Ensuring that children are safe is the No. 1 priority in Israel's northern communities. Well-organized emergency aid programs are moving them to safety, as well as helping families improve living conditions in bomb shelters. The programs have become vital resources for thousands of Israelis affected by the war with Hezbollah.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Israel Emergency Fund supports these and other life-saving programs. Federation's key partners in Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel, who administer them, and provide regular assessments of Israeli needs and updates on the progress being made to address them. This week's update from JAFI focuses on the successful efforts in relocating children to emergency summer camps, helping new immigrants through the crisis, and the programs in place for improving life in bomb shelters.
To date, nearly 24,000 Jewish, Arab-Israeli and Druze children have been moved to safer locations in one of 48 JAFI emergency summer camps in the central part of Israel.
The summer-camp program is designed for older children. Children too young to be relocated are staying with their parents in bomb shelters.
To participate in the summer camps, parents enroll their children, ages 10-18, for free, week-long sessions until they feel it is safe for them to return home. Upon arrival, JAFI staff and Israeli youth-movement volunteers begin the sessions by helping children transition from the trauma of war environment to the camp setting. For children staying beyond one week, parents can come for special day visits. Children are also being given use of cell phones to talk to their parents and keep connected with their families.
These summer camps are the same as any conventional sleep-away camp, with many opportunities for children to make new friends in a kid-friendly environment of sports, arts and other activities. For these children, however, it can provide a welcome and safe relief from the missile attacks affecting their homes; and, of course, a safer location means peace of mind for their parents. The length of each child's stay varies depending on the relocation of families.
Although the program provides Israeli Jewish, Arab and Druze children from the north with the summer-camp option, many parents do not want to be separated from their children during this difficult time. Therefore, close-to-home camps have also been established that provide five days of activities in their home towns implemented by community volunteers.
Bomb shelters have become "home" for most residents of northern Israel, including 1,500 new immigrants still living in JAFI absorption-center shelters. Moving daily life into shelters affects more than psychological well-being; for new immigrants, it requires round-the-clock care to provide for their basic needs. These immigrants, mostly from Ethiopia, arrived in Israel only a few months ago, making them more vulnerable to hardship.
Through the Israel Emergency Fund, donations are supplying bomb shelters with emergency amenities such as food, portable toilets, emergency equipment, as well as TVs, books and games. JAFI staff, including volunteers, organize structured activities for restless children too young to go to the safe summer camps. Transportation to central Israel is being provided for those immigrants lucky enough to have family and friends there who have invited them to locations out of missile range.
Six absorption centers were hit by Katyusha missiles: Tapuz in Nahariya; Sapir in Kiryat Yam; Carmiel; and Canaan, Meron and Tzahal in Tzfat.
The destruction from these attacks is devastating. Up to $1 million beyond partial government compensation is needed to restore each of the absorption centers to working capacity and to improve living conditions. These facilities are critical, as new immigrants from Ethiopia continue to arrive.
Immediate upgrades of neglected bomb shelters are needed to ensure that they are safe and livable for extended periods of time. Israel's Home Front Command has asked JAFI to supply air-conditioning units, televisions, water coolers, toilets and emergency lighting in shelters in Jewish, Arab-Israeli and Druze communities throughout northern Israel. Every shelter has different needs. But the No. 1 priority is air-conditioning, so people can breathe easier in such stifling environments.
The municipalities of Akko and Tzfat are now faced with the challenge of improving the infrastructures in their bomb shelters, which have not been renovated for years, since they were often considered out of harm's way. Responding to a direct request from local officials, JAFI is renovating the bomb shelters to upgrade their living conditions and ensure their operation for years to come.
For families in the lower socio-economic areas in the northern communities, leaving their homes for central Israel was not possible. These families have been literally living in their apartment-building bomb shelters, in crowded, uncomfortable conditions for more than four weeks, and are running out of supplies. JAFI is providing a bomb-shelter kit for these 5,000 families, which includes first-aid kits, sanitary items, cleaning products, fans, flashlights, games and mattresses.
Conditions Much Improved
"The results have been immediate and meaningful, with thousands of children moved to safer locations, and living conditions being improved for thousands of families forced to remain in bomb shelters," said Ira Schwartz, Federation's president. "The Israel Emergency Fund is supporting crucial programs that are not only helping Israeli children and families survive the crisis, but helping them stay strong throughout it."
For more information on the Israeli Emergency Fund, call 215-832-0577 or log on to: www.jewishphilly.org.
Make checks payable to "Jewish Federation," P.O. Box 57200, Philadelphia, PA 19111-7200. Write "Israel Emergency Fund" in the memo field.
Emergency summer camps for children, immigration absorption centers, bomb-shelter improvements
Safe Relocation and Summer-Camp Program
· Total children moved to safety: 23,834
· Total approximate cost to date: $7,600,000
Close-to-Home Summer Camps
· Cost per camper: $80 per week
· Total number of children: 17,500
Immigrant Populations and Absorption Centers
· Number of impacted absorption centers: 13
· Total approximate expenditures to date: $1,500,000
· Anticipated cost over the next week: $500,000
· Work is under way to improve four damaged JAFI absorption centers
· Approximate cost per absorption center: $500,000- $1,000,000
· Anticipated total cost: $4,500,000
Apartment-Building Bomb-Shelter Kits for 5,000 families
· Cost per bomb-shelter kit: $340
· Anticipated total cost: $1,700,000
Making Bomb Shelters Habitable for Long-Term Stays
· Total number of bomb shelters being considered for retrofitting: 2,500
· Anticipated total cost: $4,900,000
· Commercial-grade air-conditioner: $2,000
· Television: $260
· Water cooler: $400
· Chemical toilet: $100
· Emergency lighting: $60
Bomb-Shelter Upgrades in Akko and Tzfat
· Number of bomb shelters: 360
· Average cost to renovate each bomb shelter: $1,100
· Anticipated total cost: $400,000