Federation – On the Ground in New Jersey and Israel

What do you do when your family is in trouble? When your landscape has changed and the places you know and love are in danger? You wait and worry. You watch the news, read the news, you check in on Facebook (and Twitter, if you tweet.) And you rely on community to come through.


Hard to know if you’re worried about recovery from Sandy or the attacks on Israel, right? Well, I feel the same way. I feel like I am on constant alert. I missed most of the television coverage of Sandy, and now that I am reconnected with multi-media, I almost wish I weren’t. The pictures of the Jersey Shore, Staten Island, Queens, and Long Island take my breath away, three weeks later, because I am seeing them for the first time. The pictures and the news reports from Israel take my breath away for a different reason, because of the reports that blame Israel for defending itself.


My anxiety is relieved when I remember that our Jewish Federation community is on the ground in both places, helping with recovery and showing that we care.


Just this weekend, volunteers from Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ went to Long Beach Island to help with clean up at the synagogue and surrounding area. Again, the pictures are hard to take in. Half a house blown into the neighboring home. Another turned perpendicular to its foundation. The needs are everywhere   food banks are running empty and we are helping fill them, children are traumatized and our Jewish chaplains are comforting them, people need a little peace and we are making and delivering Shabbat packages.


And we, as part of Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), are on the ground in Israel. Our overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and World ORT are evacuating children from the south of Israel to safer places, caring for traumatized elderly who cannot leave their homes, and providing emergency kits and even distance learning for children whose schools are closed.


And sometimes it is words of support that help us, help us be aware and help us feel the community that surrounds us.


The reports from our Partnership 2Gether community of Ofakim, one of the cities in Israel with the most rockets aimed at it, both break my heart and make me proud. Our friend Yael Racov, who chairs the Alpha effort in Ofakim, wrote to us about the way this little development town is responding: “you would have been proud of the way Ofakim is facing this horrible situation. I have tears in my eyes: Ofakim might be a poor town that struggles with everyday troubles, but when it comes to difficult and stressful times Ofakim stands proud and capable.”


My friend Sandy Lenger is in Israel, representing National Women’s Philanthropy on a mission from the JFNA, and her words paint a clear picture for all of us from the tri-state area: “After experiencing Hurricane Sandy in New York and seeing (it) as a Tale of Two Cities...North of 39th Street was with power, food and heat, South of 39th Street was dark and cold and wet: I'm drawing a parallel here in Israel. Walking around Jerusalem by the Mamilla at night while trying to get more minutes for my phone and iPad, life doesn't seem to be interrupted (despite a rocket fired upon Jerusalem this past Friday night). Shops are open, people are at the cafes, and fortunately the David Citadel Hotel where we are based is welcoming many tour groups…As I arrived in Ben Gurion airport yesterday, I overheard an American tourist who was talking about his 'friends' who questioned why he would come to Israel now, under these extreme circumstances. His response was, 'if I have to explain it to you, then you won't understand.'"


And in an “only in Israel” moment, as I was writing this post, Sandy emailed me to let me know she was sitting next to Yael at dinner in Jerusalem, so I could let each of them know how much I am thinking of them and waiting for each of their emails and Facebook posts. One part of my Jewish community finding another part in some ways, not surprising, especially in a moment of crisis.


This weekend, at a family bar mitzvah, I was leafing through the excellent Reform siddur, Mishkan Tefilah, and came across the end of the prayer book, where the songs are, for Shabbat singing and for celebrations. I saw “Al Kol Eileh” and although I didn’t stop to read the lyrics in English, I have been humming the tune all weekend, into this Monday morning.


I took down my copy of Mishkan Tefilah and here is what the song asks for:


“Keep all of these safe, my good G-d: the honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet. Do not uproot what has been planted; do not forget the hope. Return me, and I will return to the good land.”


May this be a song we can all sing. May we be thankful this week for what we have, not the least of which is our strong and vibrant Jewish community. May we all have hope, and may we return, to our good land, here in New Jersey and in Israel.


Wishing us all a Thanksgiving of hope and meaning,


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