January 31, 2024

What We’re Doing and What We’re Seeing

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

We’ve been busy. This weekend is Centennial Shabbat, and there’ll be dozens of opportunities at synagogues and agencies across the community to be together. You can see a great list of all the different locations here. I’ll be giving the dvar torah at Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield on Erev Shabbat (Friday evening), and again on Shabbat (Saturday) morning at B’nai Shalom in West Orange. It’s Parashat Yitro (Jethro), which includes the central formative moment in the Jewish People’s sense of self, the revelation at Sinai. So I’ll talk about that, and about Israel, and Federation, and more. I hope to see you at one of the celebrations.

We’re opening registration for our next volunteering mission in Israel, March 3rd-7th. With hundreds of thousands of Israelis called up for reserve duty, foreign workers leaving the country, and many people unable to get to their workplaces because of war-related childcare or safety issues, the need for volunteers is urgent. So this will be a transformative four-day journey to lend a helping hand to our partner communities in Ofakim and Merchavim. We’ll engage in meaningful volunteer work assisting vulnerable populations, addressing food packaging and agricultural needs, and more. This is your chance to make a tangible impact and witness the unwavering resilience of Israelis. For more information click here. You should totally come.

Speaking of missions, I want to thank all the educators, legislators, and community leaders who went last week on a 40-hour fact finding, primary-source-meeting Federation mission to Israel. My colleague Ilyse Shainbrown writes that “[f]rom the moment we arrived until boarding the plane home, we experienced the true intensity of the situation, marveled at the pride and resilience of the Israeli people, and recognized that becoming witnesses to the atrocities inflicted by Hamas, much the same in how we speak to Holocaust survivors or visit concentration camps, is imperative to understanding the conflict.”  You can read her blog post here.

Last Friday, the International Court of Justice in the Hague declined to call on Israel to end its military operations against Hamas and called for the immediate, unconditional release of all hostages, but also said that Israel must “take steps to prevent genocide” in Gaza. To read Jewish Federations’ response to the ruling, click here, and see additional talking points here.

The Latest Numbers: Israel At War. 779 civilians were killed (five on the northern border, the rest in the Gaza region), and 557 Israeli soldiers killed (220 since ground operations began) – thirteen were killed in the north and the rest in and around Gaza. There are still 132 Israelis still in captivity.

15,500 Israelis have been wounded and 218,000 Israelis are internally displaced (138,000 of these are from the south, the rest from the north). Since the start of the war, 11,000 rockets have been fired at Israel (9,000 from Gaza, 2,000 from Lebanon, and around 30 from Syria. The Houthis in Yemen have launched 37 attacks, not all of them against Israel). The IDF has killed around 10,000 Hamas terrorists and some 175 Hezbollah terrorists.

Ongoing reports suggest that a new hostage deal may be close. Under the first stage of an 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. For more information, click here. Over the weekend, Hamas released a video showing three of the women they have kidnapped. As always, Israeli media did not broadcast the footage, to avoid playing a role in what is seen as Hamas’ psychological warfare.

Activists and relatives of hostages have protested for eight straight days near the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the Gaza Strip, aiming to block trucks with humanitarian aid from entering. In a statement, they said, “There is no logic in having the trucks enter directly into the hands of Hamas terrorists… No aid should pass until the last of the hostages returns.” It is believed that 132 hostages remain in Gaza. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of at least 28 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. Two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

The number of Hamas rocket attacks on Israel remains low. Despite this a barrage of eleven rockets was fired yesterday at cities in Israel’s center, including Tel Aviv, causing millions of Israelis to flee to shelters, but no serious damage or injuries. In the north, Hezbollah continues to fire at Israeli targets. In the Red Sea, the US, the UK, and Israel continue to defend against attacks by the Iran-back Houthi rebels in Yemen.


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is a UN body that was created in 1950 to provide services to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the UN, due to the “absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem,” the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed the Agency’s mandate, most recently in June of 2023. Throughout much of its existence, and particularly in recent years, UNRWA has faced serious allegations of working with terrorist groups and of falling under the influence of Hamas. In the past few days, startling and damning discoveries have been made of participation by UNRWA employees to the October 7 massacres.

In 2015, a report by UN Watch detailed 12 separate Facebook accounts operated by UN officials openly inciting antisemitism and terrorism. Teachers in UNRWA schools have repeatedly issued terror-supporting statements against Israel and Jews, and the curriculum taught in UNRWA schools has been exposed for glorifying terrorists and inciting murder and violence.

UNRWA facilities located within the Gaza Strip have often been used by Hamas for military purposes. While the Agency has openly condemned these actions, evidence has been uncovered showing that UNRWA buildings continue to be used to hide Hamas equipment.

In the wake of October 7, Israeli intelligence uncovered evidence of UNRWA workers who were directly involved in the attacks. The New York Times detailed the involvement of 12 employees, which included kidnapping a woman, handing out ammunition, and taking part in the Kibbutz Be’eri massacre where 97 people were brutally murdered. The employees received UNRWA salaries for their work as teachers and in social work and logistics. The Wall Street Journal reported that that some 1,200 UNRWA employees based in Gaza have ties to Islamic terror groups. In the wake of the revelations, as of writing, 17 bodies that fund the Agency’s operations have announced that they will freeze their financing, amounting to 73% of UNRWA’s total 2022 budget of $1.6 billion. These bodies include the United States, Canada, Germany, and the European Commission. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “horrified by the accusations.” The US State Department also responded to the allegations, saying that the United States is “extremely troubled.” They called for accountability for anyone who was involved in the massacres by Hamas. Foreign Policy Advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister Ophir Falk spoke with CNN about the abundance of evidence that UNRWA staffers were involved with the attacks; he called for “an in-depth investigation.”

International Response

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to arrive in Israel tomorrow, for his seventh visit since October 7.

Pramila Patten, the UN envoy for sexual violence in conflict, arrived in Israel to investigate a wave of allegations of Hamas sexual violence on October 7, and “identify avenues for support.” In a message to victims, Patten said: “Please come forward, please break your silence, because your silence will be the license of those perpetrators. My team and I are here to listen to you in all safety and confidentiality. I’m here for a week, I’m prepared to meet you in a safe and enabling environment and to listen to your stories. The world needs to know what happened on October 7.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan is bringing a delegation of nine ambassadors to the UN on a trip to Israel this week. The delegation will arrive later today for a tour, hosted by Erdan, of areas in southern Israel, which were attacked by Hamas on October 7. The group will also meet with released hostages, as well as with the families of those still held captive in Gaza and survivors of massacres. During their trip, the ambassadors — who are from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Liberia, Sierra Lione, Malta, and Slovenia, and other nations — will also be briefed on the latest Israeli findings regarding the allegations against UNRWA.

Further Reading

Jewish Federations

See these resources by Jewish Federations that show you some areas of Federations’ emergency allocations: Young ChildrenVolunteersWomenPastoral GuidanceBedouin CommunitiesFood Security and People with Disabilities. Jewish Federations’ Israel Emergency Campaign has now surpassed $775 million system-wide; and has allocated more than $300 million to a wide range of humanitarian organizations in Israel. See a detailed update on allocations here. It’s really impressive.

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