A local Israel Emergency Campaign has raised over $1 million since the start of the Gaza war, according to the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Nearly 970 donors (as of press time) have contributed to the campaign, which will be directed to federation partners in Israel “to take care of overall needs,” according to Max Kleinman, the federation’s CEO/executive vice president.
Already, the emergency funds have helped to finance respite care to 45,000 children, delivered food and medicine to 20,000 of Israel’s most vulnerable citizens who have been unable to travel, and provided trauma counseling to 15,000 people, said Kleinman.
In addition, a portion of the nearly $1.1 million raised as of Aug. 11 will be dedicated to the federation’s partner communities under the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2Gether program, especially Kibbutz Erez — less than a half-mile from the Gaza border — and the Ofakim-Merchavim region, some 20 miles away from Gaza.
“Part of that money will go to our partnership communities, but it is not going to be enough, so we will be raising more funds with our annual campaign,” said Kleinman. “There is a lot of work that has to be done — repairing infrastructure, modernizing shelters, training first responders, and providing trauma counseling — and a lot of funds that are required.”
“While we all wish the need for an Israel Emergency Campaign didn’t exist, the community’s response has been overwhelming,” remarked Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, president of the federation. “These are our partnership communities under fire, and we are responding as a unified community between Greater MetroWest and Israel. It is a moment of true peoplehood.”
Added UJA Campaign chair Maxine Murnick, “It is truly amazing and gratifying to see the immediate and incredibly generous response by our community to this Israel Emergency Campaign. From major donations, to the cash in an envelope, from a teen babysitter, everyone did their share.”
Amir Shacham, the federation’s associate executive vice president for Israel and overseas, recently returned from a working visit to the partnership communities to assess their needs as the war between Israel and Hamas entered its fifth week.
“There is a new reality in some of our partnership communities in Israel, especially with Kibbutz Erez,” he said.
The seemingly perpetual problem of Hamas rockets “is nothing in comparison to the threat of the tunnels that run from Gaza into the Negev.”
Among the 30 tunnels the Israeli army discovered and destroyed, one was “in the fields of Erez very close to the kibbutz. Terrorists came out of the tunnel and killed four soldiers stationed there,” said Shacham.
‘Stay and build’
Speaking before 300 people at a federation-sponsored pro-Israel rally in Morristown on Aug. 7 (see separate story, page 10), Shacham spoke about attending the funerals of two soldiers killed in action.
Lt. Dolev Keidar, 38 and the father of three, was killed while fighting Hamas militants who emerged from an “attacking tunnel” near Erez, Shacham said.
Sgt. Matan Gotlib, 21, died when a booby-trapped tunnel exploded during a search near the Gaza town of Khan Yunis.
In 2009, Gotlib took part in a federation-sponsored exchange program, the Diller Teen Fellows, where he forged deep connections with New Jersey participants.
“He was trying to save innocent lives and was killed because of his human values,” Shacham told rally-goers. “It is as sad but as simple as that.”
Speaking to NJJN the day before the rally, Shacham said of the 100 families living at Erez about 70 left temporarily when hostilities in Gaza were raging. Shacham is especially concerned with persuading the kibbutz’s younger generations to return.
“Many new families came to the kibbutz in the last five or six years. It will be more difficult to convince these newcomers to stay and build their families there,” he said.
Shacham said federation funds can help those families feel more secure by such simple purchases as additional streetlights “to give people a perception that they are safer.”
“The families of Erez will come back, but with a new level of anxiety because of the tunnels,” said Noga Maliniak, director of the federation’s operations in the Negev region.
In an Aug. 7 phone interview from Israel, she told NJJN that “many are starting to return before the school year begins on Sept. 1.”
Being farther away from Gaza, the town of Ofakim and the other communities of the Merchavim region “are not as accustomed as the people of Erez to the nonstop red alerts all day long,” signaling incoming rocket fire, said Maliniak.
However, while some older buildings may have shelters in their basements, other residents must resort to public shelters, and not all of them are air-conditioned or well maintained, she said.
“We need to renovate the shelters and make them more friendly. Many of the bathrooms are not in good shape. We need to take the teachers and counselors and others who worked 24/7 for the last month and give them some time off. We also need to empower them to cope with trauma victims once school starts,” she said.
In addition, the working-class communities faced a severe economic setback “that will take them more time to recover from. The small businesses there had no income in July,” Maliniak said. “My mission is to gather information on people’s needs and see how we can meet those needs.”