The CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia gives a firsthand account from a mission to Israel that happened to coincide with the escalation of the Israel-Gaza conflict
Editor’s Note: Naomi L. Adler, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, arrived in Israel on July 10 as part of a mission of the Jewish Federations of North America. The visit of the 120-member group, which included eight lay and professional leaders from the Philadelphia area, coincided with the escalation of the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Imagine driving your kids to the store and an air raid siren goes off. Depending on where you live in Israel, you have 15 to 45 seconds to react. If you have small children, you must figure out how to pull over safely, unbuckle them from their car seats and then find shelter, as an incredibly loud siren blares in your ears. If no shelter is within running distance, you must all lie on the ground with your hands over your heads and wait to hear the booming noise of a rocket.
If you are lucky, you hear two booms. The second one indicates that the Iron Dome, an incredible feat of Israeli technology that couldn’t exist without extensive funding from the U.S. government, has intercepted the rocket. After the siren sounds, you must wait 10 minutes to make sure that all of the rocket shrapnel has fallen and it is safe to continue on with your trip.
But what if you have more than one child in the car who needs assistance to get out? What if the person you are assisting is disabled, frail or disoriented? How do you ensure that you and your passengers are safe?
For many, especially those living in southern Israel near the Gaza Strip, life has long been dictated by the necessity of thinking through every aspect of one’s daily routine. But the number of rockets has increased substantially in this latest escalation, hundreds within just a few days.
On Monday, we visited a home in Netivot where one rocket had hit earlier that morning. The mother told me she had started to hide when she heard the siren, but then realized that her two teen boys were sleeping. As she went to get them, the rocket hit her kitchen, blasting through the outside wall, the kitchen and door windows, the living room and through to a neighbor’s house. Both boys were thrown out of their beds in front of her eyes. One boy’s arm was injured by shrapnel and the other’s hearing was impacted by the blast.
As we know, the Israelis are very proud of their resilience. So it was not surprising that the city of Netivot was already repairing this house. The mother also showed me the baskets of food and other items that people had brought to help her cope. How proud I was to hear that money from our Israel Emergency Fund is enabling her to stay in a nearby apartment until those repairs are finished.
Throughout the region, working parents are doing their best to find care for their children since summer school and camp have been cancelled. It is not safe to transport groups of children without adequate support to deal with the sirens or allow them to play or swim outside.
In some cities, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has been transporting people who would otherwise be spending day and night in the shelters to “respite destinations” outside the reach of the rockets. For those staying close, sports equipment and arts supplies have been given to shelters throughout the areas hit the hardest. Another partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel, is helping new immigrants at absorption centers cope with the sirens and protect their children.
Among the most startling conversations I had during my visit were those with the soldiers and security forces in the municipalities near the Gaza border. As I thanked them for their service and told these young men and women that I came from Philadelphia to convey our solidarity with them, they expressed amazement. They said they had no idea that so many Jews across the world pray for their safety. At these moments, I believe that we have illustrated the power of Jewish peoplehood, klal Yisrael.
I spent many hours meeting people who repeatedly assured me that they will be resilient; that this is the Israeli way. They didn’t talk politics. Instead, they talked about how much they appreciate the support of our community, especially now as we are already starting to fund needs that are not being funded by the government or other non-governmental organizations.
That is one of the major lessons from this trip. No matter how you feel about the manner in which this conflict is being handled, you cannot ignore that our Federation is in a unique position to help the people of Israel, as we have successfully helped thousands of Jews in Philadelphia and in so many other countries.
Naomi L. Adler is CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which has launched an Israel Emergency Fund to assist Israelis living under the threat of rocket attacks. To donate, go to: jewishphilly.org/israelfund.