Speakers to Share Stories from Gaza Border

Scenes from Gaza border communities, where fires have burned more than 7,500 acres | Photos provided

Marina Furman was a refusenik for 10 years, stuck in what was then Leningrad before ultimately making aliyah to Israel.

She credits the help of the American Jewish community — especially in Philadelphia — with granting her the chance to have a “wonderful life.”

Now, after living in Raanana, she resides in Bala Cynwyd and works as regional executive director of the Jewish National Fund, which has launched a national speaking tour — “Gaza Border Crisis: The Trauma, The Damage, The Needs.” The tour features three speakers from Israeli communities along the Gaza border who will share stories and experiences of living through violence and experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

The speakers — Michal Uziyahu, assistant to the mayor of the Eshkol Regional Council; Sarit Khanoukaev, a 21-year-old young professional born and raised in Sderot who now counsels at-risk youth and young children impacted by PTSD; and Yedidya Harush, who grew up in the Atzmona community in Gush Katif, relocated to Halutza and served in the 890th Paratroooper Brigade — will share stories at 6 p.m. on Aug. 29 at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood.

It’s a topic she feels the American Jewish community is not talking about enough, and she hopes the tour will encourage audiences to get behind the cause and provide help to their Israeli brethren — the same way they did for her in Russia.

“I know from personal experience the tremendous power that the American Jewish community has,” she said, “and we just need to educate them and inspire them to do something.”

The topic of PTSD will be a key point of discussion, Furman said. Its effects started before the current wave of Hamas-led violence and terrorism along the border, she said, citing the events leading up to Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

JNF worked with those communities — particularly Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which is situated along the border — to help rebuild housing and provide resources and centers for those impacted by PTSD.

“Since the last wave of terrorism started,” she said, pointing to the Palestinian-launched fire balloons, kites and rockets that have set more than 7,500 acres of land ablaze in the last few months, “we’ve been in contact with them, and we saw the devastating impact of this latest wave of terrorist attacks.”

Every night, Furman said, a siren goes on and “you have 15 seconds to get in the safe room or shelter and that happens multiple times during the night.”

Children have been strongly affected by PTSD and the ongoing violence. In regions like Sderot, where there are a lot of children and young families, the impact can be devastating emotionally and morally as it seems like “no one is talking about it,” she said.

“Kids are terrified of balloons … and the parents who worked years growing crops, now it’s all gone in fires,” Furman said. “We decided right away — it was done in three weeks — to have these town halls to come into 13 communities around the country simply telling people what really is going on in the Gaza border communities.”

The speakers will share stories of living in these communities, experiences running to bomb shelters and sleeping in safe rooms, and their own challenges dealing with PTSD for themselves and their own children.

In Israel, a lull in violence amid truce talks between Israel and Hamas is not yet inspiring hope among its residents. Hundreds of people took to the streets of Tel Aviv for the past two weekends “to call on the government to end the cycle of violence more decisively,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

“We’re here because we want the state of Israel to give us a solution because we don’t know what’s going on — we don’t know what’s going to happen,” a student named Maya from Netivot told the Post. “We hear bombs all the time and since March, we have had fires every day and our lives are at risk. We want the state of Israel to give us a solution for a peaceful life. It’s not a privilege; it’s a basic right that every person in Israel deserves.”

Furman hopes attendees from these speaking engagements will feel inspired to become educated and encouraged to help.

“More than learn from their stories, I really hope that people feel and understand what’s going on in the southern Israel and Gaza border communities,” she said, “and that people know, people feel for them, people talk and spread the knowledge and this is something that becomes on top of the agenda for the American Jewish community.

“We know that people care,” she added, “they just don’t know.” 

mstern@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740


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