Update: Monday, November 19, 2012
Today’s report comes to you, in part, from my colleague Steve Nasatir, President of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, who is on the ground in southern Israel with a small group of Federation leaders. Unfortunately I was not able to join them, but our Israel Office Philanthropy Director, Gila Noam, is with them and provides her observations. Their visit makes one thing clear: the Israeli people in the south didn’t realize they had family in America who care so deeply. Our leadership has shown them that they do.
42 rockets were fired at Israel today. In total, there have been 1,128, and Iron Dome has intercepted 324, including 19 just today – rockets that would have landed on urban centers. Three people have died and hundreds have been wounded. Gazans have suffered hundreds of injuries or casualties as well.
Efforts continue to achieve a cease-fire, as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. President Obama called President Morsi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the ongoing violence, and underscored the need for Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel.
Steve Nasatir’s Report
“The citizens of southern Israel are tired but resilient heroes.” ~Alon Shuster, Mayor of the Sha’ar Ha’Negev Regional Council
Our group of Jewish Federation leaders are now in Sderot, and we hear the booms of bombs and the booms of fighter planes, and it is easy to grasp why people are tired after so many years.
I have known Alon for about a dozen years. He is a quiet but strong leader who has done much in this difficult region, where missiles of one sort or another have been dropping continuously over that time. Twelve-year old children don’t know what living without the threat of being blown up is like. The people of the region are heroes and they are tired. Tired, but incredibly resilient.
I don’t know how they do it. We are their partners, but we can’t begin to understand the toll this takes on their lives.
I just saw the Iron Dome defense system blow a Hamas rocket out of sky in the town of Kiryat Malachi. We scrambled out of our vehicle and onto the ground. Red alerts are sounding in Ashkelon as well.
We went to Kiryat Malachai to pay two shiva (condolence) calls–the first to the family of Yitzach Amsalem, age 24, who was killed in a rocket attack last Thursday. We listened to his father and sister talk about their dear son and brother. Our Israel Terror Relief funds are helping pay for some of their immediate needs.
We then visited with the family of Aharon Smadja, also killed in that attack. He was the father of a 14-year old and 9-year old twins. His brother thanked us for coming and said that at this time of great pain it’s good to see in our visit the unity of the Jewish people. “That will ensure our future,” he said. War crimes….
We met this morning with high-raking spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s office, who reported that 120 rockets were fired into Israel on Sunday. It’s not clear what happens next, but the goal is to reach a situation where the population lives normal lives, without the threat of rockets. To that end Israel is pursuing parallel military and diplomatic tracks.
Hamas firing on Israeli citizens is a war crime. Hamas embedding rockets among Palestinian civilians is a war crime. The Israeli Government believes that Hamas began this latest round of fighting after stockpiling 11,000 rockets. Israel needs others to prevent a new buildup when this is over.
Visiting new immigrants
We are far south now, about three kilometers from Gaza, at Ibim, a center for absorbing new immigrants. We had a couple of red alerts and we can hear the booms.
The center is safe as the walls and roofs have been reinforced. With Federation funds the Ethiopian aliyah (immigration) has been accelerated and some of the olim (new immigrants) arrived only three days ago from Gondar province. Most of the children were out of our area on a trip to the center of the country, made possible by our Israel Terror Relief Fund. All in all 5,000 children are finding respite today under this Jewish Agency For Israel program. We then moved on to Sderot to visit a bomb-proof indoor center for kids a very necessary facility.”
SF’s Israel Staff – Gila Noam’s Report
“I thought I knew. I thought I understood. After all, I live in Jerusalem, only 45 minutes away from the region being bombed and have been thru two Intifadas.” This was before Gila had to drop to the pavement and cover her head today, and before she witnessed mothers running all out to a bomb shelter with their kids. She describes the scene:
“In Sderot we visited a huge indoor playground. There must have been about 80 moms there, with kids of all ages and the atmosphere was absolutely joyful. We stood there and we all found ourselves smiling. Three minutes into our visit we were jarred by the almost deafening announcement of “Code Red.” All the moms jumped up in an instant, and began running frantically into the sheltered room. They seem to be pre-programmed for these situations and the speed of their running, with their babies in their arms, was almost frightening.”
Person after person in the region conveyed in his/her own way: All we want is “relative quiet.” We have no aggressive goals; no interest in conquering territory. All we want is to live normal lives-we and our kids.
In all, the group experienced six “Code Red” missile alerts today.
All of our Bay Area Masa participants have been moved at least 40 kilometers from Gaza. Josh Neuman, son of East Bay Federation Chief Development Officer Joanne Neuman, is in Jerusalem working with other Masa participants on setting up an online community to share their experiences with the world. He had this to say:
“While we have relinquished any hope of retrieving our belongings, cleaning dirty dishes, and collecting more vital supplies, we remain steadfast in our dedication to Israel. After much discussion we have agreed to participate in three different volunteer programs, as many of us have become restless and feel useless while thousands need support. On the morrow some will depart for Jerusalem to engage in some public relations work with the Israeli State Department, updating friends and peers of the current situation so often misrepresented in the news via social media. Others will remain near Netanya, to help out a camp for children with cerebral palsy; our volunteers have already allowed the camp to keep its doors open and provide many needy children with love and care in the next few days. Personally, I will be in the north with three peers working at a camp for children displaced from their southern homes, bringing them some joy in these trying times.”
JCF’s Israel Relief Fund at Work
In addition to the immediate financial assistance, delivery of food packages and emergency kits, and children’s evacuation for respite care that we have described in recent days, today we have learned that our partner JDC has been able to deploy tens of thousands of volunteers to work with children confined to bomb shelters and has set up a crisis response page on Facebook to provide urgent, quickly accessible information to the Israeli public including Videos and tip sheets on how to handle children’s anxiety and trauma; information for people with disabilities and those helping them in times of emergency; and instructions for how elderly Israelis can cope or can be assisted during the crisis.
We encourage you to contribute to our Israel Terror Relief Fund, if you haven’t already done so, to ensure that these services can reach everyone who needs them.
The ongoing stories of strength and resilience of Israelis are remarkable. Fifty premature newborns in Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon had to be detached from all the devices attached to their incubators….the staff raced down the hallways pushing the incubators to a space that is protected from the bombs where they could reattach them to this lifesaving equipment. Seems like ages ago, but on the first day Kiryat Malachi got hit. This is a very poor town which until now hasn’t experienced these attacks, and so —was far less ready than other sites. A 4-year old little boy who was severely injured in that attack is being treated by doctors in Tel Aviv’s Tel Hashomer hospital, who are fighting to save his hand using some of the most sophisticated methods known to modern medicine.
More information on Operation Pillar of Defense can be seen on the Times of Israel and on Jpost.
As the Federation keeps up with the situation, we are monitoring the following sites:
Many posts on Twitter are also using hashtags, we are following two in particular:
#IsraelUnderFire and #PillarOfDefense
Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to all the innocent victims and our entire Israeli family, and we pray that peace will come quickly.
Chief Executive Officer, Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund