Jul 18, 2014

Day 11 Update: Not Just Another Friday Morning

Dear Friends,

This morning, I looked at my neighborhood with completely new eyes. I live in Motza Illit, a quiet rural spot just outside of Jerusalem off the main highway to Tel Aviv. It’s a pretty sleepy place. But when I got in my car to pick up groceries and buy a chicken for Shabbat, I looked right past the gorgeous Judean Hills to identify potential spots to pull over and take shelter.

Instead of enjoying a few minutes of quiet reflection in the car, I tuned in to “Reshet Bet,” one of the two radio stations broadcasting red alerts in real time, in case I couldn’t hear the nearest sirens. Just last night, more than 50 rockets had been fired on Israel, bringing the total to more than 1,400 over 11 days.

Thankfully, nothing happened on my drive and I got a great spot right by the supermarket—probably because fewer people than usual were out. As I steered my grocery cart into the fruit and vegetable aisle, I heard two people shout in unison, “Sderot!” and then seconds later, “Ashkelon!” By the cash registers, others were broadcasting the latest targets of rocket fire. They too, like so many of us here, are addicted to the Tzeva Adom (red alert) smartphone app.

After I knew where I could find shelter in the supermarket, I started shopping. While I’m usually pretty picky about produce, today just didn’t seem like the time to be so selective. A few bad apples may actually have made it home with me.

Israelis are known for our commitment to normalcy, even in the most trying situations. When a long spate of suicide bus bombings wreaked havoc around the country, non-Israelis were struck by how quickly those scenes of destruction were restored. When restaurants became the targets, security guards immediately appeared at dining places throughout the country with little fanfare.

The fight against terror was woven seamlessly into our days. We didn’t stop. We simply adjusted the rhythm of our daily lives.

Today, the fact that we all have a new app on our phones, that we check the exit signs when we walk into a store or bank, that we don’t wear headphones when we’re out jogging because we don’t want to miss the sirens, are among the hundreds of changes, big and small, to our lives.

Indeed, we live differently than we did two weeks ago—differently than nearly everyone throughout the Western world.

I am fortunate in so many ways. In our small country I am “far” from Gaza—around 50 miles. But the hundreds of thousands of people in the south whose mornings have been repeatedly disrupted by rocket fire—not just these past 11 days but on and off for 13 years—aren’t taking that same short journey to the store. The red alert app on their phone is not a precaution—it is a lifeline. Their kids play in indoor “safe space” parks. Bus stops double as shelters.

It is hard to explain to those who don’t live here. But those who visit during times like these are deeply affected by it. I spent the last few days with a group of Federation leaders who traveled here on a solidarity mission. These men and women have been to Israel countless times, during periods of peace and during waves of terror. Yet even they were changed by the experience. As Deborah Corber, CEO of the Montreal Federation shared, “I slept semi-clothed, room key already in the pocket of my pants and iPhone by my side, just in case I needed to make my way to the shelter during the night. I learned how to case out my surroundings constantly. I learned how to jump out of a vehicle and hit the ground in under 15 seconds. And I learned that Israel still needs its historic partners--Jewish communities and Federations all over the world.”

Our team is hard at work preparing to welcome another amazing group of North American Jewish leaders coming on our second solidarity mission early next week. As an Israeli, I can tell you that this demonstration of unity, of Am Yisrael, from our brothers and sisters around the world is so important. I am proud to be part of an organization—really an ecosystem of Federations and partner agencies—that for generations has supported Israel in so many ways. We have been here through every war and crisis and the aftermath, providing physical, psychological and humanitarian relief.

As a result, we have an unparalleled infrastructure to deliver critical services directly to those who urgently need them. But its capacity is being stretched, as the needs in the south of Israel grow and the threat reaches far beyond Sderot and Ashkelon.

That is why what we do is so important–why Federations’ contributions to the core funding of our partner agencies is vital, and why the current emergency campaign is essential. If history is any guide, half of the philanthropic contributions to support Israel during this time of crisis will come from Federation. That is the strength of our community and the power of our collective.

I know we are up to the challenge. And I look forward to the day when the only sirens I hear across Jerusalem on Fridays announce the start of Shabbat—and of peace.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rebecca Caspi
Director General, Israel Office
Senior Vice President of Israel and Overseas
The Jewish Federations of North America