Jul 18, 2014

Matthew C. Levin, President & CEO

Like my colleagues who so eloquently shared their powerful and poignant thoughts and experiences - and probably like most of you - I feel like I’m living in two countries right now. Our families in Israel - both immediate members and millions bound to us inexorably by history, fate, faith and love – are under attack day and night throughout our homeland. Once again, it is both heartening and heartrending to look out at a group from throughout our remarkable Jewish community… once again gathered in solidarity as Israel contends with the forces of terror.

Here in south Palm Beach County, we are not running in and out of bomb shelters with our children. We’re not afraid to sleep through an alert. We’re not kept awake by our children’s nightmares or by our fears. Fears that our advanced age, our disability, or our young children might keep us from getting to shelter in 15 seconds. That, when we leave the shelter, our home or business may be in ruins. That, g-d forbid, our loved ones will be wounded… or worse.

But we need to ask, yet again, as we have countless times in our history: when will it end? Why on earth does someone need to invent an iPhone app to tell us when our loved ones, our children at high school in Israel or other summer programs, our friends on missions might be in harm’s way from the Hamas missiles?

When does it end? Not last Shabbat in France, when Jews barricaded themselves into the synagogue because a bloodthirsty mob outside threatens them. For what? Being Jewish.

Not today, in Antwerp, when a mob screamed death to all Jews. Or in the uk, where the media incites the mob mentality in the streets. Or in morocco, where a leading rabbi is beaten because Israel exercises her right to defend herself and her responsibility to protect her people.

Fortunately, the Jews of the American diaspora have a different narrative. Some of you may have heard me make this case: that American Jewry today lives in a golden age that no Jews, other than those in Israel, have ever experienced for thousands of years. We can pray in peace. We can rally for Israel with security. We can memorialize the murder of the three young boys without threat of someone causing us harm.

And yet, while living in that golden age, we carry a great sense of responsibility. You have heard it in the words of those who spoke before me. A rabbi who makes an annual summer trip to teach and learn at one of Israel’s premier places of study, comforting the frightened people around him. Another rabbi who joins an AIPAC rabbinic mission to better advocate for a strong partnership between the united states and Israel, and sees first hand the results of our advocacy. A federation leader and businessman who goes on a JFNA mission to better understand and explain federation’s mission and finds himself taking the hand of a holocaust survivor entering bomb shelter with him. This is our narrative. This is our responsibility. To be accountable through good times and bad.

The rockets may not be raining on us -- but we are no less than part of the American Jewish diaspora’s historic role in the safety and security of both the country and the people of Israel.

Two aspects of the current situation make our vital role clear:

First, the pro-Israel community has spent the last 30+ years advocating to congress and successive administrations about the importance of the strategic relationship between the united states and Israel… the iron dome is one of the many products of that advocacy. Today, more than 6 million Israelis live under the umbrella of a missile defense system that is 90% effective against the onslaught from Gaza. That would not have happened without our engagement in the political process.

Second, is our community’s support for humanitarian aid to the people of Israel during these terror attacks and in their eventual aftermath.

This is the moment federations were built for; it is our responsibility to respond to the widening humanitarian crisis that this siege of rockets has created for the people of Israel. When the government of Israel asked Jewish federations to intensify their efforts in this area, we acted immediately - and south palm beach county has truly begun responding to this call. Only last Thursday, we launched our local Israel emergency campaign, part of a broad national effort. In just a few days, our community has raised more than $260,000 through contributions of all sizes for this campaign. 100% of these funds have already been sent on to address the critical needs of our Jewish family under attack.

In administering our Israel emergency campaign’s funds, Jewish federations of north America is working with our overseas partners, the Jewish agency for Israel (JAFI) and the American Jewish joint distribution committee (JDC), to provide a wide array of essential programs and services. We’re also working with our locally-based partner, hands on tzedakah, which is providing hot meals to young people in multiple locations.

Our community’s generosity means that, after emerging from their bomb shelter to find their house destroyed, the nachum family in netivot and others will be able to recover and rebuild their home and their lives.

That many thousands of children are enjoying restorative time away from the sirens and explosions around their homes… uninterrupted by running to bomb shelters.

That elderly, infirm and disabled Israelis including holocaust survivors like chaya, who cannot get to safety in 15 seconds so are confined to a shelter or safe room, receive meals and medicine, comfort and companionship to sustain their lives… and, yes, portable toilets to sustain their dignity.

That the 13% of Israelis including numerous children already suffering from PTSD, and the many more who will undoubtedly follow, receive trauma services for their immediate crisis and to prevent longer term damage.

Yes, south palm beach county has sent generous donations to bring essential aid to our Jewish family under attack in Israel. But our community’s responsibility is simply not over. As rockets continue to fall over much of the country, more help is needed now and will be critical to recovery when peace prevails.

Even further, this latest conflict reminds us unmistakably that Israel lives in a very dangerous neighborhood. While Hamas and other armed groups may not pose an existential threat to the country of Israel, they pose an existential threat to a growing number of our Jewish family members there.

And we… here in the diaspora… have an historic obligation to see that our family in Israel lives in peace with security.

So I ask each of you here tonight – if you have not yet made a donation to help alleviate the physical and psychological damage being wrought on our brothers and sisters in Israel – please use the card that was on your seat when you came in. Join with members of Jewish communities throughout the country, all committed to helping in this crisis. Join the Israel emergency campaign with full confidence that your gift will reach our people in Israel quickly, and where it is most needed.

And I have one more important request of each of you here tonight – you who understand the gap between what’s actually happening on the ground in Israel and what much of the news media conveys in their depictions. Far too many of our friends and neighbors do not understand that – unprovoked – Israel’s people are under widespread bombardment with all the terror and disruption that entails. Far too many right here in south palm beach county just don’t understand that israel – like any country - has the responsibility and the right to protect and defend its people under attack. So I ask you to be Israel’s person-to-person ambassadors. Don’t shy away from those conversations. Prepare yourself, get comfortable with the facts, and look for those opportunities to make that difference.

Our incredible partners in the community: AIPAC, ADL, AJ committee, Israel bonds, FIDF, and other organizations are playing a key role in telling the story along with our federation. These community resources stand ready to help answer the questions.

Thank you.