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Much more than a Mission

Federation leaders show solidarity with Israel
By Stacey Dresner

Layout 1ISRAEL – When representatives of both the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts and the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts made plans to attend the Campaign Chairs & Directors (CCD) Mission to Greece and Israel from July 7-13, they had no idea that they would be in Israel during such a time of conflict.
“We arrived in Israel late Wednesday night to news that the rockets from Gaza had increased and expanded bombing raids from the Israeli Air Force had intensified,” said Howard Borer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central. Mass. in an email message on Friday, July 11. “Now from Jerusalem, the battles still rage, with no ceasefire in sight. The South has felt the brunt of the rockets, and the almost continuous red alerts have created havoc for the people of the South.”
Last week Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, in response to the escalation of heavy rocket fire into Israel by Hamas militants in Gaza. The fighting began after the kidnappings and murders of three teenaged Israeli boys last month. Their bodies were discovered in the West Bank June 30. Days later, a Palestinian teenager was killed in an apparent act of revenge, resulting in violent protests in Arab areas of Jerusalem and northern Israel.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said that the militants have launched well over 1,000 rockets at cities in Israel since Operation Protective Edge began – including unmanned drones that began earlier this week. Thanks to the IDF’s “Iron Dome” air defense system, most of the missiles into Israel have been shot down, preventing casualties in Israel.
Hamas continued rocket attacks after the Israeli cabinet agreed to an Egyptian-proposed cease-fire deal to halt the current conflict. In response, Israel proceeded with Operation Protective Edge in Gaza after Hamas’s rejection of an agreement that had stipulated for both sides to end “hostilities” by 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Howard Borer and Toby Richmond holding up  “Stop the Sirens” signs in Israel earlier this month.

Howard Borer and Toby Richmond holding up
“Stop the Sirens” signs in Israel earlier this month.

“Although sirens have been heard as far north as Tel Aviv and Haifa, life is very normal in those areas,” Borer said last week. “The red alert sirens go off, people take shelter depending where they are, and at least up until now, after five minutes life resumes. Little did I know when Toby Richmond, our women’s philanthropy chair and I agreed to go on the Jewish Federations of North America’s campaign chair and directors mission that Israel would be in this situation. Toby and I have experienced four red alert sirens since we arrived.”
Also in Israel last week were Scott Kaplan, director of the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Western Massachusetts, and Susan Goldman, Annual Campaign chair of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts (JFWM).
While still in Greece, Kaplan and other members of the mission were briefed on the situation in Israel.
“We knew well in advance of getting there that the situation had escalated, that rockets were flying, and that we were going into a heightened security situation,” Kaplan said. Of the 130 people on the mission, only decided not to go on to Israel, Kaplan said.
“There was almost unanimous support from an individual perspective. The feeling that I had – and that I think many people had – when
Wednesday came around and we knew we were going to be on a flight that night to get to Israel, was a yearning to be with our brothers and sisters and to stand with them…As things were heightening, I knew I wanted to be in Israel.”
One of the most poignant moments Kaplan recalled was when the sirens went off when the group was visiting the Tel Aviv Museum at Independence Hall. The group was taken into the actual Independence Hall, which was the designated shelter.
“We were sitting five feet away from where Ben Gurion was standing when the state of Israel was declared,” Kaplan said. “It was the most ironic and iconic place to be. We were sitting in this hall where independence was declared during the War of Independence for the State of Israel, while the country of Israel is still fighting to this day, in 2014, for independence. The war continues.”
Last Monday, Meredith Dragon, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., also arrived in Israel along with
Federation representatives Carol Engelson, Betsy Freedman, Estelle Lakritz and Fay Smith to begin a week of travel and study in Israel on the JFNA Campaigner’s Mission.
“Both of these trips serve to hone our fundraising skills and help us learn more about where and what our dollars do overseas. But, this mission is…so much more than that,” Dragon said. “Being in Israel right now is a statement about showing solidarity with our Israeli brothers and sisters. Israel completely pulled out of Gaza in August of 2005. It has been nine years that those living in Gaza have operated under their own autonomy. I believe that as we see a variety of press reports from Israel, it is forgotten that Israel is being bombarded by a neighbor who is being supplied with weapons from Iran. Hamas is not fighting Israeli occupation of Gaza. Hamas is fighting Iran’s proxy war aimed at the very existence of Israel. Israel is fighting for her existence. This time, the rockets are more sophisticated and are going further into Israel reaching as far as 150 miles away in Haifa.”
On July 11, JFNA announced the launch of “Stop the Sirens,” an emergency fundraising campaign “aimed at providing urgent and immediate assistance to Israeli communities under the barrage of rockets attacks from Gaza.”
JFNA, the umbrella organization representing more than 150 Jewish federations, said the campaign is a partnership with the Reform and Conservative movements. JFNA’s overseas partners—the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Israel Trauma Coalition—are also collaborating on the initiative.
Additionally, leaders of Jewish federations across North America were set to arrive in rocket-battered southern Israel on Sunday for
a solidarity mission.
“During the mission, participating leaders will meet with Israeli citizens directly impacted by the ongoing rocket attacks and to see the work being done by federation partner agencies firsthand, as well as consult with Israeli government and religious leaders,” JFNA said in a press release.

Making a connection

Before heading to Israel last week, Massachusetts Federation leaders had spent several days in Greece as part of the Campaign Chairs & Directors mission. Participants visited programs supported by annual campaign dollars through site visits with JFWM/JFNA overseas partner agencies.
“We arrived in Athens Monday at 1 p.m.,” said Toby Richmond, Central Mass campaign chair. “First stop was the Beit Shalom Synagogue to hear the president of the Jewish Community speak about the 5,000 Jews living in Greece. Before the Holocaust there were over 90,000.

 From left, Haim Nahmias, Scott Kaplan, Susan Goldman and Minos Moissis in Greece during the Campaign Chairs & Directors mission.

From left, Haim Nahmias, Scott Kaplan, Susan Goldman and Minos Moissis in Greece during the Campaign Chairs & Directors mission.

“Anti-Semitism is very high here at 69 percent, on par with Saudi Arabia. France is at 37 percent,” Richmond added. “We walked to the outside Holocaust memorial which was recently vandalized but has been cleaned up. One boulder in the middle represents the heart and smaller boulders face the direction of communities that lost so many inhabitants during the Holocaust. Names of communities are engraved into the stones.”
The group visited members of the Jewish community who are recipients of assistance from the Jewish Federation, including a 48-year-old woman with cancer who has no family. “We cheer her up, hug her and encourage her,” Richmond said. “Without Federation’s assistance these people could not survive. We all realized that we are lucky to be able to raise funds to help these people rather than being on the receiving end.”
“In spending time with members of the Athens Jewish Community, the sense of kinship and connection is palpable,” said Western Mass. Campaign Chair Susan Goldman. “As Minos Mossis, president of the Athens Jewish Community expressed to us [the North American Jewish Community], “with your help, we feel protected.” He expressed his appreciation to us for coming to Greece and “being witness to our lives.”
“It is clear to me through this CCD mission that geography does not impair or weaken our sense of ‘kol yisrael,’” Goldman continued. “We are all members of a connected, spiritual and cultural community…While having dinner with Haim Nahmias, treasurer of the Jewish Community of Athens, it became apparent how the themes of family and community are primary in both of our lives. Both of us share our passion for our children and our responsibilities as lay leaders in our respective Jewish communities.”
Participants also met with Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaris; visited a Jewish day school in Athens and the homes of families at risk and elderly members of the Athens’ Jewish community.
Once in Israel and despite rocket attacks, participants of the mission continued their itineraries, visiting programs operated by overseas partners, Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and World ORT in Tel Aviv and East Jerusalem. Additional workshops and meetings with political and religious dignitaries occurred throughout the trip.
Scott Kaplan helped facilitate a workshop on the “Integrated Ask” a method of asking for both current and planned giving contributions, which are vital to the success of the Federation’s Annual Campaign. JFWM is the beneficiary of 34 Perpetual Annual Campaign Endowment (PACE) Funds, planned gifts to the Federation that provide an annual distribution to support its Annual Campaign. These funds provide approximately $100,000 each year to the Annual Campaign which in turn supports the local community, Israel and Jews in 70 countries around the world.
“As a Federation professional for the past six and a half years, I have been saying, ‘Your one gift supports Jewish life in Western Massachusetts, in Israel and in more than 70 countries around the world.’” Kaplan said. “I knew that on an intellectual level and I believed it, but I had never experienced it.”
Until last week in the shelter of Independence Hall in Israel.

-JNS.org contributed this story n

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