JCFs Israel partners mobilize in crisis

As we all pray that the truce holds, Israelis are taking stock, looking ahead and mourning the loss of life of both our IDF soldiers and the innocent Palestinian civilians who are at the mercy of Hamas.

This has been a tragic and trying period for all. Explaining sirens and bomb shelters to our children has been no small task. Camps were closed and events canceled due to the high security risk.

Israel mobilized quickly to extend assistance to the Israel Defense Forces soldiers in Gaza. The overwhelming sense of community is the essence of the Israel we know and love. Children wrote letters to soldiers in the combat zone, wishing for their safe return, with care packages filled with items the soldiers need: socks, undergarments, soap, towels, toothpaste, etc. Supermarket chains sold these items at cost to be shipped to the combat units. Chefs voluntarily left their businesses to cook for the soldiers. Communities in central and northern Israel have been housing hundreds of families from the south who have fled the bombings, welcoming busloads of southerners to organized activities that offer respite from the constant missile attacks back home.

Grantees of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation in Israel have also stepped up to help those hard hit by the conflict. They do that while continuing their day-to-day work “because of, rather than in spite of, what is happening around us,” according to Paz Hirschmann, who works for Tsofen and was called up for army reserve duty along with 40,000 other civilians. Tsofen, a JCF grantee, is a nonprofit that promotes the integration of Israeli Arabs into the high-tech industry.

Here is what some of our grantee partners are doing:

• Ma’ase  is offering assistance to children and teens in the south, including volunteering in bomb shelters and at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva, volunteering with children in the Kiryat Gat absorption center, and mapping the needs of the Bedouin community. A Ma’ase email to its employees stated: “It is crucial that voices of sanity, tolerance and cooperation will be heard and that individuals and organizations such as Ma’ase Center will continue to work to generate hope and create a reality in which Jews, Druze and Arab stand together and reject violence and incitement.”

• Bina has organized activities for children from the south who are temporarily living with families in and around Tel Aviv. It is also organizing volunteers for visits to senior citizen facilities in Beersheva, along with visits to children with special needs in the area.

• Hagar, the Jewish-Arab bilingual kindergarten and school in Beersheva, held an open-mic evening, with participants struggling to understand the situation, holding very different views but continuing the conversation with each other. Uri Gopher, the executive director, said the evening “represents something very substantial and inspiring in our community that feels they need to be together at this time with the ability to listen to one another.”

• Our Gvanim alumni are leading important support initiatives that reflect the values of the federation’s flagship program. They have organized emergency centers in the southern cities bordering Gaza, where children must play indoors because they have a meager 45 seconds for seeking shelter between the sounding of a siren and the explosion of a missile. They are assisting families seeking refuge in central and northern Israel where missile attacks also occur but less frequently. They are helping the citizens cope with the trauma of being under fire for so long, especially children and the elderly. Gvanim graduate Irit Brook, in charge of informal education in the Ministry of Education, is connecting and guiding all of the youth movements to help civilians and soldiers, organizing a national headquarters for youth and counselors who are leading countless initiatives to offer support services.

While there is real solidarity in many parts of the country, the fragmentation between marginalized segments in Israeli society is increasing. When the missiles and tanks stop firing, we will no doubt encounter a period of regression in our efforts for coexistence in Israel. Fueled by distrust and instability, Israeli society will likely face increased racism from both Jews and Arabs, and internal strife among Israelis will challenge the moral society we look to uphold.

Now more than ever, the federation’s task of strengthening Israel as a pluralistic and democratic Jewish state is paramount.

We will continue to work with our coalition partners, the Israeli government and our grantees to tend to the social casualties of war, both Jewish and Arab. The challenge was huge before the war, and it is now even greater.

In an email to their constituents, the executive directors of another grantee, the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation–Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development, remind us of why our work is so crucial in building a strong civil society, particularly in Israel today:

“When we are caught in extreme darkness, we remind ourselves: it is more important for us to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

Merav Barr Grindlinger is the marketing associate for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s office in Israel