Israeli families affected by the October 7 terrorist attacks in southern Israel or the subsequent ongoing bombing of Israeli communities during the current Israel-Hamas War can now find refuge in the city of Jerusalem, thanks to a new initiative called Open Doors.
Anani and his children are in an extremely painful place in their lives. His wife, Adi Vital-Kaploun, was murdered in front of their two young children by Hamas terrorists who invaded their Kibbutz Holit home on October 7. In a few heroic moments, she was able to text Anani as well as her father to not come home, fearing for their safety as well. She then convinced her murderers to allow her children to live and be sent to a neighbor next door. The two young boys, ages two and four, watched as their mother was gunned down in front of them. The children were taken to neighbor Avital Alajem, and all were later forced to walk toward Gaza, but were never forced inside Gaza.
After Israel secured the children’s release, Anani and the boys were faced with no safe place to live or to process their grief. Right away, the people of Jerusalem reached out to help them.
“The operation of Open Doors started a week and a half later…after realizing the government was failing to help many of the evacuees,” Yehuda Taragin, project manager at Open Doors, told The Jewish Press. “We helped Anani with his therapists find a place for his close friends to live, who came with him to give support as they coped with their loss and trauma. In general, people find us either through our website or through friends, and they offer their home, and we explain to them the process, as far as any contracts or insurance involved. Then we connect the family in need with the family offering their home.”
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum is the deputy mayor of Jerusalem and special envoy for the Foreign Ministry. In Jerusalem elections were supposed to be held earlier this month, but have now been held off for a year. “I’ve got two jobs now,” Hassan-Nahoum told The Jewish Press. “I was going to leave to become a diplomat, and now I’m doing both.”
It was the morning of Simchat Torah, Hassan-Nahoum remembered, and her family’s plans were to go to shul. “My daughter woke up and said, ‘Mom there is a siren,’ and I thought, that’s weird because we don’t really get sirens in Jerusalem. Then there was another siren and another and another.”
Hassan-Nahoum said she experienced in real time what was happening in the communities of the South as people were calling and saying, “‘There are terrorists outside our house, and we called the army and we called the police and nobody is coming.’ At that point I knew something really terrible was in the process of happening.
“I don’t think any of us will ever be the same again. And I think – in our generation – this is the worst thing that has happened to the Jewish people.”
Hassan-Nahoum said she was thankful that her boss, Moshe Lion, the mayor of Jerusalem, upon fully understanding the gravity of the situation, opened all of the city’s public shelters. “Jerusalem has become a center of refuge since it’s relativity safe and because we are a tourist city,” she said. “The government of Israel and the city of Jerusalem opened up hotels to evacuees and offered everything from education to trauma therapy to people who are coming with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”
Today there are approximately 250,000 displaced Israelis and the hotels have filled up. This led Hassan-Nahoum to launch an initiative encouraging people with empty homes or a second home in Jerusalem to open their homes to families in need. “We noticed for different reasons there were a lot of people falling through the cracks,” she said. “We wanted to ask good people to open their doors to those who don’t have a solution and need to be moved from an area that was or is being attacked or is in the war zone.”
At the time of this interview, Hassan-Nahoum was in the middle of a trip to New York City, which is currently dealing with a migrant refugee housing crisis that has the city almost to its knees, with limited federal funding being provided and no real end to the influx of asylum seekers in sight. To date, the total number of migrants seeking shelter in New York City has surpassed 130,000. “I’ve been walking around New York City, and I’ve never seen so many homeless people as I’ve seen in the last few days,” she admitted. “And these people are refugees from an oppressive regime. But there is a difference between this and Israel. Our people are not refugees – our people are evacuees. They have been evacuated because it’s not safe.
“Our civil society has stepped up in a great way, combined with the incredible philanthropy coming from the United States and others. As Jews, we deal with our own problems very well. We’re the only people in history who managed to solve our own refugee crisis after the Second World War,” Hassan-Nahoum noted. She pointed out that the people of Israel are doing all they can to make sure they never experience a homelessness crisis, and she’s confident the situation in Israel will never get to the point of what is happening in New York.
Hassan-Nahoum is leading Open Doors first by example. She decided to open her home to a family that had nothing but the clothes on their backs and one towel for five people. She also bought the family more towels and sheets. After two weeks, they left because they found a more long-term place to stay and schools for their kids.
All legal details and security measures for the owner-participants of Open Doors have been worked out courtesy of the Israeli Bar Association. The contract, which the homeowner controls, includes the period of time, the number of tenants allowed, clauses concerning expensive items in the house, if the guest should cover any housing expenses, etc. “We want to make it as easy as possible for people to do this,” Hassan-Nahoum said. “A lot of people have reached out to me, and in Jerusalem we were all in a state of shock for the first two days…but now we’ve all gone into action. There are a lot of people in the Diaspora who are looking for how they can help, and there’s no excuse – there’s always something to do.”
Taragin, who serves alongside Hassan-Nahoum and her assistant, Maayan Schoen, is proud of all the work Open Doors has accomplished so far. “My personal inspiration as one of the heads of the project is that something so horrible has happened and there is nothing you can do to change the past – all we can do is try dealing with the present, by [providing] help for the future,” Taragin shared. “At Open Doors, we are a link between people who are in need and people who can and wish to help.”
To learn more about the Open Doors program and how you can offer your apartment or home for a displaced family in need, go to the website opendoorisrael.com.