With all the turmoil taking place amid the Gaza Border in Israel, the organization known for not only planting trees in the land of Israel but also for helping change the landscape of the region, Jewish National Fund, hosted a Gaza rally at Park East Synagogue on the Upper East Side. Hundreds of people ranging from young professionals to politicians attended the event in order to hear firsthand stories of what those living on the border of terror have been going through and how JNF is raising awareness of these incidents. The rallies, which have been taking place across the country, featured the stories of three Israelis who live under attack in communities along the Gaza border. The trio included a mother, a young pioneer, and a farmer whose ordeals which have been featured in the headlines, came to life as they talked about, well, their lives.
The residents of this tumultuous region explained how the balloons, incendiary kites and rockets have become a part of their daily lives. Since March 2018, terrorists from Gaza have traumatized the people living in neighboring communities along the border with the Gaza Strip, forcing young children and families to seek safety in shelters. These past four months have threatened both their mental well-being and their livelihood. Nearly 10,000 acres of farmland has been scorched, decimating the region’s agricultural economy. There has also been a massive increase in the number of individuals experiencing and being treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“The strength of Israel’s Southern communities is being tested once again by the ideological terror of Hamas,” said Consul General of Israel in New York, Ambassador Dani Dayan. “They will never achieve their aims, but this event marks an important effort to highlight to the world the unacceptable risk that over a million Israelis live with while Hamas rules in Gaza.’
Local psychologist, Dr. Jessica Weiss, spoke of the devastating impact the incessant attacks have on the lives of people living in communities along the Gaza border. After all, some wounds cannot be seen but are just as real and life changing.
Michal Uziyahu, a mother of three, is the director of community centers for the Eshkol Region which shares 30 miles of border with Gaza and knows just how much JNF helps in the area. Uziyahu has witnessed firsthand the effects of trauma on young children resulting from the constant stream of rocket fire and terrorism being felt and witnessed on a daily basis. She spoke not only of the horrifying sounds of alerts heard when rockets are dispatched towards Israel, but also of the hope and gratitude she has amidst the fear.
“It’s with the generous support of Jewish National Fund that PTSD services are available,” said Uziyahu. “The JNF Sderot Indoor Recreation Center, which is a huge playground and bomb shelter, has been open extra hours for us to use. JNF has delivered new firefighting wagons, special activities for our children, and so much more. There is a brand new resilience center in Eshkol that Jewish National Fund recently funded and two more are being built in the area.”
Jewish National Fund’s incoming Greater New York Board President, Deborah Riegel, gave the audience a glimpse into the work being done by JNF on the ground amid the current situation.
“Over the past two weeks alone we took 1,050 kids out of the region to visit historical sites, zoos, and concerts for fun days of respite activities. We are doing all this to put smiles on the faces of those who have lost so much. We are there. Yesterday. Today. And, let the world know we will be there tomorrow!”
Sarit Khanoukaev, a 21-year-old student from Sderot, located less than a mile from Gaza, shared her experiences living in a region most people only read about. Khanoukaev experienced trauma and suffered from PTSD as a young child and today works with MAKOM, an organization which helps grow communities throughout Israel. Through MAKOM she is involved with at-risk youth and young children impacted by PTSD.
Yedidya Harush, a farmer from the Halutza communities and the entire Gaza Envelope region who was born and raised in the community of Atzmona in Gush Kaif, gave another face to the current situation. His family relocated to Halutza after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and told of the hardships which hit close to home, including how his fellow farmer friend lost everything he had during the recent attacks.
Though he knows how difficult it can be to live in the region, he also expressed how fortunate he and his family see themselves to be living in a beautiful community with friends from Jewish National Fund who always have their backs and support them in good times and in bad.
From helping provide medical care to developing the land into a sustainable place to live and work, JNF is not only providing assistance from a distance, they are on the ground helping Israel and also bringing awareness back home. The organization’s latest initiative is the One Billion Dollar Roadmap for the Next Decade focused on community building in Israel’s North and South, connecting the next generation to Israel and developing infrastructure for ecology, special needs and heritage preservation.
The town hall rallies have been held in Phoneix, Los Angeles, Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and South Jersey.
By Julie L. Sagoskin