From JFNA Board of Trustees Chair, Michael Siegal
Just days after beginning my tenure as chair of JFNA’s Board of Trustees in 2012, I found myself in Israel as rockets flared overhead during Operation Pillar of Defense. It was a powerful experience that quickly immersed me in the work of Federation, as Israel’s south was under siege. But it paled in comparison to the intensity I experienced when I returned to Israel amid rocket fire this week on JFNA’s second solidarity mission.
From the moment we arrived and saw IDF soldiers waiting to greet the parents of a lone soldier, to the delays we encountered due to temporary flight bans as we attempted to leave, our delegation continually felt the effects of visiting a nation at war.
As we traveled throughout Israel, it was evident that the scope and intensity of this latest barrage has enveloped the entire country. The ground operation in Gaza means that no one is untouched, as soldiers are called up from every corner of Israel. And the stress levels—from the youngest to the oldest of Israelis—are unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.
We already know about the critical work Jewish Federations are doing to address the immediate crisis. But the long-term implications of this war will be more significant than anyone can imagine.
During my two days in Israel this week, I saw how the stress of the situation is affecting an entire generation. There are children too frightened to go to the bathroom for fear of a siren, or worse, a terrorist. There are kids so petrified to step outside their safe rooms they are literally living inside them. And there are young teens so experienced in dealing with the intensity of war that they are teaching teens in other towns how to cope.
As rockets now reach further into Israel, children living under fire are anxious about leaving their hometowns, even for a day of respite. One Sderot mother told me that after hearing the sirens blare during a visit to a respite center near Tel Aviv, her 8-year-old son said he preferred to stay at home, where he at least knew the way to the nearest safe room. This young child would rather remain in a war zone than spend a day swimming with his friends far away from the front lines. Because that’s what he knows.
The caregivers, too, are carrying unfathomable loads, as they focus day-in and day-out on helping so many others. When we visited the Sderot Resilience Center, one dedicated worker told me what she needed most was simply our show of support, a shoulder to lean on, a hug. Just by being there, she said, we had given her strength to continue with her day.
Even those too small to know what is going on are affected by it. We visited the Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva, where 54 babies live in the NICU. When rockets started falling, the fragile patients had to be moved to a secure area. It took seven hospital workers to delicately move each baby, to a space not equipped for complicated neonatal care. The workers live in fear that one misstep will cost a baby his or her life. It is a heavy burden to bear.
The work of Jewish Federations and our partners is making a critical difference on the ground every day. We must continue praying for the sirens to stop, of course, but we also must continue to support Israel and its people long after they do. Our Israeli brothers and sisters are in great need, and we can—and do—make the difference in their lives now and in the future.
Chair, Board of Trustees