In response to the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas, Bay Area Jewish federations and agencies have banded together to aid Israeli victims. At the same time, community leaders have grappled with the meaning and dimensions of the violence.
The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the Jewish Federation of the East Bay and the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley have appealed for donations to the Israel Terror Relief Fund, which is sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and its Israel Action Network.
Last week, the JFNA executive committee voted to have its 155 affiliated federations, including those in the Bay Area, commit at least $5 million to the Israel Terror Relief Fund. Bay Area federations have launched fundraising efforts to contribute to the total.
“The federation is collecting money for immediate humanitarian relief,” said Jennifer Gorovitz, CEO of the S.F.-based federation. “Our show of support is vital.”
Monies raised get distributed to the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and World ORT, along with the Israel Trauma Coalition.
Those agencies deliver services and assistance in Israel, such as trauma counseling, medical equipment, financial assistance and meals for elderly and disabled, and they also help provide respite for 23,500 children living in danger zones.
Another agency providing aid is the Jewish National Fund, which quickly began a multi-pronged assistance effort, according to Aaron Parker, JNF’s regional director in San Francisco.
In Sderot, a town of 24,000 less than a mile from Gaza, JNF runs a 21,000-square-foot indoor recreation center that it vowed to keep open 24 hours a day for as long as the crisis lasts, at a cost of $20,000 a day, Parker said. JNF also has been resupplying firefighters taxed by the many fires started by the rockets, and the agency opened more than 50 shelters in the north for evacuees.
“In the last few days, I received more calls than I typically receive in a month,” Parker said early this week. “Everyone wants to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis, something we can all agree on finally.”
JNF and the three Bay Area federations have issued prominent appeals for funds on their websites, and subscribers to their email lists have received direct appeals as well as news updates.
Rabbi James Brandt, CEO of the federation in the East Bay, wrote to donors on Nov. 16, saying “We are in constant contact with our partners in Israel, who are concentrating efforts on addressing the most pressing needs in the area.
At a community briefing held that same day in San Francisco, Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, outlined several suggested responses to the crisis. They include maximizing media relations to tell Israel’s side of the story, using social media to express solidarity with Israel, beefing up security at Bay Area Jewish institutions and fundraising.
At the same briefing, attended by about 50 people and held at the offices of the JCF, Andy David, Israel’s consul general for the Pacific Northwest region, offered context for Operation Pillar of Defense.
He said it is not just a battle of rockets and air strikes. It is a battle of endurance on the part of Israel’s citizens, who so far have been “resilient and strong. But we can’t take that for granted.”
It is also a battle for the legitimacy of Israel’s military response to Hamas, a battle David worries Israel is losing.
“We’ve built up enough power to end this very quickly,” he said, “but we neglected building up legitimacy for those actions. The battle for public opinion is an uphill battle.”
David explained that, in the early stages of the conflict, international support for Israel’s actions was strong, with Senate and House resolutions and positive statements from Britain, Germany and France bolstering Israel’s posture. But that support will begin to “degrade,” David predicted, if the fighting drags on.
The launch of Operation Pillar of Defense roused the Bay Area Jewish community to action and reflection.
In an email to congregants, Rabbi Ari Cartun of Palo Alto’s Congregation Etz Chayim wrote, “We will hear from well-meaning people around us that Israel should not have started this round of attacks on Gaza. Partly this is because until Israel started striking back, our local and national news outlets were too busy looking into General Petraeus’ pants than in covering the hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza over the last month.”
Rabbi David J. Cooper of Piedmont’s Kehilla Community Synagogue had a different take: “Israel certainly has a right to defend itself,” he wrote to congregants in an email. “My distress is that self-defense is not just an activity of violent retribution or preemptive violence … Defense of Israeli peace would have been far more secure had the last four years not been frittered away with the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, thus discrediting [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas, as well as cutting off the necessary negotiations that could bring about a final settlement.”
Said David at the meeting: “Deterrence is painful and costly. If [Hamas] stops shooting [rockets in Israel], we terminate this operation immediately.”
To donate to the Israel Terror Relief Fund, visit the home pages of the local Jewish federations: www.jewishfed.org (S.F.-based), www.jfed.org (East Bay) or www.jvalley.org (Silicon Valley). To donate to the Jewish National Fund, visit www.jnf.org.