December 15, 2023

Ron hy”d

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

This morning I hosted several dozen police chiefs, sheriffs, county prosecutors, and rabbis for a screening of the Hamas atrocities documentary here at our Jewish Federation. Several weeks ago I was given the opportunity to bear witness to see the 45-minute documentary that provides an unflinching look at the events of October 7th perpetrated by Hamas (the “GoPro” videos). Due to the sensitive nature of its content and privacy requirements, this film cannot be shared online and is only being shown in strictly controlled environments. It’s a very hard opportunity, and one which no one should take lightly. Several weeks later, I still grapple with my responsibility in light of that experience, and I am committed to sharing it – carefully – with leaders of our community. With that in mind, I reached out to make sure that more leaders in the community could have that difficult and challenging responsibility. I am certain that you will hear directly from those who participated in today’s screening. I think it’s important.

Our friends in JFN report that the government updates that, as of today, there are 116,502 evacuees from both the North and the South. 68,051 of them are housed in hotels. This number may not include all the self-evacuees. From those 116,502: 19,844 are from the Gaza Envelope (communities that within the 4km radius from the border), 27,193 are from the city of Sderot, 15,221 are from communities in the 4 to 7km radius from the border, and 561 are from the city of Ashkelon (which is 15 km from Gaza but suffers daily rocket barrages). In the Gaza Envelope, most communities are physically destroyed, and a speedy return is not possible. Plans are being drawn up for each of the communities affected. Most of the kibbutzim, like our partner Kibbutz Erez, prefer to move as a community and be housed in the same place. Nine communities already have a mid-term plan. Seven communities are staying in hotels until the return, and eight are still evaluating alternatives. All these are going to need help and assistance in the immediate, mid, and long-term. The government has decided to allocate 18 billion NIS (USD 4.9 billion) to the authority for reconstruction of the South (“Tkuma”). However, that’s a cabinet decision, not “cash in the bank.” It’s also still unclear how those funds are going to be disbursed.
Many have noted that the government is still showing signs of dysfunction. While some departments are doing great work, civil society and philanthropy continue (and will continue) to play a central role in others. Vulnerable populations are at increased risk, and there’s renewed emphasis on youth at risk among the evacuees. However, the risk for young people is pervasive. The economic toll is growing, especially for the reservists and their families. Government support is not enough to compensate the loss of income and the increased expenses of those families, not to mention the psychological toll of knowing that your spouse/child/sibling/parent is in the line of fire.
As fighting continues, additional IDF soldiers have been killed, bringing the total number of IDF casualties since the ground offensive began to 116, (and to 442 since October 7). Fierce fighting continues in both northern and southern Gaza. See this summary and statement in English about the latest fighting, by an IDF spokesperson. The IDF has started pumping seawater into Hamas’s underground tunnel system in Gaza, a move aimed at destroying the Palestinian terror group’s subterranean network of passages and hideaways and driving its operatives above ground. Read more. The military has placed a bounty on Hamas leaders, with fliers dropped in Gaza offering money for information on the whereabouts of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and other commanders in the terror group. The pamphlet promises Gazans $400,000 for information on Hamas’s Gaza leader Sinwar; $300,000 for information on his brother, Muhammed Sinwar, who commands the terror group’s southern brigade; $200,000 for information on Rafaa Salameh, the commander of Hamas’s Khan Younis battalion; and $100,000 for information on Mohammed Deif, the commander of the military wing.
Funerals were held Wednesday in Israel for troops killed in Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood the previous day, in an ambush using remotely detonated explosive devices. Nine IDF soldiers were killed, including a Battalion Commander from the Golani Brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Tomer Grinberg (35), and two of his Company Commanders. When the explosive device was detonated, the force was split and rescue forces from the Air Force Search and Rescue Unit arrived on the scene. Hamas terrorists then ambushed the rescue forces, killing a Company Commander and a soldier from the unit. The battle in Shejaiya was one of the most deadly encounters since the beginning of the Israeli ground incursion.
Hamas rocket attacks on Israel remain far lower than earlier in the war, but continue to strike Israeli cities on an almost daily basis. Most rockets are intercepted by Iron Dome, but even in these cases, fragments sometimes fall causing considerable damage. See this intercepted rocket that landed in an Ashdod supermarket. In the north, Hezbollah also continues its medium-level of rocket and other fire against Israeli targets. In the Red Sea, Israel and the United States military continue to shoot down missiles fired at commercial shipping vessels, by Iran-back Houthi rebels in Yemen. Israel’s President Isaac Herzog said that the Houthis have crossed a red line. Watch this footage of the Iron Dome operating to intercept incoming Hamas rockets and protect Israeli civilian targets.
Some Israeli media is reporting that there are initial, informal negotiations over a potential renewed hostage deal with Hamas. Sources say Qatar and Egypt are holding informal, initial talks between Israel and Hamas to formulate an outline for a new deal. It is believed that 135 hostages remain in Gaza, at least 20 of whom are dead. The bodies of several hostages have also been recovered. More on this below.

Interesting stuff…

JDC story: The Strongest People You’ll Ever Meet: During War, Living With a Disability in Israel.

A great article by my colleague Avi Siegel, Federation’s Director of Teen Initiatives, on what our kids need to be alright. And an important update from my colleague Linda Scherzer, JCRC Director, on Rutgers making a powerful decision in support of Jewish students.

The October 7 massacres have spurred a massive Torah scroll writing project: Thousands of Israeli Jews, including President Isaac Herzog, have filled in letters on parchment to commemorate the 1,200 dead; and raise awareness for the hostages still in captivity.

A study conducted by Goshen, an organization promoting community child health and wellbeing, as well as the Israeli Pediatric Association, indicates that 84% of Israeli children overall are suffering from emotional distress. Forty percent of parents are also feeling stressed and anxious, but only 14% of parents have sought help for their or their children’s mental health.

Jordan navigates delicately amid Israel-Hamas war.

Former Member of Knesset: Why is Israel unable to explain the war in Gaza to the world?

Finally, I mourn the loss of this beautiful soul, Ron Sherman. Kidnapped by Hamas on October 7th and murdered in captivity.
I met Ron’s mom Maayan and brother last month with our clergy mission from our Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest. We promised to remember him and advocate for his release, along with the release of all the remaining hostages. This is an awful evil thing. A young man whose army service was dedicated to helping Gaza residents with food and supplies, murdered in captivity.

May his memory be for a blessing. May his captors and killers and their depraved and inhuman leaders be brought to justice. And may his family find comfort in his memory.

Shabbat shalom, may it bring peace.