The Jewish Federations of North America launched an emergency fund on July 11 to assist those in Israel currently under rocket attack from Gaza. Nationwide, the campaign is called Stop the Sirens, and is being undertaken through a partnership with the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is involved but is calling its fundraising efforts the Israel Emergency Campaign.
The goal is to raise a total of $10 million this summer to provide humanitarian support for Israelis. The federations are partnered with the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, ORT and the Israel Trauma Coalition to distribute the donations.
Washington D.C.-area residents contributed more than $120,000 of the $300,000 local fundraising goal on the first day alone, according to Steve Rakitt, Federation executive vice president and CEO. “The reality is, we don’t know how long this is going to go on. We may need even more [money],” he added.
About half of the money raised will help provide respite for 37,000 children who live in areas targeted by missiles from Gaza. The children will be taken “away from the intense rocket barrages” to an area where they can run around and play outside, Rakitt said.
Jerry Silverman, JFNA president and CEO, was in Sderot Sunday, listening to the residents and officials there.
“The city is tense and few people are out and about. Everyone is keeping close to their bomb shelters ever mindful of the 15-second rule – that’s how much time you have to get to safety. We’ve already had to make that unnerving dash to the shelters,” Silverman wrote in a blog posting.
About $2.2 million of the $10 million will be used to assist the elderly, disabled and at-risk children, who need special help, said Michael Gelman, immediate past chair of the executive committee of the board of the Jewish Federations of North America and a member of the Washington Jewish Week owners group.
The remaining money will be used to provide trauma counseling and help those whose homes were destroyed, Gelman said.
While the program may be new, the Federation’s role in helping Israel is not, Gelman said. “Washington, D.C., has always been at the forefront of these kinds of things,” he said, adding, “There is no doubt in my mind Washington will raise the necessary funds.”
Some 10 people went to Israel this week on behalf of Federation, including Bob Zahler, vice president at large of the executive committee. While the Iron Dome does provide a sense of security, “everyone needs to constantly maintain vigilance. The result is what I view as ‘calm terror,’ ” he wrote to the Federation from the Jewish state.
“People try to maintain normalcy, continue their everyday routine. But nothing is normal in the south. There is real trauma,” he continued.
Avital Ingber, the Federation’s chief development officer, sent an email to WJW about her experience in southern Israel on Sunday.
“We had our only siren of the morning while we were sitting at the absorption center in Beersheva. New olim were telling us their stories and the siren went off. We had 15 seconds to get across the way into shelter. A quiet and calm center became filled with a hundred little kids running for safety and a sense of panic.
“Some kids entered the shelter and played video games ignoring the siren and others covered their ears and cried hysterically in fear. It was heartbreaking. Even on a morning with only one red alert, everyone lives in fear for when the next one will come,” Ingber wrote.
Other Jewish agencies are also helping out. The AJC donated $50,000 from its Israel Emergency Fund and Heilbrunn Humanitarian Fund to enable the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon to purchase an anesthesia machine for its emergency room.
“The Barzilai Medical Center team, in this critical time of an intense rocket assault from Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza, continues to demonstrate exceptional resilience, compassion and love of life – even as Israel’s enemies in Hamas-controlled Gaza glorify death,” said David Harris, AJC executive director.
The National Council of Jewish Women initiated an emergency fundraising drive to support the EDEN Association, which assists at-risk teenage girls. The sleeping quarters for the girls are located only a few hundred yards from where Hamas commandos crossed into Israel by sea on July 8 and were killed by members of the IDF.
Said NCJW CEO Nancy Kaufman: “Because the girls of EDEN come from high-risk home environments, returning to their families at this time is not an option.”
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