"We need help."
Those were the three words that did it — that propelled an Oakland couple into action.
They were spoken by Israeli members of the peace movement Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) to Rachel and Jeremy Evnine, who decided, for the first time, to do something.
"I identified with them," said the Israeli-born Rachel Evnine, whose friends are involved in the left-wing movement, which drew thousands at a recent demonstration in the heart of Tel Aviv.
So Evnine is planning a fund-raising dinner for the organization on Sunday, March 24. But unlike the typical fund-raiser, she is trying to get some of the food donated and is doing all the cooking herself for the 100 people expected to attend.
"I've been talking to friends, and they're saying, 'We're standing alone in the streets; we have no money to do activities; a lot of money we used to get doesn't come anymore,'" said Evnine.
Upon hearing that, she began wondering what she could do back in California. "As we were talking, it evolved that I had some musicians I could use; I can cook, I can bring a speaker and I will get people to help me. I decided I needed to help them [raise] money," she said.
Evnine, a gourmet cook, is happy to prepare dinner for the event to be held at the Highlands Country Club in Oakland.
While the Bay Area is home to many supporters of the Jewish-Israeli peace movement, Americans for Peace Now has not maintained a very active presence here. San Francisco resident Raquel Newman served on its national board in 1999, but the group's activities here have been limited in recent years.
David Pine, West Coast regional director of Americans for Peace Now, who is based in Los Angeles, said he hopes the benefit will change that.
"California has been one of our largest growth areas since the intifada began," said Pine. "Our Web site gets lots of hits, and more people are sending in smaller donations in a grassroots show of support. Hopefully with this benefit, we'll see what's possible and develop something more of an ongoing presence."
A Middle Eastern dinner will be served, with lamb, fish and a vegetarian option available. Longtime Shalom Achshavnik Galia Golan will speak. And Evnine's jazz musician son, Yair, and the neo-klezmer band Davka will donate time to entertain the guests.
Evnine's constant contact with concerned friends in Israel spurred her into action.
"I've always felt, who am I to speak if I don't live there?" said Evnine, who left Israel 25 years ago. "It's very hard to judge and take such a standpoint, having folded my tail and run away."
Describing her friends and relatives as having become totally despondent during the past year and a half, Evnine said friends told her that they needed her help — both emotionally and financially.
Repeating what is often heard in Israel since the new intifada, that "there is no left left," Evnine said most people feel so hopeless they had just given up.
"They still vehemently oppose the actions of the government, thinking that it's only promoting more violence, but they're not willing to say it or act in any way to stop it," she said. "There's no more energy."
On the one hand, she said she hears the attitude of: "Who are you, sitting there, you ran away," and on the other, she hears: "Thank you for still doing something; we're tired and we need other people to do things now."
Rachel Evnine was born in Naharia in 1947, the daughter of immigrants from Ukraine. Her parents had been involved in smuggling refugees from Eastern Europe into pre-state Israel.
Raised in the Galilee in the early days of the Jewish state, she said relations between Jews and Arabs were friendlier there than in other parts of the country.
"In the Galilee, we all felt less estranged from the Arabs; we felt a lot safer as we were growing up," she said. "But along the years, things began feeling more strained."
As a social worker, Evnine worked mostly with the terminally ill. But after the 1967 and 1973 wars, the nature of her work changed; she began seeing as clients some of the soldiers who fought in those wars. Like most Israelis at the time, she said, "I believed so much in the purity of every action that was behind the Israeli army." But listening to the soldiers, some of whom were her friends, was a rude awakening.
At first, she thought these men must be psychologically damaged from the war, talking about actions they were forced to perform that sounded too horrible to be true. "Then, slowly, "I realized they saw things I wasn't ready to."
After Evnine married Jeremy, a British Jew who was in Israel to get his master's degree, they decided to move to Berkeley so he could pursue his doctorate. It was 1977 and they thought it would be just a temporary move.
But when he was finished, their third child was on the way and the Lebanon War was in full swing. She felt she wasn't ready to go back.
The Evnines are former members of Berkeley's Congregation Beth Israel but are currently unaffiliated.
Interestingly, Jeremy comes to the peace movement from a different place than his wife. The money manager's father was a supporter of the right-wing religious Betar movement and a follower of Zionist Revisionist Ze'ev Jabotinsky.
Jeremy was a Likud supporter until 1982, when he says, Prime Minister Menachem "Begin, in a moment of great weakness, allowed [Ariel] Sharon to hijack the Likud Party, and invade Lebanon."
Although he believes Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat made a huge mistake in rejecting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer at Camp David, he also believes Shalom Achshav's platform is the right approach.
"They may be our enemies, but we must talk to the Palestinians, and we must get out of the shtachim," he said, using the Hebrew word for "territories."
Noting that the Jews had given the Torah to the world, he emphasized that acting as an occupying force is not in line with Jewish values. "If we want to maintain the moral high ground, we have to do what's right."