October 10, 2023

Day Three of War

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

Dear Federation and Community leaders,

I am deeply proud to tell you that this morning Federation’s leadership decided unanimously to immediately send one million dollars of Emergency Funding to our beloved Israel. It’s a good start. But we need to raise more, and do more.

The funds will be sent to our partners on the ground to help Israelis in need, the Victims of Terror Fund, and for post-trauma and respite care. We’ll use the funds to care for our partner communities, especially Ofakim and Erez, which were badly hit by terror attacks, killings, abductions, and savage brutality. There is tremendous pain and suffering.

I’ve been asked by many people today about emergency giving. Here are our best thoughts:

First, give to the Emergency Fund for Israel. It’s really simple. If you remember the existential threat to Israel of 1967 and 1973, then this is that. It’s an existential threat to humanity, decency, and civilization from evil criminals who will kidnap Holocaust survivors and little children, rape and murder innocent civilians, and stop at nothing to fight Jews, Israelis, Americans, the West. We need your help to give support for those who need us most, and we need it today. We have to raise funds for the emergency campaign, to help with immediate needs, as well as raise funds to support the United Jewish Appeal, which maintains the ‘fire station’ that allows us to respond even before all the emergency monies are collected. It’s not an either-or; it’s an and-and, so please give right now.

Second, watch out for the charity scams, the one-time organizations, the friends-of-friends, and the people purporting to be representatives of army units, groups, and others. Many are well-intentioned. But we and you don’t have time to check all their credentials. Give to organizations you know, you trust, and that stand for what you love and believe in.

Third, giving is better than collecting. The amount of time, energy, and resources it takes to collect, store, transport, distribute, and track donations of materials is often time not well spent. Truly. And it can be an imposition on the field workers and partners on the ground who need to buy resources locally. After the Newton massacre of school children, 65,000 teddy bears were sent to a town of 27,000 people(!). Eventually nearly all the teddy bears became landfill. It’s understandable that people want to do things that make them feel good, but sometimes – like, right now – we need to listen to what the recipients actually need and ask for. So, in general – and with apologies for the chutzpah and the bluntness – give money, give often, and give generously.

Our national Jewish Federations have given us good talking points for understanding the essence of this evil attack on Israel. Here are the highlights, which many of us have found useful:

Jewish Federations stand in total and complete solidarity with Israel, which has every right to defend itself and protect its citizens.

  1. Israel has the right to defend its sovereignty and its citizens from terrorism, rocket fire, and incursions. Jewish Federations stand behind our Israeli brothers and sisters.
  2. Hamas, an Iran-backed terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s destruction, launched this unprecedented and unprovoked attack on Israel during the holiday of Shmini Atzeret. This is the most significant attack on Israel since the Yom Kippur War, which was launched 50 years ago.
  3. The terror group has fired over 2,500 rockets toward Israel’s major population centers, breached Israel’s borders, infiltrated Israeli communities, and kidnapped over 130 civilians and soldiers. The attacks have killed hundreds of Israelis, injured thousands, and inflicted significant damage on border communities.
  4. 11 American citizens were killed in the fighting as well.
  5. In response, Israel launched Operation Swords of Iron to defend its sovereignty and its citizens. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “Israel does and will do everything possible to prevent harm to non-involved people, but the terrorist organizations knowingly operate from within the civilian population, committing double war crimes – indiscriminately shooting at civilians, while using the residents of the Gaza Strip as human shields.”

On Day 3 of Israel’s war with Hamas the casualty rate has risen dramatically, and Israel has drafted hundreds of thousands of reserve soldiers.

Cities and Towns in the South

Throughout the morning Monday, battles continued to be fought between Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops and Hamas terrorists in at least eight cities and towns across Israel’s south. It was believed that numerous Hamas gunmen remained uncaptured from the original invasion on Saturday, and others had continued to sneak across the breached border through multiple holes in the fence, underground tunnels, and other methods. In the city of Sderot, large numbers of troops from the Paratroopers Brigade were combing the streets and searching house to house for additional terrorists (see photos here). At 11:30 AM Israel Time the IDF announced that it believed that it has regained control of all areas inside Israel, but warned that some Hamas gunmen may remain hidden in towns.

Tragically, yesterday, the death toll from Saturday’s surprise Hamas attack rose above 700 in what is now being labelled as the day that saw the most Jews murdered since the Shoah. This number includes soldiers, civilians, American Israelis, Arab Israelis and numerous foreign workers from Thailand. In the largest-casualty event, a significant number of Hamas terrorists surrounded some 4,000 young people who were attending an outdoor “nature dance party.” The gunmen then fired indiscriminately on the crowd. At least 240 people, mainly teens and young adults, were mowed down. Late yesterday, a group who had fled the party and hid in fields overnight were rescued by the Israel Air Force. See footage here.

Israelis have been shocked to the core by video images, call recordings, and screen shots of WhatsApp messages, emerging from Gaza that show terrorists roaming the streets of Israeli towns, entering houses and shooting the inhabitants. Some footage depicts streets littered with bodies, and others show harrowing scenes of young families (including babies), the elderly, and others being kidnapped by gunmen and driven over the border as hostages.

The Home Front

Rocket fire from Gaza against Israeli civilian targets has continued incessantly over the past 48 hours. While most were short-range rockets aimed at towns in Israel’s south, dozens were also fired at cities in the country’s center earlier today, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Rishon LeZion, Modi’in and more. While most rockets fell in unpopulated areas, or were intercepted by the Iron Dome, at least 80 landed in populated areas. Once again, millions of Israelis ran multiple times to shelters, as explosions were heard across the country, on an ongoing basis, throughout the day. Rocket fire continues at the time of writing.

In a worrying concerning development, IDF soldiers, backed by helicopters, engaged and killed a number of terrorists that infiltrated into Israel from Lebanese territory. Troops are continuing to search the area.

Schools remain closed throughout the country, with gatherings of more than 50 people are banned countrywide. Office workers have been instructed to work from home.

Most stores (other than essential services) remain shuttered as economic activity slows, and Israeli stocks and bonds slipped on global markets. The Bank of Israel (equivalent of the US Federal Reserve) began to sell some of its significant foreign currency reserves in a bid to prop up the Israeli Shekel which slid to its lowest level against the USD in many years.

While Ben Gurion Airport remains open, many international carriers have suspended flights to Israel. Israeli airlines El Al and Arkia are picking up the slack, adding more flights to assist hundreds of Israelis trying to return to Israel, including many young people who have been called up for reserve service.

According to media reports, discussions continue towards forming a national emergency government which could include Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Avigdor Liberman and others.

For those in Israel with missing friends or relatives, a new hotline has been set up, which can be reached by dialing 105 from inside the country. In addition Prime Minister Netanyahu has appointed Brig. Gen Gal Hirsch to coordinate hostages and missing persons on behalf of the government.

US Support

The United States Navy’s powerful Ford Carrier Group, which includes an aircraft carrier and multiple support ships, is steaming towards the region, in a clear sign of support for Israel, and a signal warning against those who may consider a wider escalation. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that munitions will be sent to Israel and that this “underscores the United States’ ironclad support for Israel.” In a second phone conversation in as many days, President Joe Biden told Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that more assistance to Israel will be forthcoming in the coming days.

Israeli Response

At least 300,000 soldiers have been called up in the largest recruitment of reserve troops in decades (see footage here). Some Israeli media are reporting that a ground operation is likely to begin in the coming days. The IDF is working to clear any remaining terrorists from southern Israeli towns, and has begun to evacuate most residents of the South to the center and north of the country, in order to give the military greater freedom of operation.

The IDF also continues to hit Hamas targets in multiple air strikes, including terror tunnels, Hamas officials, weapons facilities, and other sites. So far, 1200 targets have been struck. See here for footage of the IDF attacking terror tunnels in the Bet Hanoun area. Hamas says that at least 500 Palestinians have been killed in over the past 48 hours.

On Monday morning, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant imposed a complete siege of Gaza, including cutting electricity to the region.

See here for the text of remarks made last night by IDF Spokesperson RDML Daniel Hagari.

Federation Partners on the Ground

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC):
Within hours of the initial ambush in Israel’s south, JDC activated its emergency response team and action plans. JDC’s main focus has been on vulnerable seniors, people with disabilities, children and young adults at risk, families in financial distress, and the unemployed. Activities have included:

  • Providing emergency support for people with disabilities, including access to a hotline with social workers and psychologists
  • Strengthening the capacity of nursing institutions for elderly Israelis who have fled from the current conflict zone
  • Expanding mental health interventions for children and youth at risk
  • Training front-line professionals to meet the unprecedented needs among the most vulnerable children and families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

The Jewish Agency for Israel:
The Jewish Agency is focusing on the following areas:

  • Operating the Fund for the Terror Victims.
  • Caring for the safety and resilience of employees and staff in the field, especially in areas affected by the fighting. Working with emissaries to provide psychological assistance where needed.
  • Care of program participants in various programs, including sensitive personal situations resulting from the current situation.
  • Taking 2000 Olim from absorption centers in the South for a five day respite period. Providing respite activities for children and teenagers in families who prefer to stay.
  • Supporting 2700 residents of Amigour elderly care facilities in the South.

The Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC):
Working in coordination with the Home Front Command, ITC’s Southern Resilience Centers remain on high alert. With staff and residents confined to their homes, services are being provided via telephone and zoom.

The Director of ITC’s Sdot Negev Center experienced shooting in her community with two residents killed and two missing. She was also the person who had to deliver the tragic news to relatives who identified the body of their daughter Saturday night.

The southern Bedouin communities have also been affected with two families losing six children ranging in age from 5-15 and an elderly grandmother.

Hold the date and time for a briefing on Friday at 12pm with our Greater MetroWest NJ Israel Director, Michal Zur; our Senior Community Shlicha Tamar Reshef; JCRC Director Linda Scherzer, and more.

Details to come shortly.

With prayers for peace and safety, and healing for those in pain.