March 15, 2024

Professionals and Firehouses

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

Yesterday morning (and every Wednesday morning) we had a weekly “huddle” for all of our professional staff. It’s an open space for updates, moments of pride, issues to be noted, even birthdays and simchas and condolences. As I was watching different colleagues inspire us, I thought about burnout, and how we treat communal professionals. I think we do a decent job – not as good as we could, but better each year than the year before. Since Covid, we’ve committed to full salary transparency for job postings to enhance our commitment to equity and to create a more ethical workplace. We’ve also locked in a family parental leave policy that’s fair and understandable: three months of paid family leave to every new parent who works with us after their first year. I know that only about 11 percent of Americans have access to paid leave through their employers, but I also think that, as a Jewish Federation, we should do better. And we do.

Related to this, there’s an excellent article that came out this week on burnout and the impact of October 7th, by my colleague Barry Finestone, CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation. He looks at “Red Zones,” the lingering impact of feeling unsafe and threatened. “Our people,” he says, “have been in the Red Zone for over five months; this is damaging to the Jewish community and the people who make it function.” He has some good recommendations on how to meet this challenge in the article. My favorite is his call to express gratitude. “A little thank you goes a long way. Let’s go out of our way to acknowledge all that Jewish communal professionals are doing in this moment. We can show patience, kindness and the wisdom of our ancient teachings to judge others favorably.”

One additional thing: I’m really proud of Co-Chairs Jessica and Andrew Silverstein, Nancy and Andrew Wayne, and my colleague Joyce Fein, and all the dozens and dozens of lay volunteers and professionals who worked so hard to make last night’s comedy event with Alex Edelman and Ariel Elias such a huge success. I lost count after we reached well over 500 people in the room, and as was said from the stage, we needed to be together and to laugh together for an evening. Thanks for all those who worked so hard to make this happen, to all those who donated to the United Jewish Appeal that night (after an awesome pitch by Campaign Chair Michele Landau), and to all those who came.

Ok. Israel. Ready? Start with this fantastic interview with Jeff Schonfeld. You may think that an article titled “The man allocating $800M in post-Oct. 7 donations to Israel on where the money goes” is bad clickbait, but it really isn’t. To be fair, Jeff is chairing a huge team of lay volunteers and professionals from across the Jewish Federation system, which is allocating close to a billion dollars that we – you – have raised since October 7th. And the insights and powerful message in this interview will make you stop and think. Like one powerful measure of impact after another, what gets funded (and what doesn’t), and what the planning looks like. Totally recommended. And look for my favorite quote at the end of the interview, because it’s something that I frequently say too (no copyright or bragging rights, many of us say this): “We provide annual support to major partners … so that when emergencies happen, they’re ready and don’t have to build the firehouse while the fires are raging.” Nailed it.

Anyway. Here we are. On Wednesday, March 13th, the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support, 352 to 65. Jewish Federations strongly support the complete passage of this legislation to stop the spread of overtly antisemitic content on social media platforms, particularly TikTok.

Israel says that it is now planning to “flood Gaza with humanitarian supplies.” Among the methods being planned is the floating pier off Gaza’s coast that U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Thursday in his State of the Union address. A team of experts from the U.S. Central Command is scheduled to arrive in Israel over the next few days to discuss how to carry out this project with the IDF. For the first time, the IDF prepared for the arrival this week of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip by sea. A ship carrying humanitarian aid from the WCK (World Central Kitchen) organization and funded by the United Arab Emirates set sail on Tuesday from the port of Larnaca in Cyprus toward Gaza. This was carried out in coordination with Israeli security and civilian authorities, and was facilitated after all the equipment on the ship underwent comprehensive security checks. In addition, six humanitarian aid trucks containing aid from the World Food Organization entered the northern Gaza Strip via the 96th Gate along the security fence on Tuesday.  This operation was also carried out in cooperation with the Israeli government and the IDF. Also, over 1,000 aid packages have been airdropped into the Gaza Strip in over 12 missions by foreign countries during the last week, all in coordination with Israel.

Earlier this week, Israel opened up a third humanitarian aid corridor to Gaza on a new road that was especially paved into the northern zone of the Strip. The road was used by humanitarian aid trucks for the first time on Tuesday, despite complaints from members of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition that the government and the IDF were indirectly helping Hamas. Food for 25,000 Gazans was transferred by the UN on the new road. Meanwhile, Hamas has killed the leader of the powerful Doghmush clan in Gaza City, for “stealing humanitarian aid” and being in contact with Israel, according to unconfirmed Arab media reports. The reports said that the clan leader, who was not named, was “executed” in the family compound along with two others. Earlier this week, a Hamas-linked website warned Palestinian individuals or groups against cooperating with Israel to provide security for aid convoys amid the spiraling humanitarian crisis as war rages in Gaza.

As ceasefire talks appear to still be stuck, focus remains on a possible IDF incursion into Rafah, the last area of Gaza containing significant Hamas forces. Some media are citing US Administration sources as saying that the US Government has quietly informed Israel that the US might support a limited military operation in Rafah that would include pinpoint anti-terror operations in the city, without a large incursion. According to Israeli sources, the IDF is working on a plan to ensure the safety of the 1.3 million displaced Gazans in the city. Read this opinion piece: “Israel must go ahead with an operation in Rafah.” The IDF also said that it plans to direct a significant portion of the 1.4 million displaced Gazans in Rafah toward “humanitarian islands” in the center of the territory, ahead of any ground operation in the city


In the north, Hezbollah continues to fire at Israeli targets, triggering significant Israeli retaliations. Yesterday, the IDF eliminated a high-ranking Hamas (Lebanese branch) terrorist. The operative, who had planned and coordinated attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world, was killed in the Lebanese city of Tyre, on the Mediterranean coast south of Beirut. The number of Hamas rocket attacks on Israel remains very low (less than one per day on average), due to Hamas’ significantly diminished capabilities. In the Red Sea, the US, the UK and Israel continue to defend against attacks by the Iran-back Houthi rebels in Yemen. Similarly, the US military continues to strike at pro-Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq. Read this article, “Missiles and UAVs in the Battle for Freedom of Navigation in the Red Sea.”


There is mounting pressure on Hamas to present a counter-proposal to a hostage deal proposed by Egypt and Qatar that has been accepted by Israel. Pressure is being put on the organization by the mediators, with reports suggesting that Qatar has even threatened to expel Hamas’s political leadership and withhold funding from the organization. Released American hostage Judith Raanan, who was taken together with her teenaged Natalie Raanan by Hamas on October 7, says nurses at a hospital where they were brought after being abducted cheered at the sight of the Israeli “prey.” Watch her US television interview here.

International Response

South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor has vowed that citizens who fight in the IDF will be arrested upon returning to the country. “I have already issued a statement alerting those who are South African and who are fighting alongside or in the Israeli Defense Forces. We are ready. When you come home, we’re going to arrest you,” Pandor said on Sunday, at a conference on solidarity with Palestinians in Pretoria. Some 25,000 South African Jews live in Israel. They’re way better off there.

Delta Air Lines says it will resume flights to Israel starting June 7, becoming the second major US carrier to do so since October 7. Delta says it will begin daily flights between New York-JFK and Tel Aviv following “an extensive security risk assessment by the airline.” United Airlines resumed flights to Israel earlier this month from Newark but does not plan to restart flights from other US cities until at least this fall. El Al has continued to fly to and from Israel throughout the war.

Member of Knesset Gidon Sa’ar, a former Likud minister, has pulled his New Hope faction out of War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party. The two factions united prior to the last elections but said they will go their own way in any upcoming national vote. Sa’ar sees hope for the future of a hawkish, but liberal, center-right party, that could eventually merge with a new political block that could include former prime minister Naftali Bennett and others. See more here.

Interesting stuff

Read the story of 19-year-old American-Israel Itay Chen, described as “a beloved individual” whose warmth drew people close to him.  He loved Israel and enjoyed hiking and guiding youth on trips.  On October 7 Itay was taken captive by Hamas terrorists when they infiltrated his army base. His parents Ruby and Hagit spent the past five months traveling the world urging leaders to do everything in their power to bring back the hostages.  On Tuesday, the IDF confirmed that Itay was killed on October 7, and that his body is still being held in Gaza.

My colleague Amira Aharonoviz (CEO of Federation’s partner the Jewish Agency), “The women who give us hope.”

Taking into account the number of victims per capita, the October 7 terrorist attack ranks as the deadliest worldwide in recent decades.  The massacres and ensuing violence caused tremendous upheaval within Israeli society, leaving hundreds of thousands of citizens displaced from their homes in both southern and northern Israel and resulting in widespread trauma experienced by children and adults all around the country: According to the Israeli National Council for the Child, Israel has recognized 19,407 children as victims of terrorism since October 7, including 7,252 children aged five years and younger. Hamas terrorists murdered 38 children and left 20 children orphaned, and another 96 children with only one parent. Terrorists abducted 240 people, including 42 children. Two children, four-year-old Ariel and one-year-old Kfir Bibas, remain in captivity. Psychology experts estimate that there may be up to 600,000 new cases of PTSD among Israelis resulting from the war. This situation could be significantly worse if war breaks out in the north.  The psychological impact of the attacks in Israel reverberates deeply throughout the country, affecting the direct victims, as well as their first and second-degree family members and friends. This trauma further extends its reach to encompass over 300,000 individuals serving in reserves and the regular army, along with their families. The repercussions of the attacks ripple through various circles, affecting released hostages, families of those still held captive, loved ones of the deceased and injured, as well as professionals such as first responders and cyber experts exposed to graphic footage. Even those not directly impacted in southern and northern Israel find themselves psychologically affected, including relatives and friends of those directly involved, and trauma survivors who undergo re-traumatization.

Israeli researcher of trauma Danny Horesh explained that what is happening in Israel is called “compounded trauma,” whereby trauma comes from multiple sources and carriers.  “We are a small, densely populated country, so almost everyone knows at least one person who has been harmed by the war in some way. That combination makes it very difficult to cope with reality. There has been nothing like it in the world, not even in our history as a country with such population density.” As of today, 126,000 Israelis remain displaced from their homes along the southern and northern borders due to danger of incoming rocket fire from Hamas and Hezbollah. This includes around 48,000 school-aged children who must deal with the uncertainty and fear of being removed from their homes and schools. The psychological damage on evacuees from the south is compounded by their incredible loss – loved ones, their homes, their jobs, their possessions, their sense of security and in many cases, hope.

Dr. Stav Shapira of Ben-Gurion University’s School of Public Health explained the added strains of displacement. “If the house is standing, that provides some foundation, a sense of stability and the knowledge that in future there’s a place to return to. But for someone who has lost his home and possessions, the danger of psychological damage is far greater. They’re totally uprooted.” In addition to homelessness, survivor’s guilt among members of the southern kibbutzim is widespread.  In some cases, entire families were slain except for one lone survivor. Many still face anxiety and feelings of helplessness. The prevalent psychological trauma in response to the October 7 massacres and the ensuing war underscores the need for rapid and broad mental health treatments and interventions to heal the country’s wounds.  Compounding the needs is the fact that the Israeli mental health system was understaffed and underfunded before this crisis.

A grand regional bargain cannot be advanced unless Iran is dealt with first

Watch this 54-second clip of Hamas leaders vowing to wipe Israel off the map, annihilate the Jewish people and murder Americans.

Awash in Qatari money, have US campuses become incubators for Doha’s interests?

Cement is one of the reasons why Hamas must be defeated