Since the start of the Protective Edge defense operation, our days have become intense, anxious - and tumultuous.
I want to share with you my impressions of one day.
Early yesterday at 7:30 AM I was at Ben-Gurion Airport to welcome 250 new olim from the United States and Canada. The festivities originally scheduled for this event were canceled as a result of the war, but the abbreviated ceremony was no less moving –perhaps even more so. From the start of the unrelenting barrage of rockets attacking our people, homes and neighborhoods about 1,550 new olim have arrived in Israel !! Not a single oleh canceled, and all those scheduled to arrive in the coming weeks and months report that they are on their way.
From the airport, I continued straight to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva to visit Gabriel Bennahim, a lone soldier from France who was seriously wounded in Gaza on Sunday. As I walked through the hospital corridors, I saw that all of the soldiers' rooms were full of people – families, friends, adoptive families, and well-wishing strangers. People were roaming through the halls with boxes overflowing with gift baskets, flowers, and letters from children all over Israel thanking the soldiers for defending our home. Truly one family.
After Soroka, I caught up with the JFNA Solidarity Mission at our Absorption Center in Beer Sheva where we met with new olim who seemed undaunted- even more determined than before to become part of our society and to share our destiny.
At 7:00 in the evening, I joined the funeral procession of French-born soldier Jordan Bensemhoun in Ashkelon. Born in France, Jordan came to Israel on our Na'ale high school program, attended a mechina (pre-army academy), and joined the IDF as a lone soldier. He was struck down in battle in Gaza on Monday fighting terrorists. We were concerned that Jordan's funeral would be sparsely attended because he had little family in Israel and the public had been cautioned not to travel because of the constant threat of rocket fire. We helped ensure that his family could come and arranged to have two buses of new olim from France who wanted to pay their respects on his final journey. Over 6,000 people came out of their homes and shelters to honor Jordan. Overwhelmed by the massive crowd, Jordan's father asked me, "Do all these people know my son?" That is the secret of Israel. In reality, there is no such thing as a lone soldier.
While still in the south, I met with local municipal officials who spoke in admiration and gratitude about The Jewish Agency's massive activities for the children. Today we reached an all-time high - bringing 7,800 children and teenagers from southern Israel to enjoy a day of activities outside of the line of fire, up from 1,500 just one week ago. This is a complex logistical operation, comprised of maneuvering 200 buses with children in the line of fire and filling the day with both fun and educational components. By the end of this week, we will have succeeded in bringing some respite to 50,000 children and their families contributing immeasurably to our amazing demonstration of national fortitude and resolve.
This needs to be said repeatedly! None of this would be possible without the unswerving support of our loyal and dependable partners in the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod-UIA. Once again, the Jewish People have demonstrated its remarkable resolve to help fellow Jews in need.
Between visits to Be'er Sheva and Ashkelon, I returned to Jerusalem to speak to hundreds of new Jewish Agency shlichim at the conclusion of their two-week training seminar. The situation in Israel has impacted their training, as well, and they spent Monday volunteering in the south after which, many travelled to Haifa to attend the funeral of U.S.-born lone soldier Sean Carmeli in the evening. In the coming weeks, 450 of these young shlichim will depart for their assignments, armed with the tools and the passion to stand up for Israel wherever they are around the world.
All the while, rockets have continued to explode across Israel as we receive terrible news about fallen soldiers. The foreign airlines canceled their flights yesterday to and from Israel, sending a strong message of isolation from the world. And yet, amidst all this sad news, we feel the resilience and the strength of spirit that unites Israel and Jews everywhere. We are proud and buoyed by the solidarity of the Jewish people and we are determined to keep Israel strong.
With fervent hope for better days ahead,