December 5, 2010
By GIL SHEFLER
Photo by: Ben Hartman
Jewish Agency, JDC have people on ground in northern Israel helping residents flee flames, putting plans in place to help victims rebuild lives.
As flames continued to consume large parts of the Carmel mountain range in northern Israel, causing the evacuation of tens of thousands of local residents, Jewish organizations and communities around the world began mobilizing over the weekend to provide relief for those in need.
Shortly after the calamity began, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), two of the largest Jewish organizations, had people on the ground aiding residents fleeing the flames and putting plans into place for helping victims rebuild their lives once the conflagration abates.
“We are going to take 2,000 Druze and Jewish children – at a time of crisis, we see no difference between Jews or non-Jews – on outings this week so that their parents can run errands and try to organize their lives,” Yehuda Sharf, the head of JAFI social activities in Israel, said.
“We’ve also helped around 100 families be evacuated to three separate locations.”
Sharf added that after the mourning period ends, JAFI will contact the bereaved families and offer them aid that the government does not provide. At the same time, JDC spokesman Michael Geller said his group will soon be accepting donations through its website for helping vulnerable segments of society in the areas affected by the flames.
“Immediately after the fire began, we activated our emergency response team in northern Israel and they began reaching out to the elderly and children,” Geller said. “We’re going to be looking at the areas that have been hit and offer rehabilitation to families, businesses and municipalities.”
The Jewish Federations of North America, which funds both JDC and JAFI, said that it is already in the process of raising funds to help the victims in northern Israel. JFNA spokesman Dani Wassner said that federation leaders in the US and Canada were being updated on the ongoing situation on the ground in the Carmel mountain range.
Meanwhile, Dan Diker, secretary- general designate of the World Jewish Congress and its current directer of strategic affairs, told The Jerusalem Post that his organization would create initiatives to help alleviate the suffering of those whose lives have been disrupted by the fire.
“There will be a large mobilization of the Jewish world to help rebuild lives and replant the trees that have been destroyed,” he said.
“Lots of resources will be sent to rally around Israel during this time.”
Diker, who was named the next WJC secretary-general earlier this week, said his organization’s president, Ron Lauder, was keeping a close watch on the incident and would assume a leadership position in organizing relief efforts.
The Anti-Defamation League praised the numerous countries that have aided Israel’s efforts to fight the devastating forest fire, taking particular note of Turkey’s response.
Ankara sent firefighting aircraft to combat the blaze and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a statement expressing condolences for the Israelis who perished in the fire.
“Unfortunately, sometimes it takes misfortune to bring old friends closer and reinvigorate their relationship,” said ADL national director Abe Foxman.
“Perhaps Turkey’s unconditional willingness to help Israel in this time of need will lead to something good arising from the ashes of these terrible fires.”
In a letter to Erdogan, the ADL wrote, “Turkey’s immediate and constructive response to this crisis is an important gesture of friendship at this very difficult time for Israel and a presentday reminder of the historic and deep ties between Israel and Turkey.”