This past week, I was in Baltimore, Maryland for the annual Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, where 3,000 communal leaders from around the world gathered to discuss important issues facing the Jewish people. Major topics included: caring for the most vulnerable, developing leadership and community, strengthening Jewish identity and global peoplehood; and supporting Israel’s civil society.
But during the conference, we would read, see, and hear the news about the growing tensions in Israel. And, as we all know, the situation in Israel and Gaza has gotten more difficult. In fact, I spent much of the day yesterday on the phone with leaders from Israel and around the country gleaning information and insights about what is taking place. Here are some details (understanding that things are constantly changing):
• More than 800 missiles and mortars have been fired into Israel from Gaza in 2012 alone. Over one million Israelis – Jews and Arabs alike – live within firing range of Gaza.
• The most recent round of fighting began on November 10th, when Gaza-based terrorists fired an advanced anti-tank missile at an IDF jeep travelling on the Israeli side of the Gaza border. Four IDF troops were wounded. This was followed by a barrage of more than 120 rockets and mortars fired into Southern Israel.
• Israel has shown great restraint over this period, but as the attacks intensified Israel was left with no choice but to defend its citizens. On November 14, the U.S. State Department declared that “there is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel”, and called on those responsible to end their cowardly attacks.
• In response to the attacks and to prevent further rocket fire on its civilians, Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense, aimed at disrupting Hamas’ terror infrastructure in Gaza and restoring quiet and security for the residents of southern Israel.
• The IDF has been making a concerted effort to avoid civilian casualties by dropping leaflets over Gaza, in addition to making thousands of automated calls, advising residents to avoid areas that may be targeted in the near future.
• Despite Operation Pillar of Defense and the onslaught of rockets pounding the millions of Israelis, Israel has not stopped providing electricity and water to Gaza as well as medical care for Palestinians who need it. Israel has provided hospital care for at least 14 civilians from Gaza since attacks on Israel began to escalate.
• Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza have responded by firing more than 375 additional rockets into Israel – targeting in particular the major population centers of Beersheva, Ashdod, and Ashkelon. The Iron Dome system has intercepted over 110 rockets. Rockets have now landed for the first time in the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv and, this morning, the Gush Etzion area outside of Jerusalem. Rocket warning sirens were heard in Tel Aviv for the first time since the Gulf War in 1991 and this was the first rocket fired at Jerusalem since 1970.
• Earlier today, Israel had agreed to cease its strikes on targets in Gaza during Egypt’s Prime Minister Hesham Kandil’s visit, but Hamas continued to fire dozens of rockets in Israel’s southern area.
• The Jewish Federations of North America have made a commitment of up to $5 million for the urgent needs of the people of Israel, especially in the South. Our Federation partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Israel Trauma Coalition and World ORT, are delivering immediate services and assistance on the ground throughout the South. Such services include trauma counseling, financial assistance, and portable bomb shelters.
Beyond the general points above, there are also the personal stories. The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has a long-standing relationship with the city of Kiryat Malachi. Our Federation has funded a number of wonderful programs – including just last year the expansion of a Youth Center and a grant to Yedid, an organization which helps disadvantaged Israelis to advocate for themselves when dealing with problems of housing, law, food insecurity, and other assistance programs. Moreover, several in our community have made multiple visits to the city and developed long-lasting relationships with the people there.
Yesterday morning at 8:32 a.m. Israel time, a Grad missile hit a residential building in Kiryat Malachi. The missile exploded in two neighboring apartments on the 4th floor. Aharon Smadga, 49, Itzik Amsalem, 24, and Mira Sharf, 26 were killed and others injured.
Mira Sharf was visiting Israel from New Delhi where she served as a Chabad emissary with her husband. She came with her husband and three children to mark the anniversary of the 2008 attack on the Mumbai Chabad House which killed nine. Her husband and 4-year-old son were seriously injured.
These people, as well as all Israelis, are part of our extended Portland Jewish family.
We also received the following from a former University of Oregon student, Caleb Zipperstein, who has enlisted in the Israel Defense Force. “I’m living in the south region now. I slept in a shelter last night and the rocket fire is inducing some unnecessary shell shock. This morning, I saw Iron Dome in action. Pretty powerful. All the hard work you're doing to support Israel is paying off, but naturally there is much more to be done. Let me know if I can help in anyway.”
Caleb is there defending the State of Israel, yet he is asking how he can help us. A special young man, indeed.
Earlier today, Israeli President Shimon Peres said, "There is no nation that loves peace and hates bloodshed like Israel, our enemies are not the people of Gaza, and our enemies are not the Muslim people. Our enemies are the terrorists who operate without reason and without thought." The President stressed that Israel's hand is outstretched for peace but that Israel will do whatever is necessary to protect her citizens, "The world is beginning to understand that we are operating with responsibility and we do not take human life lightly. I don't know any country that would show restraint for as long as Israel did during the attacks on the south."
Let us all stand with Israel and its right to defend itself from all threats to its people and territory. Our sympathies certainly go to the victims and families caught in the violence.
Shabbat shalom – and may it truly bring peace.
PS -- Mazel tov to the family of Harold Schnitzer (z”l), the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation (OJCF) and our Jewish community with the family’s recent donation of the Park Tower Apartments in downtown Portland to the OJCF in honor of Harold’s memory and his legacy.
The building is the single largest donation ever made to the OJCF and Portland’s Jewish community. When the building is eventually sold, the proceeds will fund the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Family Fund of the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation, which will provide generous philanthropic support for our community.