Federation Grantees Offer Light in Times of Darkness

Efforts to Forge a Shared Society Must Intensify

An update from our Federation office in Israel

As we enter the fourth week of Operation Protective Edge, we are feeling great sorrow on many levels. Our bomb shelters have become part of our homes as we seek daily shelter from incoming missiles, over 2,500 since the start of the operation. The country mourns the daily loss of life of both our IDF soldiers, and of the innocent Palestinian civilians that are at the mercy of Hamas.

The cease-fires have given way to the continued horrors of war, as Hamas continues to hurl rockets at Israel and uses the terror tunnels to attack within Israel’s borders, with the IDF responding in defense. As the conflict continues to escalate, the only promises are of more violence.

Explaining sirens and the need to enter bomb shelters to our children has been no small task. A nursery school teacher in hard-hit Sderot created a song to help quickly move the children to shelters while giving them a coping mechanism of singing to ease their fears. Camps have been closed and events canceled due to the high security risk.

The nation has mobilized quickly in efforts to extend assistance to the IDF soldiers in Gaza, and the overwhelming sense of community that is felt here is the essence of the Israel we know and love. Children are writing letters to soldiers in combat wishing for their safe return with care packages filled with items the soldiers are lacking: socks, undergarments, soap, towels, toothpaste, etc. Supermarket chains are also selling these items at cost to be shipped to the combat units. Chefs have voluntarily left their businesses to cook for the soldiers. Communities in central and northern Israel are housing hundreds of families from the south who have fled the bombings, welcoming busloads of southerners to organized activities to offer them a moment of relief from the constant missile attacks back home.

Image via Ynet. Letters from Israeli children to soldiers cover a tank.


“To the brave soldier who is protecting our country, thank you for doing what you are good at for the sake of our country. I hope that you and your friends will return safely and that you'll be happy.
You are a hero.”

The Federation’s grantees are leading social change efforts and are lighting the way for so many during this crisis.

They continue their work “because of rather than in spite of what is happening around us,” according to Paz Hirschmann from Tsofen who has been called up for army reserve duty along with 40,000 other civilians.

  • Ma’ase is offering assistance to children and teens in the south including volunteering in bomb shelters, in Soroka hospital in Beersheva, volunteering with children in the Kiryat Gat absorption center, and mapping the needs of the Bedouin community in the south to see if they can help there as well. In an email to their employees, Maase stated, "It is crucial that voices of sanity, tolerance and cooperation will be heard and that individuals and organizations such as Ma'ase Center will continue to work to generate hope and create a reality in which Jews, Druze and Arab stand together and reject violence and incitement."
  • Bina has organized activities for children from the south who are temporarily living with families in and around Tel Aviv. They are also organizing volunteers for visits to senior citizen facilities in Beersheva, along with visits to children with special needs in the area.
  • In Hagar, the Jewish-Arab Bilingual Kindergarten and School in Beersheva that we support, the community held an open-mic evening, struggling to understand the situation with many differing views, but continuing the conversation together and with each other. Executive Director Uri Gopher explains, “this is precisely why I think that this evening represents something very substantial and inspiring in our community that feels they need to be together at this time with the ability to listen to one another, even if opinions are very different from one another.”
  • Our Gvanim alumni have lead important support initiatives that reflect the values of the Federation’s flagship program. They have organized emergency centers in the southern cities bordering Gaza, where children are confined to indoor play due to the meager 45 seconds they have to seek shelter once a siren is sounded and until the missile explodes. They are assisting families seeking refuge in central and northern Israel where missiles attacks occur, but are more infrequent. They are helping the citizens cope with the trauma of being under fire for so long, especially children and the elderly. Gvanim graduate Irit Brook, in charge of the informal education in the Ministry of Education, is currently connecting and guiding all the Youth Movements to help civilians and soldiers, organizing an impressive national headquarters of youth and counselors who are leading countless initiatives throughout the country that offer support services.

While there is real solidarity in many parts of the country, the fragmentation between marginalized segments in Israeli society is increasing. When the missiles and tanks stop firing, we will no doubt encounter a period of regression in our efforts to procure co-existence in Israel. Fueled by distrust and instability, Israeli society will likely face increased racism from both Jews and Arabs, and internal strife among Israelis will challenge the moral society we look to uphold.

Now more than ever, the Federation’s task of strengthening Israel as a pluralistic and democratic Jewish state is paramount.

We will continue to work with our coalition partners, the Israeli government, and our grantees to tend to the social casualties of war, both Jewish and Arab. The challenge was huge before the war, and it is now even greater. And yet we remain hopeful. Israel’s new President, Reuven Rubi Rivlin, bid Israel’s Muslim citizens a peaceful Eid al-Fitr with words of hope:

...In these darkened days, my perception is becoming more focused; creating trust, not only between our political leaders but also between the nations living here, is essential to our ability to establish a life of hope and a common future. In order to consolidate such a trust, listening, constant dialogue and understanding of each other and of the other is required. It is upon us, both the children of Abraham, to live in understanding that we were not condemned to live together, but rather we were meant to live together...

And in an email to their constituents, the executive directors of AJEEC-NISPED, another Federation grantee, remind us of why our work here is so crucial in building a strong civil society, particularly in Israel today:

"When we are caught in extreme darkness, we remind ourselves: it is more important for us to light a candle than to curse the darkness."

May the Federation’s efforts illuminate the way, together with other candles that we must all now light – in Israel, in the Bay Area, and in Jewish communities worldwide – so that Israel may continue to be the democratic and pluralistic homeland our people deserve.

Read more about our work in Israel or donate today to the Stop the Sirens Emergency Fund.

Categories: Israel, Overseas, Grantees


July 29, 2014