With Israel in its fourth week of combat against Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia announced that it is accelerating efforts to aid the country's most vulnerable citizens.
Over 1.5 million people, nearly one-third of Israel's population, have so far been affected by the deepening crisis. Their needs continue to mount, explained Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a live video conference call Monday to the leadership of federations nationwide, including Philadelphia.
This week, Federation launched a major fundraising campaign to advance the community's support for Israelis. It is part of the United Jewish Communities national fundraising partnership that is seeking to raise $500 million for Israeli victims. The campaign bolsters Federation's July 18 activation of its Israel Emergency Fund, which is nearing $2 million to be put toward the effort.
The launch of the campaign follows an assessment of Israeli needs that incorporates the findings from a UJC leadership fact-finding mission to Israel, which occurred in July shortly after the crisis took hold. The video conference briefing by Olmert further highlighted Israelis' current and future challenges. Olmert stated that hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been displaced as a result of more than 3,000 rockets being fired at their homes and neighborhoods.
He explained that this is really a war with Iran, via its proxy Hezbollah, whose government stated that it is committed to "wiping Israel off the map." Olmert emphasized that Israelis needed and expected help from American Jews and that the war was "a war being fought by all Israelis" and "by all Jews"--"a war that Israel will win."
Beryl D. Simonson, Federation's board chair, locally hosted the national conference call and also attended the UJC fact-finding mission to Israel.
"The Israel Emergency Campaign is about helping thousands of Israelis survive this crisis and then rebuild their lives and communities," said Simonson. "This is about supporting Israel for all Jews as it defends itself against a determined enemy."
"I think we have to show Israel that we are with them; we are with them financially," said Cindy Smukler Durani, board member of Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas who attended the conference call briefing. "I think it is very important to get over there and show them our solidarity, and I think we have to talk it up in the community. We have to unite as a Jewish community because Israel is really alone right now, and the United States needs to show her that we are with her 100 percent."
Through the Israel Emergency Fund, the community has participated in helping thousands of Israeli children evacuate their homes to safer locations and provided aid to their families, the elderly and others. Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas also organized three demonstrations of solidarity in response to the community's need to show public support for Israel and to help the innocent civilians suffering as a result of the terrorist violence.
With the activation of Federation's Israel Emergency Fund and the enhanced campaign effort, much-needed support is being directed to Federation's key partner agencies in Israel: the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Donations are joining the United Jewish Communities national effort supporting these agencies' humanitarian programs that are effectively responding to every phase of the crisis. This national effort includes all the federations of the 25 largest cities in the United States. When pooled together the synergy of these resources are producing immediate support and meaningful impact.
While there is an increasing demand for additional assistance, current activities have produced impressive results. JAFI has relocated about 12,000 children and youths from the northern communities to safer locations in central Israel and is providing overnight summer camps for them. There are also camps established for children in wheelchairs.
Over 260 families -- mostly Ethiopian immigrants -- from the Safed absorption center, which was damaged by a missile attack early in the crisis, were relocated to an absorption center in the center of Israel. An important scholastic assistance program for Ethiopian-Israeli youths has also been shifted to one of JAFI's summer camps. This will allow these young new citizens to continue this vital program during an important period in their adolescent lives.
Among the programs for younger children, JDC is running activities for over 4,000 children who must stay with their parents in bomb shelters. Volunteers have distributed activity kits in 220 locations (cities, kibbutzim and villages) in areas of both Jewish and non-Jewish populations.
Ande Adelman, Federation's senior vice president of Financial Resource Development, was part of the national fact-finding mission to Israel and experienced programs already in operation through JAFI and JDC.
"While in Israel, I participated in JDC's activity kit program, which is helping very young children who could not be relocated away from their parents and are spending most of their time isolated in bomb shelters," said Adelman. "This is very thoughtful and caring program and another example of Israelis and the global Jewish community working together to take care of our children and help these families through the crisis."
To help make long-term residence in the bomb shelters bearable, JAFI, in coordination with the Home Front Command and JDC, is completing a distribution of TVs, air conditioners and emergency light fixtures to 500 shelters within 18 northern communities. About 480 air conditioners, 1,100 televisions and 1,000 emergency light fixtures have been delivered. They are in the process of adding an additional 1,000 shelters to the program.
JDC has implemented critical services for Israel's elderly population in both the north and the south. These include delivering meals at home to about 3,217 recipients, telephone check-ins to 10,700 elderly individuals, emergency light fixtures for 2,080 people, as well as the distribution of other special emergency equipment.
Since many caregivers for the elderly have fled the affected areas, emergency staff has been required to replace them. Currently, 145 additional emergency staff members are being funded through donations to the Israel Emergency Fund and the combined national effort.
Along with the Ministry of Welfare, community centers and non-governmental organizations, JDC has updated, produced and disseminated 400 emergency information kits for professionals and volunteers who work with people with disabilities in 50 locations. Evacuation assistance has also been provided to 365 recipients. The Ministry of Welfare initiated a forum of foundations and NGOs, in which JDC and JAFI are participating, to address the issues of food, diapers and other necessities for those in shelters.
"Federation's national and international partnerships consist of well-respected and well-established agencies like JDC and JAFI," said Ira Schwartz, Federation's president. "In the midst of the current crisis, our Israeli partnerships again demonstrated their unsurpassed capability to be prepared, to quickly assess the situation from the ground level and to mobilize the right people and resources to provide aid to those who need it most."
For more information on the Israel Emergency Fund, go to www.jewishphilly.org  or call 215-832-0577. Checks made payable to "Jewish Federation" can be mailed to P.O. Box 57200, Philadelphia, PA 19111-7200. Write "Israel Emergency Fund" in the memo field.