federation representatives acting as “external ambassadors” traveled to southern Israel this week to express their support and convey the story of besieged Israeli families to the world.
More than two dozen American Jewish communal leaders toured communities in Southern Israel Tuesday in an emergency solidarity mission of the Jewish Federations across North America (JFNA).
The umbrella organization has 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, coordinating efforts 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 Israel’s government.
During its two-day mission, delegates have traveled to Ashkelon, Sderot and Be’er Sheva, as well as smaller kibbutzim and moshavim that have been directly impacted by rocket attacks from Gaza.
By Tuesday night, they will have visited a hospital in Ashkelon, a “protected playground” and other sites in Sderot, relocation and relief sites for the region’s children, and bomb shelters in Sderot and on Kibbutz Nir Am.
The Jewish leaders toured the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, which provides medical attention for both Israeli and Palestinian victims. The visit to the hospital was interrupted twice by the wail of the air-raid sirens that sent the delegates scurrying for cover.
They also visited the Amigour Apartments in Sderot. Amigour is one of the largest builders of public housing in Israel and is owned by the Jewish Agency and United Israel Appeal. The company owns a Sderot apartment building constructed with bunkers in each apartment.
Also in Sderot – a city located less than a mile from Gaza – the delegates learned about what life is like for Israelis living with constant rocket fire. In a meeting with Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi, delegates had a chance to hear about the practical and emotional challenges facing residents who live in such close proximity to rocket fire.
The group also visited with the Joint Distribution Committee-supported Center for Young Adults. Though the Center works throughout the country to provide counseling and guidance for young adults throughout the year, they have opened its doors as a ‘safe space’ for children and families in Sderot during the current emergency.
On Tuesday delegates toured the JDC-supported Center for Independent Living in Be’er Sheva to learn how the recent crisis challenged the disabled. They also visited the JAFI Ye’alim Absorption Center in Be’er Sheva and met with “Students Under Fire” at Ben Gurion University.
“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.”
JFNA opened a $10 million fundraising effort to meet Israel’s most immediate needs caused by ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza. Working with the Reform and Conservative Movements, the campaign helps 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, 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.