October 12, 2023

Things not to do (and updates)

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

Dear Federation and Community Leaders,

Please stop collecting military and other supplies. They are a massive drain on resources for shipping, transportation and distribution. The IDF is telling us to stop. The amount of time, energy, and resources it takes to collect, store, transport, distribute, and track donations of materials is time not well spent. Truly. And it is an imposition on the field workers and partners on the ground who need to buy resources locally.

Friends are telling us that there are logistical complexities that people may not realize, which may explain why we’ve seen pictures of supplies being packed in US, but few images of bags being unloaded in Israel. Today we heard of a cargo plane full of equipment that landed in Ben-Gurion with palettes of supplies, but held by the government due to lack of authorization. We learned that it’s illegal to export donated rifle magazines without proper storage and authorization(!). A unit in the south received a generous donation of black tactical vests – but “Israeli military vests are olive green in order to help soldiers identify each other and avoid the risk of friendly-fire. The soldiers were not allowed to wear these since Hamas wears black vests and it makes it difficult to differentiate between ally and enemy. The money, time, effort, logistics and organization involved in delivering those were sadly wasted, and the proper equipment wasn’t delivered.” Finally, we learned that shipping batteries by plane is hazardous, so storehouses and collection points have been flooded with large battery collections that can’t be moved. In addition to the wasted funds, logistics coordinators have commented on the impact it has on their need for physical space.

I know that you want to help. I love you for that. And I know that sometimes it feels cooler, or more meaningful to you to collect military surplus and supplies, especially if you know a front-line soldier who is asking for it. But I promise you that their needs will be taken care of. The army is really good at this, even if they’re a little slow right now in catching up. We need you to give right now to the United Jewish Community Emergency Fund for Israel, which will allow partner agencies on the ground to purchase local supplies and services without delay and in the scale and quantities needed: www.emergencyfundforisrael.com

Apologies for the chutzpah and in deep gratitude for you.

Anyway, join me tonight (Thursday 12th) for a Community Prayer עצרת תפילה through Vaad Harabonim. We’ll meet at Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange at 8pm.

And join me on Friday at 12 noon for a moving conversation with Michal Zur, Director of our Global Connections Israel Office, as she shares her personal account of the terror attack she survived in her home on Kibbutz Erez and provides an update on the status of our other partner communities. We’ll also hear from Senior Community Shlicha Tamar Reshef on her experience as an Israeli here in Greater MetroWest during this crisis and what we are doing to support other Israelis here. Deborah Jacob, Women’s Philanthropy President, will share what you can do to help further. Click here for more information and to register.

On Day 5 of Israel’s war with Hamas the casualty rate has yet again risen significantly. Additional hostile acts by Hezbollah are stoking fears of a two-front war. Late in the afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Union Chair Benny Gantz announced the formation of a national emergency unity government. Five National Unity MKs will join the government as ministers without portfolio, and a new Security Cabinet will be comprised of Netanyahu, Gantz, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, with Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer as well as National Unity MK Gadi Eizenkot (a former IDF Chief of Staff) serving as observers.

President Herzog, meeting with Jewish Federations leaders, said, “Israel is under attack and its people are grieving. But the Jewish state has always shown incredible resilience under fire and today is strong, determined, and united.” The president specifically thanked global Jewry, and singled out the North American Jewish community for “standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel in its hour of need” and thanked us “for all you are doing to speak up, support and defend Israel on the global stage: In the corridors of power, the press, social media and throughout the public arena. We in Israel feel greatly comforted by the fact that the entire Jewish People is with us at this fateful hour.”

In a massive display of unity with Israel, Jewish Federations have organized (or are planning) more than 115 solidarity gatherings in communities across North America. See more here.

The Home Front
The IDF reaffirmed that it has regained control of all cities in the country’s south and successfully prevented multiple terrorist infiltrations of the border fence with Gaza in the last two days.  In addition, a Hamas diver trying to enter Israel via the sea was killed. In the last 24 hours, there have been seven live engagements between troops and Hamas terrorists inside Israel, and IDF forces have neutralized 18 gunmen. The military continues to warn that some terrorists may remain inside Israel from earlier incursions.

IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari clarified that, in the IDF’s opinion, Hamas, in its initial attack on Saturday, “intended to occupy the area, not raid and return to Gaza.”

As more bodies are discovered from Saturday’s attack, the official death toll has risen above 1,200, and funerals are being held around the clock (see here). The IDF Rabbinate and other officials are struggling with the sheer quantity of bodies, significantly slowing both the identification process and the go-ahead for funerals (see details here). To accommodate the large number of military casualties, a new section has been opened at the national military cemetery on Mt. Herzl. Last night hundreds of volunteers showed up on site, following an urgent call to begin the somber task of digging fresh graves (see photo here).

See here for a page, in Hebrew, with information about soldiers who have fallen in the fighting. As details emerge, it is becoming clearer that terrible events were perpetrated by Hamas in the first day of the war, including rapes, beheadings, and the murders of many babies. In addition, towns that were temporarily overrun by terrorists saw homes and stores looted, buildings burned, and more. Estimated damage in one day is more than $1 billion USD. Updated figures indicate that at least 14 US nationals and two Canadian citizens were killed in the Hamas attacks, and that some 20 Americans and two Canadians are still missing.

Significant rocket fire continues across much of the country; earlier today, the city of Ashkelon reported direct hits to property, where two people were lightly injured. Five buildings in Sderot were also hit. Rockets have also been reportedly launched by Hamas drones.  Sirens sounded across northern Israel as Israeli airspace was breached. For a fourth straight day, millions of Israelis ran to shelters as sirens blared. Schools and most businesses remained shuttered across the country. A large area around the Gaza Strip has been declared a closed military zone, to which entry by civilians is prohibited. See map here.

In another sign of unity, members of the anti-judicial reforms protests movements have joined their IDF units, while others have organized and are collecting food, clothing, and other materials for soldiers as well as for the victims of the attacks.

Israeli Response
At least 360,000 soldiers have been called up, thus boosting security in all areas of the country in preparation for a potential ground invasion of Gaza. See here for video footage of the IDF Chief of Staff Hertzi Halevi visiting troops who are readying  for battle.

The IDF has already carried out strikes against more than 2,650 targets across the Gaza Strip since fighting began. Some 1,300 of those targets are multi-story buildings containing Hamas assets, including war rooms where the terror group manages the fighting against Israel. Overnight, the military hit the home of relatives of Mohammad Deif, the Hamas military commander, in Khan Younis, killing the commander’s brother and other family members. See footage here of overnight air attacks and here for the Israeli Navy’s attacks.

According to Hamas sources, some 900 Palestinians – most of them Hamas militants – have been killed in Israeli strikes, in addition to the 1,500 terrorists killed during the initial invasion into Israel on Saturday. According to the UN, 260,000 Gazans have been internally displaced due to the fighting.

Brig. Gen. Omer Tishler, the Israel Air Force’s chief of staff, earlier today said, “We are attacking the Gaza Strip on an unprecedented scale, because what happened here is something that has never happened before. There is an enemy here firing rockets, raiding a civilian population. We are never going back to that…. We do not act like the other side; we do not attack the civilian population. Behind every attack (of ours) there is a (Hamas) target.”

Meanwhile, reports indicate that Hamas’ supply of fuel has now run out and the entire Strip is without regular electricity.

In the country’s north, additional attacks have stoked fears of a second-front opening, this time between Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Yesterday, some 15 rockets were fired into Israel from Lebanon. Earlier today, the IDF carried out a drone strike against a Hezbollah post in southern Lebanon in response to an anti-tank guided missile attack on an Israeli military post on the border. The IDF also launched artillery strikes against the source of the rocket fire. Last night, rockets were launched from terror forces in Syria towards the Golan Heights. See here for details on the threat of a multi-front war. Haifa’s Rambam Hospital, in preparation for possible conflict in the north, has opened its three-level, fortified, underground hospital wards. Other hospitals are following suit.

Israel’s Minister of Interior announced today that nationwide municipal elections scheduled for October 31 will be delayed by three months due to the war.

International Response
In a live address, US President Joe Biden pledged his country’s unwavering support for Israel, saying, “There are moments in this life, when pure unadulterated evil is unleashed on this world…This is what they mean by human tragedy, an atrocity at an unprecedented scale. It brings to mind the worse rampages of ISIS… Sadly, for the Jewish people it’s not new. This attack has brought to the surface painful memories, scars left by a millennium of antisemitism and genocide of the Jewish people…. In this moment, we must be crystal clear, we stand with Israel.”

Biden also announced that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would visit Israel tomorrow in an act of solidarity. Yesterday evening, a plane carrying advanced armaments from the US landed at the Nevatim Airbase in southern Israel. This move will facilitate significant military operations and increase preparedness for other scenarios. It has also been confirmed that the US is considering sending a second aircraft carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean, in addition to the USS Gerald Ford and its accompanying fleet of warships and missile ships. See here for a piece on the importance of the US naval support for Israel.

Also yesterday, the leaders of the world’s leading democracies, US, Germany, Britain, France, and Italy issued a joint statement condemning the attacks on Israel by Hamas and expressed their “steadfast and united support” for Israel. “Over the coming days, we will remain united and coordinated, together as allies, and as common friends of Israel, to ensure Israel is able to defend itself, and to ultimately set the conditions for a peaceful and integrated Middle East region,” said the statement by US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Federation Partners on the Ground

The Jewish Agency for Israel 
The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Fund for the Victims of Terror has received a $5 million donation from the Breakthrough Foundations established by Israeli philanthropists Julia and Yuri Milner, representing the largest-ever single gift to the Fund. The Fund, supported by our Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest provides $1,200 grants in the immediate aftermath of an event with victims eligible for long-term rehabilitation grants of up to $6,300 later on. We still need a lot more support for this fund.   To date, 70 emergency financial aid grants have been distributed and staff have  started to visit the evacuated communities in order to assess needs. In the coming days, each such community will be assigned a VOT liaison.

Nearly 1,500 olim have been evacuated from Jewish Agency absorption centers in the south to safer locations elsewhere in Israel. Approximately 30% of Aliyah candidates (outside of Israel) have cancelled or paused their Aliyah process. Yesterday, 11 elderly Amigour residents were evacuated to the Dead Sea. Tomorrow, in accordance with a governmental request, another 50 will be relocated to Arad.  Also, 2,500 food baskets will be distributed to Amigour residents with the help of volunteers.

More than 5,700 Masa Israel Journey Fellows are currently in Israel, and a small number have decided to return home. Those in programs in the South have been relocated to safer locations elsewhere in Israel. Masa is actively connecting Fellows in need of professional support with numerous mental health experts proficient in various languages. Some 40 Fellows are in the process of making Aliyah. Jewish Agency Shlichim are helping to organize events in their communities, while several who have lost family members or friends have asked to share their stories in their communities before returning home.

World ORT 
Yesterday, an update briefing by World ORT on Zoom was hacked by anti-Israel activists, forcing the organizers to end it abruptly. The call was rescheduled.

With prayers for peace and safety.

Chief Executive Officer