Tuesday, December 4, 2012



"November 26, 2012

Dear Friends,

As daily life slowly returns to its normal course (such as it is) here in Israel, I can't help but reflect about the dramatic events of the past week.

1.    First It makes the feeling of collective responsibility real when within hours an impressive group of JFNA leaders led by  its brand new chairman, Michael Siegal, landed in Israel, and when the ever energetic Keren Hayesod Chairwoman, Johanna Arbib, flew to the embattled South directly from Zurich and addressed a rally in Toronto from Sderot together with Julie Koschitzky.  

I would like to dedicate a few words of thanks to our partners all over the world, who were at the very forefront of our collective response to the events in Israel’s South.  The Jewish Federations of North America, joined by Keren Hayesod-UIA targeted three areas of activity during the crisis – providing for victims of the attacks through our Fund for Victims of Terror, guaranteeing the welfare of our olim and program participants in southern Israel, and taking children from the embattled regions on day trips out of harm’s way.  Keren Hayesod made a special contribution to the home front through its support of shelters. The World Zionist Organization also played a significant role in providing the children of the region with rest and respite out of rocket range, while the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews helped ensure that the residents of the region had adequate shelter and that local governments had the emergency equipment they needed.  I am tremendously proud of all our joint efforts, a real time manifestation of our implacable and shared  commitment to K’lal Yisra’el.

2.    The outbreak of violence caught me in upstate New York at the Jewish Agency’s kenes shlichim, a gathering of some 250 shlichim based all throughout North America.  As the attacks escalated in southern Israel and as the anti-Israel groups quickly mobilized their virulent anti Israel campaigns, there was hardly a single expression of hostility that went unanswered by our shlichim dispersed on 57 campuses around the country.  In the past, after the Second Intifada, on a tour visiting North American college campuses, I was taken aback by the waves of hostility and described the campuses as “occupied territories”.  I want to remind all of us that it was in response to that experience that the Israel Fellows program was born, and today, there are 57 young Israelis posted on dozens of campuses, leading the efforts together with thousands of Birthright and MASA alumnis which make the picture this time very different. 

The online effort during the crisis was unprecedented—the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and other government agencies used social media in a concerted and relentless manner, broadcasting materials that influenced mainstream media as well.  Our Masa Israel Journey participants also joined the effort, creating the "WeAreHereIsrael" campaign (link) and sharing their experiences in Israel in real time with the world.  We can all be very proud indeed.

3.    In a stroke of fortuitous timing, this past weekend saw more than 200 Russian-speaking Jewish young people from across Europe converge on the Dutch city of Maastricht for a conference on the use of social media to combat the delegitimization of Israel.  The conference, which the Jewish Agency organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, provided participants with the tools necessary to engage in the online battle for Israel, while also creating a cadre of young Jewish leaders from across Europe.  

At a time when hundreds of thousands of European Jews live outside of Jewish communal frameworks, we were heartened to bring so many of 20-to-30-year-olds together for such an important cause, and we look forward to further strengthening this core leadership group .

4.    As the violence raged last week, I joined a delegation of leaders from the Jewish Federations of North America in visiting our renewed Ibim immigrant absorption center, located just north of rocket-battered Sderot.  During our last Board of Governors meeting, we had the unique privilege of welcoming home the first planeload of olim from Operation Dove’s Wings—the final wave of Ethiopian Aliyah.  The olim we greeted have since been joined by hundreds of others, all residing in Ibim.  I remember being asked why we were putting such a vulnerable population in such a volatile area.  

During our visit last week, we saw how, in fact, Ibim is one of the safest places in Israel—the site is covered with bomb shelters and every residential unit has been provided with a safe room, so that no resident is ever more than a couple of steps away from shelter at any given time.  I was struck by the new olim’s resilience—the atmosphere was almost serene, with adults playing board games under the trees and children playing good-naturedly on the lawns.  When an incoming rocket alert sounded, they all walked calmly to the bomb shelters, emerging shortly thereafter with the same equanimity.  It is certainly a credit to our devoted staff at Ibim that the olim have been able to find an oasis of calm within the chaos, as have thousands of olim at all eight of our absorption centers in southern Israel.

On Friday, we shared with you a summary of our activities during the crisis.  What is somewhat more difficult to convey, however, is the sheer magnitude of those activities, and the extent to which they were carried out without a hitch.  Our effort to bring nearly 30,000 children and teenagers from southern Israel on day trips out of harm’s way was a massive and complex logistical operation, involving many hundreds of buses in areas in which residents are expected to be within 15 seconds of a bomb shelter at any given time. 
Plans changed from day to day and from minute to minute, in line with constantly amended IDF situation assessments.  At various points, we even ran out of buses, as the IDF itself requisitioned the buses to shuttle troops to the front.  Still, there was not a single complaint from any of the children or from any of the nearly 30,000 sets of parents—only gratitude, as our professionals worked with clockwork precision to provide the region’s youth with some rest and respite out of rocket range.  This seamless operation could not have happened without the daily coordination by our Deputy Chairman, Rani Trainin who tirelessly managed all our on the ground communication with local municipalities. 

During operation Pillar of Defense in the South, the Fund for Emergency Assistance to Jewish Communities continued to allocate special funds to communities for their security needs. Allocations of one million dollars were made to communities in Europe and South America.

Finally, I would like to note the outpouring of support we have witnessed through our Partnership2Gether peoplehood platform.  From Sydney to Cleveland and from Mexico City to New Orleans, partnership communities have held rallies, engaged in communal prayer, sent countless messages of support, and expressed their solidarity with the people of southern Israel in a variety of other ways.  Please see a partial list of accounts from P2G communities’ activities during the crisis here.

All our partners’ financial support and our staff’s dedication made all this possible. 

A heartfelt thank you again to each and every one of you.


So wrote Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency last week. And who would know better the impacts a united Jewish world community can have than this hero? He...he...understands the core concept of "collective responsibility." He has called us out in the name of Jewish unity time and time again. We have constantly demonstrated that at times of crisis for our People we pull together as a global Jewish community with all of the strength embodied in the concept of collective responsibility. An it is a beautiful thing to watch, an even more beautiful thing to be a part of.

Now is the time for us to determine whether we can also pull together in the more quiet times -- the times in which our federations are challenged as never before. Let us do so reflecting on the past days in which we once again came together as a People as we go forward.


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