April 23, 2007
Despite a difficult year, we can take solace in support offered by world Jewry
Zionists must answer Nasrallah
by Zeev Bielski
With the 59th Independence Day of the State of Israel upon us – the date of which always falls two weeks after Passover – I think it is fair to say we are in the season of independence and freedom.
But, as we learn from both of these great holidays, freedom is not easily attained: The road to freedom is a long one in every generation. But it's one that we all must travel individually and as a nation.
Just as our ancestors did when they took the long road from slavery and exile to freedom and independence, which began in Egypt and ended when they crossed the river Jordan and entered Israel. And again as our parents and grandparents did, taking the long path from exile to statehood and national freedom when our modern-day State of Israel came into being in 1948.
And so, "in every generation" as we say during the Seder, the challenge of freedom is upon us.
Looking back, this last year, Israel’s 58th year was not an easy one: The war in Lebanon; the Iranian threat; undiminished anti-Semitism abroad; and the widening socioeconomic gap between parts of Israeli society.
Yet we can take solace in the fact that when Israel was in danger, when our freedom was threatened, Jews around the world cared and were ready to act.
The North American Jewish community can take special pride in the fact that, when the war in Lebanon broke out this summer, it galvanized and organized quickly to carry out one of the most successful emergency campaigns in recent history.
We in Israel owe a debt of gratitude to the United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod and to Federations across the US and Canada for raising over USD 300 million within weeks to help Israelis under attack in the North.
Thanks to this emergency campaign, we at the Jewish Agency we able to bring direct, needed emergency assistance to tens of thousands of Israelis living in the war zone within days of the start of the war.
Zionist answer to Nasrallah
Our crews would go to from shelter to shelter across the north to install air conditions – as the temperatures in the shelters during July and August were unbearably hot – and televisions; when needed, we also installed water filtration systems and other sanitation and first aid supplies.
Our teams worked at nights – as the rockets were fired for the most part only during the day – and reached over 2,000 shelters in communities and cities all across northern Israel. We took 40,000 children from the north and evacuated them to summer camps we set up in the center of the country.
After that, we sponsored scholarships for students drafted during the war, to offset the summer jobs they lost due to the draft. (We gave each student who was enlisted for over 2 weeks almost a USD 1,000 grant; we had over 8,000 students who received this aid.)
Then, to counter the alarming trend of plummeting student enrollment in colleges in northern Israel, we offered scholarship to students studying in colleges in the north as an incentive to register.
And then when the rockets stopped falling in the north we turned our attention to the Sderot area, which is still being hit by Qassam rockets, offering grants to small business, scholarships to students studying in the area college and after-school activities and summer camp alternatives to students living in the areas where rockets fall
But our work in the north is not complete. We want to rebuild the north. We want to build schools, sports facilities, cultural centers; we want to improve education, and encourage small businesses and high-tech – all this to make a communities in the north attractive and resilient.
This is the Zionist answer to Hassan Nasrallah of the Hizbullah.
My message to you as we celebrate another year to the State of Israel is: partake in this effort; help build Israel, where it needs rebuilding; and build the yet-to-be-built parts of the country in the Negev and the Galilee.
Let’s continue to stand together, as we did during the war, as a united Jewish people. Let's walk in our generation, during these difficult times, the path of freedom so that it endures for the Jewish people and for our Jewish home in Israel.
Zeev Bielski is the Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel