Today is February 26, 2018 -
The numbers from Israel are telling: more than 50 days of conflict. More than 4,300 rockets fired by Hamas. 32 terror tunnels discovered and destroyed by the IDF. Yet the toll on the five million Israelis within terrorists’ reach—the stress, the fear and the trauma of life under fire—is immeasurable.
JFNA’s Emergency Response Allocations Committee for Operation Protective Edge has planned for both immediate and long-term needs in Israel. This week, the Committee allocated additional funds to our partner agencies working in severely affected communities, bringing our total allocations to $18 million.
These resources help address the persistent and damaging psychological effects of living on the front lines and the economic toll of the summer on Israel’s already disadvantaged south.
The effects of the conflict, however, will not be contained within Israel. We in North America will be impacted by them in countless ways.
#LivingIt: From A Senior Apartment in Ashdod
Rena is an 85-year-old woman who lives alone in her apartment in Ashdod. She has lived in the same neighborhood ever since she moved to Israel from Morocco at age 30. While she has seen many conflicts throughout the years, she says that the current round of violence has been particularly challenging — she rarely goes out for fear that she’ll get caught outside during a siren. But like all things in life, she says, “I have been forced to get used to it.”
“Oh how I wish we were a normal country! I would love to just be thinking now of what crib to buy and what to serve at the Brit Milah (circumcision) ceremony, but it’s not like that, and we need to live in parallel worlds — keep life going and expect the worst at any time,” The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Inbal Freund-Novick writes. “My son Yair asked me, what does it mean to be in the army, and I explained that all men go to army for three years when they are 18. All Israeli mothers pray that the war will be over when it’s time for our sons to go to serve the country.”
“My son Guy, is less involved in combat, because I already have one son serving in the Givati Brigade in the Gaza Strip, and is right in front of my house. I know that we’re fighting for our home, literally – Guy and his brother fight for our home in the army, and I am doing my part working at The Jewish Agency,” says Asher Vaknin, Director of Nurit Absorption Center for new immigrants.
#LivingIt: From A Teacher’s Bomb-Damaged House Near Tel Aviv
This house in Yahud near Tel Aviv was hit by a Hamas rockets in recent days. The owner is a kindergarten teacher, but days after the attack, she hasn’t been able to open the kindergarten. The anxiety she has been experiencing is a bit too much for her, and she feels too sad and too scared to go to work. As a result, the 30 children who attend her kindergarten stay home and their parents do not go to work. Their houses, just like their teacher’s, are not safe.
“In these hard times, we at Kehillat Netzach Israel take our hats off to the wonderful volunteers coming everyday to keep the children happy in our bomb shelter. Yesterday, Yossi, a sports instructor with the Ashkelon Municipality, had us running around playing ball games and then Ami, a professional clown from Ashdod, had us laughing and dancing while he created wonders out of balloons.” Thanks to our partners at The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism via The Masorti Movement In Israel.
My 3-year-old daughter, Ofir, managed to express her mixed feelings with impressive purity and innocence (about which I could write a book), in a conversation we had a few days ago: “Mommy, you know what? Yesterday I met Fear,” she said. “What does Fear look like?” I asked. Confidently, having survived her encounter with him, she said “He looks like a monster THIS BIG.” “And what did you tell him?” “I told him to go away.”
Three rockets hit Hof Ashkelon Regional Council area at noon, no injuries reported. While the sirens go off, the nurses at the baby ward at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon carry the newborns into the staircase to protect them. (Photo by Dr. Motti Wigler)
#LivingIt: From Hungary to Israel
Akush Shimon made aliyah from Hungary to escape the rising tide of anti-Semitism there. But now, as a new oleh, he is facing a different kind of crisis: finding shelter as rockets fall on his new homeland. He used to sleep in his room at an absorption center in Ashdod. Now, he’s fled to a better-protected area next to the shelter. When his family back in Hungary asks him how he’s doing, he replies simply that everything’s “normal.”
Edit Charmi lives alone in Ashkelon — no small feat for a 94-year-old. Now trapped in her house because of unending sirens, she feels isolated from human contact. But visits from Shai Zigdon, from JDC’s Supportive Communities network, help ease her loneliness. Shai checks in on Edith, providing crucial help around the house and identifying any emergency needs. “Anything you need, I am here for you,” Shai tells her.
The apartment in Sderot is too small for Eden, Lior and their two young children. But it’s secure, with a safe room built by Amigour, the Jewish Agency housing subsidiary. Eden stays home with the kids. The three of them sleep in the tiny safe room while Lior—who can wake up quickly and move faster if a siren sounds—sleeps on the couch. When a siren sounded in the middle of the night, Lior ran into the safe room right before a rocket hit, destroying much of their home. Amigour restored their apartment. While the fear of another rocket hangs over their heads, they know they have a safe space.
Growing up in Sderot, Shlomo has spent a lifetime on the lookout for rockets. The 17-year-old knows how to cope. So during Operation Protective Edge, Shlomo and his friends from Turning Point, a JDC-supported program, decided to support teens now living under fire in Beer Sheva by sharing their survival tips. To Shlomo, these person-to-person connections also strengthen Israel as a whole. “We can only empower our forces in the field if civilians are strong and united,” he says. “That’s our contribution to the effort.”
#LivingIt: From Rachel Schneider in Jerusalem
“I was so happy to see my sister Nina in Jerusalem. Before I could say a word, she began gasping, saying that a soldier who had been killed in Gaza was ‘hers.’ ‘Hers’ means that she spent four months instructing and guiding a group of soldiers during training. ‘Hers’ means that she taught them and worked with them day and night, side by side, on a desert army base. ‘Hers’ means that she knew them and told stories about them when she went home on the weekend. And one of hers was killed. As she cried….she spoke of feeling a pain that she had never felt in her life.”
The siren goes off just as Talia Nechama is about to start a meeting at the Ye’elim Absorption Center in Beer Sheva. After she runs to the center’s bomb shelter, Talia frantically searches for her phone to call her 12-year-old daughter, who is home alone babysitting a younger sibling. It’s agonizing to be so far from her children. “I have to be strong for my children,” says Talia. “If I break, what’s left?”
The IDF has uncovered dozens of tunnels used by Hamas to infiltrate Israel from Gaza—tunnels that lead right to kibbutzim and towns along the border. Fear, anxiety and stress plague border residents. “I’m sitting outside the resilience center wondering if a tunnel is being dug right under my feet as we speak,” says one crisis response team coordinator. Calls to trauma centers in the area have spiked, and those who have evacuated to the north express hardships, anger, shame and guilt over leaving.
“In my home, we make games out of the experience and try, to the greatest extent possible, to maintain routines. Last week, I was driving in Beer Sheva with my 6-year-old son, Itai, when the siren went off. I pulled over, and, to make things more positive for him, told him we’re going to have a race. We ran to the nearest stairwell. “Suddenly Itai began to cry and I asked him why. He said, ‘I didn’t really win. You were running in high heels and that slowed you down.’ I suppose that was his excuse for letting out his fears and how hard it is for him.”
“It was a hard day yesterday. We finally got my grandson to sleep, then the siren went off. We had to grab him and run; he wouldn’t go back to sleep for two more hours. Our granddaughter was afraid to go to the bathroom in case the siren went off. I stood there with her every time. The synagogue opened a shelter with our youth movement. I brought my granddaughter there, and halfway there, a siren went off. You are supposed to get out and lay on the floor but I drove fast until we got to the shelter and then we ran inside.”
Noa has a 2-year-old son and is about to give birth to her second child. Her husband has been called up in the IDF reserves and she has had to relocate north to reduce risk to her pregnancy. She works with at-risk middle-school students in Sderot. Despite her ongoing fears about her personal health and her husband’s welfare, Noa is committed to supporting her at-risk teens. Just yesterday, she discovered that one of her students lived in an apartment with no bomb-protected space and she was able to persuade the family to relocate to safer quarters.
“The hardest thing is probably to keep on your calm face when your kids explain to you that the reason they go to a bomb shelter is because ‘rockets may fall on us,’ and then they explain to you how exactly the iron dome works. I wish they could just stick to the space rocket Lego and not think about the mechanism of a missile.”