Jewish Federation Fighting Fire with Funds

The burned fields in Netivot during the Philadelphia Orchestra mission trip in june 2018. | Photo provided

As violence escalates along the Gaza border, with Hamas firing 180 rockets into Israel as recently as last week and setting 7,500 acres of land ablaze with flaming kites and balloons in the last few months, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is stepping in to help.

The Jewish Federation recently announced an initiative to raise $112,000 to fill the gaps where need exists and funds do not, specifically in its Partnership2Gether region of Sdot Negev and Netivot, near the Gaza border.

“During times of violence, our Jewish Federation, in partnership with all the other federations across America, ensure that we are funding needs that are not being funded by the government of Israel or NGOs responsible for certain things, such as national parks and forests,” said Naomi Adler, CEO and president of the Jewish Federation. “What we do as part of the collective is to fund health and human service needs,” including trauma and mental health counseling.

The Jewish Federation has worked with its Israel office, headed by Tali Lidar, to determine the critical needs of the area and how it can best help, which also included moving children attending summer camps to safer areas so their camp experience remains as fun and normal as possible, Adler said.

This is not a new effort, she noted, estimating the Jewish Federation raised about $1.8 million during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. The entire Jewish Federation system in Canada and the United States raised around $50 million that year.

While the effort is not of that scale, the urgency is similar, with funds being earmarked for specific uses and solicited from major donors in the community. As such, the Jewish Federation is not yet putting out a fundraising call to the entire community. Instead, it is looking for those who have the capacity to give more than what they already give in the community.

“We don’t want to take from what the community needs here,” Adler said.

“As the conditions in Israel escalate, we will continuously be in constant communication with our region and our team and our friends there, and we’ll always be prepared to act on behalf of our homeland,” she added. “We are very careful, however, with donor money, and we want to make sure we are only funding needs that have been identified as ones no one else is funding, including the government.”

Over the last few weeks, emergency efforts have brought firefighters from the United States — two of whom have been working in Netivot, Adler noted — who help the volunteers looking out for fires and help alert emergency responders.

The money raised will fund a few specific areas of need.

Trauma counseling is a top priority, particularly for low-income families whose subsidies for these services have run out.

A second effort will provide a necessary relief those who have it at their disposal may overlook: air conditioning. As residents hide in bomb shelters, which were created many years ago, the 100-degree desert heat can be dangerous.

The shelters also transform into spaces that fit the community’s need at any given time, whether a kindergarten classroom or a space for worship, Adler noted.

“If you’ve spent any time in a bomb shelter, you learn pretty quickly that it’s not air conditioned,” she said. “So the community shelters, or the larger ones that need air conditioning, our goal is to provide as many as we can.”

A third focus of the fundraising effort will provide speciality firefighting vans — not the typical trucks — that transport hoses and special equipment from one firefighting squadron to another.

“No one pays for those,” Adler said, “so we’re coming in and trying to pay for at least one.”

Lidar, head of the Israel office, has been instrumental in identifying the needs of the community where the money will go.

The region is rural, she noted, and the community residents affected most are largely farmers.

“On one hand, they’re happy there were no casualties from these incidents,” she said. “On the other hand it is very, very difficult, because these are farmers. For farmers to see his field and crops burnt down maliciously time after time, there is a strong emotional and moral impact on the people there.”

The counseling effort has added importance as there have been unforeseen effects on residents, particularly children, who are starting to understand that balloons are not “a fun thing. Kites can no longer be kids toys — they are a threat,” Lidar said.

When it came to determining the best response, such as providing air conditioning, she said, “the immediate response is what are the basic, physical needs to protect the people.”

The relationship between the Jewish Federation and Netivot and Sdot Negev region gives Israeli residents a certain reassurance, Lidar noted. “Part of the idea of support is just knowing that people are out there and willing to reach out to you in times of need.”

Adler hopes the money can be raised within the next few weeks, especially since Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner.

“We strongly condemn Hamas’ latest aggression,” she added. “We know what it’s like. I personally have been there during times of extreme violence, and this is not a way for anyone to live. We believe the IDF is doing everything possible to prevent the use of lethal force and of course, we call upon Hamas to end its campaign of violence against the Israel communities that we support, not only in the Negev, but the entire state of Israel.” 

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