January 19, 2009


Update from Irv Smokler, JDC President and Steve Schwager, Executive Vice President:

January 16, 2009

The current situation in the Gaza border region and beyond underscores for us how critical JDC’s partnership is to the citizens of Israel, especially when they are under fire. Thousands of elderly, children and youth at risk, vulnerable immigrants, and people with disabilities throughout the southern conflict zone continue to benefit from JDC programs that were in place well before the crisis, as well as expanded services currently being implemented to address new urgent needs.

We share with you below a personal report written by Judy Amit, JDC’s Chief Operating Officer, during her trip to Israel this past week:

The feeling in Israel today is very different than it was during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. First and foremost, there is a feeling that the Government is in control, that responses and services are better coordinated than in the past, and that residents in the south are receiving better care than was immediately available a couple of years ago.

But that’s not to say that all is well. Since 2001 more than 10,000 rockets have been launched into civilian populations in southern Israel, more than 7,000 falling on Sderot alone. The day-to-day fear of living under rocket fire has been tremendous, taking its toll on both children and adults. It is a situation that is unfathomable if you have not personally experienced it. Today this rocket fire has spread to a 25-mile radius and includes Ashdod, Ashkelon, Be’er Sheva, Netivot, and many additional settlements in the south, impacting close to 1 million Israeli citizens.

JDC Participates in UJC Leadership Solidarity Mission to Southern Israel
Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in the UJC Leadership Solidarity Mission to Ashkelon and Sderot. Prior to leaving Tel Aviv, we received security instructions as to what to do if there was a Red Color alert siren: when driving within the 25-mile rocket range we were not to use seat belts, which would hamper our getting out of the car quickly. These instructions were a true reality check.

During a JDC briefing in Ashkelon, we got a small glimpse of the uncertainty of life in the conflict zone: the Red Color alert siren sounded and we had 45 seconds to evacuate the room and walk down two flights of stairs to safety in a bottom stairwell made of reinforced concrete. We managed with relative ease, but imagine a child, an elderly individual, or a disabled person having to take cover in this time.

Sderot residents have a mere 15 seconds to find a safe place, either in a bomb shelter or behind a concrete wall. You can read about this, you can see pictures or watch it on TV…but unless you experience these critical moments firsthand, you have no idea what it feels like. It was a sobering experience.

Help is Just a Call Away for Members of JDC’s Supportive Community in Ashkelon
At the Supportive Community for the Elderly in Ashkelon, where 700 seniors are able to live independently at home because of the many services and the personal care they receive from a JDC-trained “Community Parent.” I asked a couple in their late 70s what they did when they heard the Red Color alert siren the day before. “We just went into the bedroom [a room with only one window; they don’t have a wall of reinforced concrete], sat down on the bed with a blanket over our heads, and waited”—until they heard the bomb exploding near by.

We visited the home of Ovadia—an elderly gentleman who is partially blind, hearing impaired, and has very restricted mobility. A Grad missile had landed close enough to Ovadia’s home to blow the garden doors off of their hinges and Peter, his “Community Parent,” repaired the door for him. When asked what he does when the siren sounds, Ovadia responded, “What can I do? I sit in my chair and pray!” Ovadia described his “Community Parent” as “my security, SOMEONE to rely on, a person who cares about us, and a friend to cry with.”

But what about the elderly and disabled who are not part of the Supportive Community and don’t have a Community Parent to rely on?

That personal care—the “SOMEONE for those who do not have anyone”—is exactly the premise of 120 Strong, an initiative of the Israeli government in partnership with JDC that is assigning caseworkers to each and every elderly or disabled resident within the 25-mile fire zone.

Commitment and Concern in Sderot
In Sderot I visited a school where JDC operates “Havens of Calm,” one of a series of trauma relief programs that JDC has been implementing for children in schools and kindergartens. What impressed me most was the dedication of the principal and the therapists to try and bring some semblance of normalcy into their own personal lives and to the 180 children that they teach and treat.

The principal shared his concerns regarding the fortification of the school. “All schools in Sderot have been reinforced to withstand the rocket fire of ‘Kassamim’ but not the fire of the ‘Grad’ missiles,” he explained, which are a more sophisticated rocket with a greater range. If Grad missiles fall on Sderot, the principal will have to close the top floor of the school.

I left the south of Israel in the late afternoon in a local Sderot cab heading for Tel Aviv, and once again I was given instructions what to do if there was an alert. As we drove out of rocket range from Gaza, I felt the tension leaving my body—but I could not forget the people that I had left behind.

We were very moved by Judy’s report and grateful that because of our history and expertise in Israel, we can immediately and effectively implement programs and strategies when the need arises.

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