JNF Wire: FRONTLINE REPORT: JNF's 2nd Solidarity Mission Arrives in Time of War & Leaves in Peace
JNF WIRE: FRONTLINE REPORT
September 3, 2014
Adam H. Brill
Director of Communications
JEWISH NATIONAL FUND’S 2ND SOLIDARITY MISSION TO ISRAEL
ARRIVES IN TIME OF WAR AND LEAVES IN PEACE
By: Rachel Solomon
Members of JNF's L'Chaim Solidarity Mission II, present a proclamation from Florida Governor Rick Scott to Mark Regev, the chief spokesman for the Prime Minister of Israel, who accepted the message that 'Florida stands with Israel' on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Members of JNF's L'Chaim Solidarity Mission II, present a proclamation from Florida Governor Rick Scott to Mark Regev, the chief spokesman for the Prime Minister of Israel, who accepted the message that 'Florida stands with Israel,' on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
During the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge, Hamas launched 4,500 rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The war claimed the lives of 66 soldiers and six civilians—among them a 4-year-old boy from a southern kibbutz —and cost over $2.5 billion, making it the country’s most expensive operation in a decade.
But those are just the numbers. To understand the effects of the war first-hand, 35 Americans from across the U.S. decided to leave the safety of their own homes and travel to Israel on a solidarity mission with Jewish National Fund (JNF), the second organized in the last month.
From August 24 to 28, participants followed the same footsteps of JNF’s first solidarity mission and made visits to Israel’s most battered communities in the south. Despite the barrage of over 100 rockets per day, participants on the mission enjoyed playing with children in Sderot’s JNF Indoor Recreation Center; visited people with disabilities at Aleh Negev, a rehabilitative village near Gaza; and worked with children in Halutza to prepare care packages for IDF soldiers.
“I can feel the huge effect that the last thirty days has had on these communities and families here,” said Sheryl Buchholtz of Brooklyn, NY, who spearheaded and co-chaired JNF’s L’Chaim Solidarity Mission II after taking part on the first. “While everyone is weary, they’re very grateful to have our support.”
Aside from Ms. Buchholtz, those on her mission experienced the latest Hamas-Israel conflict for the first time.
“This experience is a limited engagement for us and won’t have the same long-term emotional effect,” said Rabbi Adam Miller from Naples, FL. “But for those who are stuck here and are constantly under the barrage, it’s a completely different story, and I don’t know how the Israelis endure it. I really don’t.”
It was equally hard for Israelis to understand why a group of Americans would purposefully leave the safety of the U.S. to travel to Israel during the war but they appreciated the show of solidarity.
“Last night we shared dinner in Ofakim with 17 IDF soldiers who were responsible for destroying the tunnels in Gaza,” said Ronald Werner of Denver, CO, co-chair of the mission. “I stood up and thanked them for what they did for Israel and the Jewish people, and they said, ‘No, we thank you. Your being here and standing with us gives us the strength for what we had to do.’”
Joining Mr. Werner on the mission were his father, Robert Werner of Miami, FL, also a mission co-chair, and his 22-year-old nephew Jack, a recent graduate of Stanford University, who was in Israel six weeks earlier when the war began.
“I was really happy to return and support Israel and let her people know they weren’t completely alone in the world,” said Jack Werner of New York, NY. “I’m sure people here feel very isolated based on the reaction of global media and international politics, so it seemed like an important thing to do.”
Midway through the mission, Israel and the Palestinians announced an agreement on a long-term truce. After 50 days of fighting, quiet finally ensued after Hamas sent a final message.
“Hamas let us know a truce was coming,” said Dan Lewis from Chicago, IL. “We were in the south, and right before the truce was announced, there was a barrage of rockets.”
Having lifted the spirits of so many men, women, and children in Israel, the Americans completed their trip and left their mark on the land itself: Joined by students from the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), they picked up a shovel and planted saplings at the Harvey Hertz-JNF Tree Planting Center outside Jerusalem.
The planting carried extra meaning as only two weeks earlier the Center’s namesake and beneficiary, Harvey Hertz, had passed away. As all planted the small trees and got their hands dirty, Ronald Werner, an alumnus of AMHSI, reflected on how special the experience was for him.
“I went to Alexander Muss thirty-three years ago and have been to Israel more than twenty times: this time I’ve had the privilege of having my father and nephew with me,” Werner said. “If this is not the definition of ‘Am Yisrael Chai,’ then I don’t know what is. That has been the undertone of this mission: Am Yisrael Chai!”
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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.
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