Dozens of rockets have hit Israeli communities today (Saturday, December 27) as Israel launched a military operation against Hamas' recent escalation of attacks. Thus far today, rockets have hit a large number of Israel's southern communities including Sderot, Ashkelon, Netivot, and Ofakim. One person has been killed and four wounded in Netivot alone. Another man was wounded seriously during Shabbat morning services as his synagogue took a direct hit.
For residents of the Gaza perimeter, even the "relative calm" of the six-month cease-fire with Hamas had its moments of threatening and damaging Kassam attacks. For many, it was an occurrence they learned to deal with – repressing post-traumatic anxieties from earlier intensified periods and beginning to piece back together semblances of normal lives.
But that was before December 24th when, just days after the cease-fire ended, 80 rockets and mortar shells struck homes, schools, outdoor public spaces, businesses and more across the region. 80 rockets in 24 hours; practically 1 rocket every 18 minutes. By 9:00 a.m., 25 rockets had already begun terrorizing the lives of residents in Sderot and nearby communities as far ranging as Ashkelon.
From small businesses and factories, to kindergartens, community centers and schools, the incessant strikes have caused damage on every level – physically and psychologically; communally and individually. Widespread panic and hysteria have ensued as post-traumatic sentiments have resurfaced and intensified. First responders, working with local authorities, have frantically raced toward attack sites to offer on-the-scene assistance ranging from the emotional to the structural.
Unfortunately, none of this is a new reality for Israel's southern communities. And the Jewish Agency has been standing by the citizens of Sderot and the Gaza Perimeter for the past several years. Responding to their crisis is our utmost priority – then and now. Our response framework strives to not only show our solidarity for their plight, but also work to strengthen their communities from within – fortifying and mobilizing human resources to respond to crises as they unfold.
As the situation escalates, the Jewish Agency is already on the ground, responding with a range of immediate and long-term assistance programs:
Immediate financial aid for victims of Kassam attacks through our Fund for Victims of Terror and its SOS Emergency Fund, created by United Jewish Communities' Israel Emergency Campaign (IEC) and Keren Hayesod.
Cultural and recreational activities for the hundreds of children and youth in Sderot and surrounding communities, including a week-long program of entertainment during Hanukkah vacation and educational trips and summer camps in central and northern Israel.
Business coaching and loans for small- and medium-sized business facing financial ruin as a result of the situation in the region.
Trauma training that enables local community members to serve as first responders, and additional resources for psychological support including a hotline and mobile response unit.
Scholarships for students studying in southern colleges and institutions of higher education and incentive programs that encourage students and young adults in the south to stay and give back to their communities.
As the needs on the ground intensify, the Jewish Agency stands ready to respond. Our programming and staff are already working with local authorities, organizations and individuals and actively making a difference for these beleaguered communities. Sadly, the news from Israel's south comes at a time that is already fraught with turmoil for Jews the world over. The global economic crisis took a more direct – and menacing – turn when it struck into the heart of Jewish philanthropy.
Our efforts to strengthen and empower Israeli communities by reaching out to and helping individuals and communities under fire continue. And we know this wouldn't be possible without your collective and individual efforts to help, give and mobilize. Your partnership has been – and continues to be – a shining light in the darkness that hovers over Israel's southern communities during this week of Hanukkah and beyond.