May 24, 2007
By SHERI SHEFA
As Qassam rockets continued to rain down on the citizens of Sderot, halfway across the world, the United Israel Appeal Federations Canada (UIAFC) was in talks with the Jewish Agency to arrange for the allocation of $2 million to the town that sits on the Gaza-Israel border.
“All of Canada stands behind the $2 million. It is a national decision made by the UIAFC… in recognition and response to the urgency of the developing situation in Sderot,” said Linda Kislowicz, the UIAFC executive vice-president, last week.
The decision was made on May 17, just hours after Howard English, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s vice-president of corporate communications, announced that federation was sending $1 million to Sderot.
“There were already conversations going on behind the scenes with leadership of the Jewish Agency and ourselves and our professionals in our Israel office. Things kind of converged a couple of hours ago and an agreement was made that we would, on a national basis, commit an additional million to the million that Toronto was already committing,” Kislowicz said.
English said that federation was originally planning to send $500,000 as part of a Canadian fundraising program they’d been working on over the past few months.
But when federation decided to bump up the funds to $1 million and fast-track the initiative to send the funds to Sderot as soon as possible due to the escalation of the attacks, UIAFC jumped on board and doubled the gift.
“We had committed $500,000 as part of a Canadian fundraising program. It was a $1-million program from across the country, and our portion was $500,000,” English said. “But now, since Sderot has been bombarded in the most severe way over the past few days, we decided that we’re going to send $1 million right away… We made that decision because it would be unconscionable not to do so. The city of Sderot is in both a terrifying and horrifying position right now and we have to help. We’re responsible.”
Since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, more than 4,000 rockets have struck Sderot, and since last week, it has reportedly been struck by about 70 rockets.
Among the injured are a 70-year-old woman who was seriously wounded when her house was hit by a rocket and two students who were lightly wounded when a high school was directly hit. A mother and her nine-year-old daughter were two of the many who have been treated for shock since last week.
“They’re dealing with 24 hours of tension, they’re dealing with sleeplessness, with depression in some cases, with frequent absences from work and school. They’re dealing with the inability to concentrate on anything but when the next attack is going to take place. They’re dealing with insecurity every second of their lives, and I don’t think anyone here can appreciate what that means because there is no comparable situation that we have faced in Toronto to educate us about what the people of Sderot are going through,” English said.
Danyael Cantor, executive vice-president of Federation CJA in Montreal, said that his federation was very involved in this initiative and advocated that Sderot be approached as a project that was deserving of attention by all the Canadian communities.
He said that this initiative is particularly important to his community, because Montreal is a twin community of Be’er Sheva, where several hundred people from Sderot relocated last week.
Montreal is in daily contact with Be’er Sheva and is intimately involved in addressing this challenge because we’re partners with that community,” Cantor said.
English said that they’d been in close touch with Ze’ev Bielsky, chair of the Jewish Agency, about what needs to be done for the citizens in Sderot.
“One of the main uses for the funds we’ll be sending is a program to send the children of Sderot to summer camps in safer parts of the country. A large chunk of the funding will give kids respite from the constant rocket attacks,” English said.
“Some of the money will go towards trauma counselling and some of the money will go toward educational enrichment for school children, because even when school is open, many children are incapable of going to school. They just can’t concentrate enough to go to school.”
He added that the Jewish Agency is already planning summer camp getaways based on the Canadian commitment.
“I would say they’re planning with the certainty that the money will come because we’ve demonstrated during the [Second Lebanon] War that when we say the money is going to come, it’s going to come,” English said.
“This is going to happen fast. We’re going to fast-track this, and they’re already making decisions based on their knowledge that the funds are coming. Ze’ev Bielsky actually joined our executive committee call briefly to thank us and assure us that this would be in the system very quickly,” Kislowicz said.
English said he hopes this initiative will inspire other communities to help Israelis in need.
“It is our objective to be among the first in the world to provide assistance … We really want to be a catalyst for tremendous global generosity towards Sderot and any other communities that are experiencing the same kind of difficulty,” English said.
“We don’t need to wait to be invited in. We know what our role and our responsibility is, and that is to be with our partners every step of the way,” Cantor said.
A relief fund has also been established for the community to contribute to Sderot. Donations are being accepted at www.ujadonations.com/sderot or by phone at 416-631-5705.