January 24, 2008
$400K effort to remove kids from rockets’ path
Israelis survey the damage in their house after a rocket, fired by
Palestinian militants in Gaza, landed in the southern town of Sderot on Jan. 17.
Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters
United Jewish Communities, the national federation umbrella group, has allocated $400,000 for respite programs for youth in Sderot last week, as the Israeli city faced near-constant attack from rockets launched by terrorists based in the Gaza Strip.
Leaders of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, a contributor to the UJC and its Israel Emergency Campaign, applauded the latest allocation.
“They’re in a war situation, and they’ve been in a war situation for the past seven years,” said Norman Weinberg, the federation’s cochair of Israel Overseas Allocations Committee. “We have to help them.”
Weinberg, who speaks fluent Hebrew and spent many years living in Israel, said that while he considers himself “well informed,” he had no idea how “catastrophic” the situation in Sderot was until he saw it for himself.
While federation dollars support UJC’s efforts in Sderot, the Central federation has also contributed directly to the war-torn town, including funds to operate a community center that was a safe space from the rockets.
The federation also funded Lev Echad, One Heart, an organization made up of high school and university student volunteers who work with Sderot residents to assess their needs and inform the appropriate authorities.
Weinberg also cochairs the federation’s Ness Grants Committee, which offers small businesses in Sderot hard-to-find cash. Ness business loans often mean the difference between being able to continue to manufacture and being forced to close, said Weinberg.
“They’re extremely happy we don’t forget them,” said Weinberg.
The UJC allocation will support a one-month initiative, beginning this week, to take nearly 2,000 Israeli youth out of range of the rockets one day per week. They will have the opportunity to receive trauma counseling and participate in education and recreation programs.
The situation on the perennially tense Israel-Gaza border escalated sharply last week after Israel killed 19 mainly Hamas operatives in a cross-border raid, and Hamas retaliated by stepping up the shelling of Sderot and other border towns and villages.
Over the next few days, Palestinian militias fired more than 200 Kassam rockets and mortar shells at Israeli civilian concentrations — more in three days than in all of December.
“Israelis living in Sderot and the areas around it are holding the border for Israel against those who are intent on the destruction of the Jewish state,” said Toni Young, chair of the UJC Israel Emergency Campaign Work Group. “Thousands of them are children and youth. We of course admire their fortitude and strength, but we clearly recognize that they need support and respite from the daily challenges and stresses of terrorist rocket fire. We will be with them now and in the future.”
The youth-focused program is a joint initiative of UJC and its overseas partner agencies, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, at the suggestion of Israel’s Ministry of Education.