To most visitors it may have looked like just another sunny summer day at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo: kids feeding the fish, slurping down popsicles, and admiring the pelicans, alpacas, and chimpanzees.
But today, a large number of those children were here not with their families or on a run-of-the-mill camp field trip. They were on a day of respite, a full day of escape from the near-constant air-raid sirens they endure at their homes in southern Israel.
“When the siren goes off, I’m scared,” said 8-year-old D., who moved to Israel from Ethiopia just a few weeks ago and is now a resident of The Jewish Agency’s Ibim Absorption Center in Be’er Sheva. “We all go down to the bomb shelter together, my whole family. Here at the zoo it’s fun. I liked feeding the fish. I can’t wait to see the giraffes and the lions.”
Thanks to support from the Jewish Federations of North America, today The Jewish Agency brought about 1,500 children from southern Israel into Jerusalem, part of its goal of taking more than 10,000 this week from rocket-battered regions into areas outside the line of fire, for rest and recreation.
Today, the children and teens visited the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens (also known as the Biblical Zoo), the Israel Museum, Cinema City, and the Kiftzuba amusement park. They hail from the Ofakim, Shafir, Lachish, Be’er Tuvia, Gan Yavne, and Yoav regional councils, and included recent immigrant children who live in Jewish Agency absorption centers in Be’er Sheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, and Sha’ar HaNegev. The immigrants are new Israelis who moved here from Russia, South America, Ukraine, Europe, Ethiopia, and other countries around the world.
All the activities this week are being organized in coordination with the National Emergency Authority, government ministries, and the childrens’ local municipalities.
In a note about her day, one native Israeli fourth-grader from Ashkelon wrote “It was nice to get to know new immigrants! It was very fun to meet them. The whole day was fun. Thank you to everyone who organized this fun day. [Heart-shape], Talia C."
Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency, met with the groups at the zoo to show his support for these young Israelis who live in the pressured environment of the south. He also noted the quick movement by the JFNA to ensure that Israeli children could get a break from “the conflict” and enjoy a day in Jerusalem, where air-raid sirens are less likely to sound.
“Thanks to the immediate action of our partners at the JFNA and Keren Hayesod-UIA, The Jewish Agency is able to offer a real-time response to the residents of southern Israel,” Sharansky said. "It is both moving and inspiring to feel the mighty fortitude of the people of southern Israel—both immigrants and native Israelis—and the powerful solidarity of world Jewry, which draw upon and strengthen one another. The Jewish Agency is proud to serve as a conduit of positive energy between the Jewish world and the people of Israel's south and we will continue to do whatever we can to support the local residents during this trying time.”
Meanwhile, 8-year-old A, who made Aliyah a month ago from Addis Ababa, was just happy to be seeing zoo animals. “When the sirens go off, I’m scared,” he said. “But here it’s fun. I like the lions and the tigers.”