Tell American Jews about a disaster anywhere in the world, and they rush to respond. Whether it be the tsunami in Southeast Asia or the war in Kosovo, the Jewish community has always contributed resources out of proportion to its numbers.
And last month, we were presented with yet another horrific disaster. The response? Silence.
While Jews are falling over themselves to run collection drives for victims of Hurricane Katrina – and rightly so – I haven't heard of a single Jewish day school or synagogue raising money for our "disengagement" refugees who lost their homes when Israel abandoned the Jewish communities of Gaza. It's as if these Jewish victims wear a big scarlet letter 'A,' and are being shunned as were adulterers in Colonial America. Why?
Are American Jews silent because they favored disengagement from Gaza, believing it a step toward peace?
Suppose that is indeed the case, though I strongly doubt it. Still, it plunged thousands of Jews into chaos. The homes, workplaces, houses of worship and, for some, even the graves of their loved ones were destroyed. These Jews have been thrust into substandard housing. Most of them are suddenly unemployed, few children have this year's school supplies, and very few have received any of the promised compensation.
Some say that those people deserved it, as if the Jews from the evacuated communities moved there without the support of Labor and Likud governments alike. The fact is that those towns were all planned and planted by Labor Party prime ministers, supported by their country.
And for American Jews who think government compensation and our help are rightly withheld from those who didn't sign on to the plan immediately, how about those who did?
Perhaps you didn't realize that all who were expelled paid to have their own utilities turned off; perhaps you didn't know that all had to pay their own moving expenses; perhaps you were unaware that all have to pay to have their belongings placed in storage while they await permanent housing – perhaps, the Israeli government has already told them, for as long as two years. And just maybe you haven't heard that almost no one who is entitled to compensation has yet received a shekel of what they were promised.
Possibly many thought the Israeli government was covering the costs of relocating and helping to re-establish the lives of those who were being removed. That calculation was based on the $2.2 billion Israel counted on receiving from the U.S. government. But Washington has informed Israel that in the wake of Katrina, the Jewish state shouldn't even ask Congress for the $2.2 billion it was counting on to help pay for disengagement.
Your tax dollars that were earmarked to help the Israeli government bear the costs of moving your brothers and sisters have already been diverted, appropriately, to help Americans in desperate need.
Ironically, the Jewish community has already offered an enormous sum of money to the Katrina effort. How many of those donors gave to the Jews of Gush Katif?
The U.S. government's sole responsibility is to the American people. Still, this administration recognized the need to assist Israel reconstruct the lives and livelihoods of the Israeli Jewish refugees.
If the governments of both the United States and Israel planned to assist the refugees, even those who resisted the plan right up to the last minute, why not American Jews? If the promises and plans have fallen by the wayside, why shouldn't American Jews (the wealthiest Jewish community in the history of the world) step in to fill the breach?
Continue sending relief to victims of the hurricanes, for it's the right thing – the Jewish thing – to do, to help strangers in need. But at the same time, stop shunning the Israeli disaster victims – your very own mishpachah.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus is president of the Zionist Organization of America's Greater Philadelphia region.