A number of UJA’s partners, both national and local, work throughout the year to provide support for refugees, and have been actively engaged in providing assistance. In particular, there are now more than 300 children separated from their parents who have been placed in facilities around New York, and UJA and our partners are in daily conversations about ways we can help.
Even as these national events consume our attention, Israel is also on our minds. This past week I spent time there, primarily for meetings of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, but also to travel to Israel’s southern border with Gaza, where life has become increasingly difficult.
We went to Kibbutz Nir Am, built in 1943 less than a mile from the Gaza border. In the last few months, 250 acres of the kibbutz’s wheat fields have been burned by kites and balloons set afire from Gaza, some rigged with explosive devices. Every day beginning at about 2:00 p.m. when the wind picks up, kibbutz members sit on tractors in the field, ready to put out the fires as soon as possible. And yet, they are determined to replant and yield a harvest — as they have every year since 1943.
Not surprisingly, there’s been a dramatic uptick in trauma among the adults and children in the kibbutz and surrounding areas. The Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC), created and supported by UJA, reports that since mid-May alone they’ve had 700 new cases (in the prior year, they had a total of about 2,000 cases).
One mother described sending a teen daughter to an ITC resilience center because she was so clearly bottling up her emotions, trying to stay strong for her mother’s sake. The woman’s son, on the other hand, clings to her and won’t leave her side. Another mother told us how her child pleads with her, “Can you promise me no red alerts tonight?” (In fact, that very night, there were multiple red alerts in Nir Am, bringing home the story for all of us who’d visited that day.) All the parents we spoke with said that they wrestled with the decision to raise their children so close to the Gaza border, but are determined to stay because it’s home. And it’s worth stressing that this land near Gaza is indisputably part of Israel and has been since 1948.
Aside from ITC, support also comes in the form of inspiring young adults, who learn and serve in these communities as volunteers, validating the choice these residents make every day. They’re part of Mechinot (pre-army programs), a movement long supported by UJA. The presence of these vibrant young people affirms that something good and important is happening in these places despite the danger.
In other words, they give us reason to hope.
From America to Israel, we must all continue to hope.
Hope that all refugee children in our community will shortly be reunited with their parents.
And hope that the children and parents in Nir Am will plant and harvest their fields together for many generations to come.