February 1, 2024

The Important Stuff

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

I always think that missions to Israel are critically important. Never more so than now. So I was moved and grateful to see a note from Assemblyman Mike Inganamort of Sussex County, who went with my colleague Linda Scherzer last week on our legislators and educators’ mission to Israel. Mike is proposing Assembly Resolution 86 along with Assemblywoman Rosy Bagolie, “Support[ing] Israel as it defends itself against the terrorist attacks by Hamas” which “quite literally came about as Rosy and I stood in hostage square in Tel-Aviv.

Mike writes “Regarding the impact on my day to day, I can say that I’ve woken up each morning since the trip with Israel on my mind. I’m thinking about Colonel Tetro at the border crossing, the widow we met on the street in Ofakim, and the mother of the injured soldier we spoke with at the Hadassah hospital. I’m wondering what they think about the talk of a hostage deal, about the UNRWA revelations, and even this morning’s raid in the West Bank. All of that is to say, my support for Israel has evolved from something intellectual to something deeply personal. Thank you for making this possible.” I’m deeply grateful for him, and for all those who went to Israel to learn, to experience, and to stand in solidarity. And I’m thankful that Mike Inganamort is a Republican, and Rosy Bagolie is a Democrat, so we have a powerful and moving demonstration of bipartisan support for Israel in the State Assembly.

I’m very proud that this is the Centennial year of our Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ! This historic milestone honors one hundred years of caring for those in need. One hundred years of responding to crises, near and far. One hundred years of building community. And every one of us is essential to strengthening our Jewish community for generations to come. I hope you will participate in Centennial Shabbat this weekend: there are 44 special events, including guest speakers and scholars-in-residence, community Shabbat dinners, fun family programs, Israeli dancing, Shabbat services, and more. They’re all open to the whole community – whether you’re a synagogue member or not. Learn more here. There’s an adorable Children’s Activity Book, available to all Greater MetroWest children from ages 2-7 and their grown-ups, with fun-filled pages of cartoons and activities to help introduce young children to Shabbat traditions, Jewish values, and the Greater MetroWest community. If your child attends a Greater MetroWest Early Childhood Center, they received it there, or you can request copies through Federation’s website from next week. Please join me in thanking our Centennial Shabbat Event Sponsor: Jay & Jodi Murnick, Lee Murnick, Amy & Mark McKeag and families in honor of Maxine B. & Theodore R. z”l Murnick. And I’m particularly grateful to our Diamond sponsors who are supporting all Centennial events: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Sally Gottesman in honor of her parents Paula & Jerry z”l Gottesman, Mandelbaum and Goldberg Family, UJA Benefit Concert Supporting Foundation of JCF, and Wilf Family Foundations. Thank you all!

Still with me? Ok. One additional thing. I’m looking at a very disturbing rise in security costs for our community. One report says that Jewish schools in the United States have seen a 47% increase in security costs since the Oct. 7th terrorist attack. Just for the schools that’s an increased cost of $845 per pupil. We’re continually working with legislators and advocates to make sure that Jewish kids, and Jewish institutions – which are disproportionally targeted right now – have greater access to funds to keep them secure. More on this soon.

Anyway. Here we are. Four IDF soldiers fell in battle yesterday, bringing total IDF losses since the start of the ground operation to 227; the total since the outbreak of the war is 561. For information on the four, see here. See details of all the fallen soldiers here. Heavy fighting is continuing in the largest city in the Gaza Strip’s south, Khan Younis, with the IDF striking at Hamas targets engaging terrorists in combat and locating weapons. The IDF said it eliminated several Hamas terrorists in close-encounter combat in heavily built-up areas. Other units fought in the north and center of the Strip and also conducted operations in the center of Gaza City. In the past 24 hours, dozens of terrorists have been eliminated, according to the IDF. Meanwhile, the IDF is continuing to fight close to the city of Rafah on the Egyptian border although, according to many reports, an IDF move into the city is not on the immediate horizon, even as Israel has made some progress in negotiations with Egypt over the issue. The IDF continues to make headway at destroying Gaza’s tunnels. Current estimates suggest that there are over 450 miles of tunnels under Gaza with at least 5,700 entrance shafts. The entire New York subway system is just 245 miles in total. While dozens of tunnels, and hundreds of shafts, have been destroyed (including some that the IDF has flooded, see details here), many remain operational.

Ongoing reports suggest that a new hostage deal may be close. US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the UN Security Council in New York yesterday, “Hamas now has a choice to make. It can continue to dig tunnels, to plan for its next attack, to use civilians and civilian infrastructure as human shields, or Hamas can lay down its weapons and accept the proposal on the table to release every hostage.” According to some reports, under the first stage of an emerging agreement, Hamas would release some 40 hostages comprised of children, women, the elderly, and those with major injuries. In return, Israel would agree to a six-week ceasefire and would release thousands of Hamas terrorists from prison, including those serving time for murdering Israelis. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with relatives of some of the hostages on Wednesday in Jerusalem, where he said, “We are making every effort. The more public this effort is, the more distant it is. The more discreet it is, the greater are its chances for success.” A new military order declaring a Closed Military Zone, has stopped activists and relatives of hostages who protested for eight straight days near the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the Gaza Strip, aiming to block trucks with humanitarian aid from entering. Instead, the protestors moved to the Ashdod Port, trying to prevent ships carrying aid from entering Israel. In a statement, they said, “There is no logic in having the (aid) enter directly into the hands of Hamas terrorists… No aid should pass until the last of the hostages returns.” It’s believed that 136 hostages remain in Gaza. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of at least 29 of them, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza and elsewhere. Hamas has also been holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who entered the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

The number of Hamas rocket attacks on Israel remains low. In the last two weeks, it has averaged just one or two per day. In the north, Hezbollah continues to fire at Israeli targets. Israel’s Defense Ministry said today that 427 houses of northern residents have sustained structural damage by Hezbollah rockets and anti-tank missiles since October. Some 80 of the houses have experienced direct hits and thus much greater damage. Around 80,000 northern residents evacuated their homes in October under fire by Hezbollah once the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza started. See this infographic. In the Red Sea, the US, the UK, and Israel continue to defend against attacks by the Iran-back Houthi rebels in Yemen.

International Response

President Biden signed an executive order Thursday that could pave the way for sanctions on Israeli vigilante violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. The State Department was expected to announce the first four targets of the order Thursday. U.S. officials said they were not targeting members of the Israeli government accused of inciting violence, and the government has in the past distanced itself from the small minority of settlers who took part in what it called vigilantism, hooliganism, or people’s attempts to take the law into their own hands. The move follows a round of visa bans the U.S. began imposing in December on people involved in such acts. For more, see here. The President also said today that he is working “day and night” to free hostages held in Gaza and bring peace to the region. “Not only do we pray for peace, but we are actively working for peace, security, dignity for the Israeli people, and the Palestinian people.”

Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu met with a delegation of ambassadors to the UN, from Malta, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Sierra Leone. “I think it’s time that the international community and the UN itself understand that UNRWA‘s mission has to end,” he said. “UNRWA is …self-perpetuating also in its desire to keep alive the Palestinian refugee issue. And we need to get other UN agencies and other aid agencies replacing UNRWA if we’re going to solve the problem of Gaza as we intend to do… UNRWA is infiltrated with Hamas.” Watch the footage here.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the UN Security Council’s recently appointed Gaza coordinator, Sigrid Kaag, on Wednesday to discuss ongoing humanitarian efforts and post-conflict reconstruction strategies in the Gaza Strip. Kaag was appointed to head the Security Council’s mission to Gaza after a resolution was passed in late December mandating that more aid enter the enclave.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have removed many of their senior officers from Syria due to a spate of Israeli strikes in the country and will rely more on allied Shi’ite militia to preserve their influence there. Meanwhile a group of 67 plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in US federal court on Wednesday to hold the Islamic Republic of Iran responsible for the October 7 Massacre.

Interesting stuff

After October 7: Offensive cyber operations as a tool of war

JDC Brookdale: Older adults of Ethiopian origin: Recommendations for action during the Israel-Hamas War

IDF soldiers ask the nation: ‘How much of our unity is dependent on our beliefs?

Watch this story of a Beduin family from Israel’s south who are among the hostages held by Hamas.

With prayers for peace, and for the swift return of the hostages.