For the past ten days we have been watching from afar the situation in Israel and Gaza. Even with a prospective ceasefire in progress, the situation in Israel and Gaza is still quite fluid, with rockets still falling and this morning's bus bombing in Tel Aviv. We continue to be concerned for Israel’s security.
I am proud to tell you that the Jewish Federation system across North America, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, came together in its support of the people of Israel during this difficult time. I want to share the following with you from Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America:
After having been in Israel twice in the last four weeks, I was not expecting a third trip to Israel so soon. Our leadership made the decision to initiate a solidarity mission to Israel on Thursday of last week.
On Saturday night 16 people flew to Israel from various cities. Our goal was to show solidarity with Israel, and for us to continue to take our words to action, when we say C'lal Yisrael. We also went to understand how best we as a system can immediately support our agencies to deliver our mission.
We have been briefed by government leaders, have visited families sitting shiva, we have seen children and mothers running to bomb shelters. We too experienced the sound of sirens and the need to rush for cover. Amazingly, people have 15 seconds to find safety – it is something Israelis (primarily in the south) have, unfortunately, become accustomed to. We have visited new Ethiopian olim, visited senior centers and an indoor playground in Sderot, as well as leaders of the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements in Israel.
I don't know what is going to happen. What is clear is that there are serious needs that must be addressed immediately.
There are issues with children being stuck in shelters for over seven days: children who are anxious and traumatized by these events. A significant problem is the limited size of shelters where many people –especially children – are now living full time. This is due to a fear by many parents that rockets will fall when their children are elsewhere or because it would take too long to move them to safety.
They are also suffering intense and chronic trauma. Many children sing a particular song when the Code Red siren sounds, a group activity which is aimed to help keep the calm. As a 15-year old said, "The BOOM that you hear is terrifying, it's exhausting. There's no day or night here. I miss being able to sleep straight through without having to jump up for the siren every time."
The senior population and those with disabilities are terribly vulnerable. How do they get to shelters? How do they get their meals, which are served at centers? The call for trauma counseling to all populations is significant.
Our partners are providing assistance on the ground:
The Jewish Agency for Israel is continuing its program of respite care for thousands of children from the South by taking them on day-long field trips outside the area. They are also dispersing funds where needed via the Fund for the Victims of Terror.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee continues to distribute food and medical supplies to those in the 0-7 kilometer range of Gaza.
World ORT is providing necessary structure to education outside the class with smart classrooms. Via technology, students are continuing their learning to try and maintain some normalcy in their routine.
The Israel Trauma Coalition is working round the clock to provide care for all those in need in the afflicted regions, including phone lines for those in distress.
After spending a day in the South, rushing to shelters and sprawling on the ground during six “Code Red” missile alerts, I have a much better understanding of what our Israeli brothers and sisters have been experiencing, day in and day out, for months and years.
One thing that is clear: the appreciation and the emotion for our being here is truly humbling. The Israeli people in the South realize even more that they have family in America that cares so deeply. We are all privileged to be here as shlichim (emissaries) for all of our Federations (including Portland).
More help is needed - please support our Israel Terror Relief Fund where 100% of all donations will go to help those affected.
Beyond our community’s unwavering support for Israel, this past Sunday was an incredible Super Sunday -- Community Action Day. A special thank you goes to Jaimie Harper, who chaired the day, and her entire committee. The Jewish Federation held its annual Super Sunday (phone-a-thon for the Annual Campaign) at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center (we were delighted to have all the activities there). In addition to calling community members, we involved over 300 volunteers in:
• Packing and delivering Thanksgiving food boxes for people in need during this holiday season (140 boxes were packed and delivered serving over 480 people). Thank you to Jewish Family and Child Service for coordinating this wonderful mitzvah, Portland Jewish Academy students for donating so much food, Camp Gan Israel for creating Thanksgiving cards for each of the families, and Albertson’s for providing additional food for the boxes.
• Community members dropped off needed household and school supplies, bicycles, clothing, and more to benefit the Community Warehouse, Schoolhouse Supplies, Transition Projects, Community Cycling Center, Foster Closet, Sunshine Pantry, Sunshine Division, Children’s Book Bank, and Operation Nightwatch. Groups also helped prepare silverware packages for families supported by the Community Warehouse.
• Greater Portland Hillel prepared special care packages for students and volunteers.
• The Oregon Jewish Museum interviewed people about their own bar/bat mitzvah experiences for an upcoming exhibit, Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age.
• Maimonides Jewish Day School sponsored the opportunity for toddlers to write mitzvah notes and learn more about tzedakah.
• Melton Adult Mini-School held a class on the ethics of organ and tissue donation.
• NCSY's Project JUMP held a community-building program led by teens in our community.
• Kollel’s Camp SEED entertained children during the day with a bounce house and fun activities.
• People could register for the Be the Match -- National Bone Marrow Registry.
• PJ Library sponsored a community concert with Jewish rocker, Rick Recht. We were delighted to have over 350 people attend the concert. The afternoon was made more special by the participation of Cantors Bletstein and Cahana, Kim Palumbis and choirs from PJA and Congregation Beth Israel.
And, Super Sunday raised over $102,000 from 400 community members with an average increase of 9% to support our community’s Annual Campaign.
THANK YOU to everyone who participated in an exciting day! This is what community is all about – collaboration, communal spirit, and fun.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the passing of Gilbert Schnitzer. Gilbert was a business and philanthropic leader in our community and beyond. Most importantly, he was a devoted family man, who shared a deep love with his wife of 74 years, Thelma.
I had the pleasure of meeting Gilbert on several occasions. He was a gentle, humble and charming man, who cared deeply about our Jewish community. He always spoke of other Jewish philanthropists as “good Jews,” and I can attest he was one, too. May his memory be for a blessing and his family comforted by the mourners of Zion.
Best wishes for a peaceful and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with friends and family and Shabbat shalom.