I have a dear friend who, this past summer was run over by a car. A very popular woman, there was a cacophony of WhatsApp groups, visits, flowers and gifts for the first few weeks when she was in ER. She told me that the hardest part was when she came home, and the real work of rehabilitation started. That is when she needed her friends.
The minute the horrific events of Simchat Torah unfolded, world Jewry, in a move that can only be described as covenantal in nature, swooped to Israel’s aid. Jewish Federations of North America recorded that US$650M were raised in a little over a month of which the Canadian Jewish federations raised close to US$100M. In those first moments and weeks, we needed, what the anthropologist Margaret Wheatley calls ‘heroic leadership’. Heroic leadership assumes that we are somewhat in control, that we can fix things or at least help fix things. There is something about this leadership I love because it has a sense of clarity and cohesion, it is unequivocal, umbilical and immediate.
This philanthropic sprint, short of a full-blown war up north - heaven-forbid, is drawing to a close and yet the marathon for Israel’s survival and thriving as a beautiful, safe country has only just begun.
Now the Israeli populace faces a gaping hole of uncertainty around security issues on its borders. This has meant that 130,000 displaced people from the north and south will not return home in the foreseeable future. Israel’s well-earned social fabric is dissolving, as border communities splinter in an attempt to find semi-permanent residences as a next step out of their temporary dwellings. There is an inestimable amount of trauma and psychological treatment needs. And we know in this environment, weaker elements of the population are left behind.
This is all in addition to the untold physical destruction and infrastructure damage.
Although the heroic efforts to save Israel will always be important, we are entering a different phase, and we would be wise to recognize the need to switch roles. In this mid-long-term phase of recovery and rebirth the philanthropic community should put its heroic cape to one side and begin to act as leaders who are, to continue the Wheatley distinction, hosts.
To begin to tackle these multi-faceted and emerging challenges, here are four principles of how ‘leaders as hosts’ would lead:
At JFC-UIA we apply these principles for the intermediate and long-term recovery of Israel and serve as trusted guardians and stewards to ensure the highest and best use of funds, in accordance with Canadian communities’ wishes, over time. Simply put: We ought to slow down, listen to the people and make smart, systemic moves. AND continue to give. Passionately and with the same resolve.
In this weeks’ torah portion Vayishlach, Jacob wrestled with the unnamed adversary or ‘angel’ in the dark of night. Some interpreters read this all-night struggle of Jacob’s as being with himself. Jacob had to obtain the grit and strength of his brother Esau, in order to emerge triumphantly as the sun arose, as Israel.
Israel, the Jewish People, has to do a similar kind of integration of roles now. We must be able to act swiftly. But we must also pace ourselves to allow for the emergent processes to develop out of the crisis situation. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. But as we embark on a long night of rehabilitation let us be sure not to let our own need for immediacy and tangibility get in the way of the restorative timeline Israel needs.
Sarah Mali’s Blog – Tuesday, November 14, 2023
This week, I went to visit Elinor, a former young Emissary who volunteered for UJA Federation of Greater Toronto for a year in 2008.
A young career woman, she rented an apartment in Nachal Oz, the pastoral kibbutz only 800 metres from the border with Gaza, to live alongside her sister, brother-in-law and their three young daughters.
I visited Elinor at Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek, the one she tells me that they have been to in the past when there have been attacks on their home in the Gaza envelope.
But this time was different. The rockets weren’t only from the sky. The terrorists tore into the kibbutz. Ilan, Elinor’s brother-in-law, the security officer of the kibbutz and the only one with a weapon, fought valiantly to stop the terrorists but there were too many. He called upon everyone including the security team (who had no weapons and couldn’t get to the weapon room) to stay indoors. Elinor, hid in her safety room for 16 hours in the dark holding a knife and the door shut tight.
And as we sit in Yokneam for sushi, I watch this beautiful woman count her blessings and it goes something like this:
It’s a miracle they passed over my door.
It’s a blessing the kibbutz security team, weaponless, listened to Ilan and did not leave their houses.
It’s a blessing that I didn’t see anything.
It’s a miracle they found his body.
It’s a blessing they found his body whole and recognizable.
It’s a blessing that we know that whatever he did he had no chance. No regrets.
It’s a blessing his girls know he died a hero.
And then she says, as if unconnected, you know that my co-Emissary in Toronto, Gal, she came to the funeral and with others from 2008, to visit me during the shiva for Ilan. And we try and work out how long they have known each other: 15 years!
And my host families from Canada, they also are in touch with me, and supporting me, she continues.
And I recall what my colleague Eran Shmueli David told me about Kyriat Shemona and the way in which, as a community, they were able to support one another to evacuate the city from the north because the Municipality, together with their Coast-to-Coast partners, had systematically invested in the Better Together program for community integration and responsibility.
And it struck me that there are blessings and miracles that are out of our own hands.
And then there are the blessings and miracles that we seed all the time through our acts of kindness and philanthropy. Most of the time, in our daily life, we don’t pay much attention to the latter and wish for the former.
And then the day comes when we really need each other and the programs that brought us together, that taught us how to care for one another, that pushed us out of our own individuality, well, they become the programs that quite literally save us, emotionally and physically.
Rabbi Sacks makes the distinction between hope and optimism: optimism, he says, is the belief that the world is changing for the better. It is a passive virtue. Hope, Sacks says, is an active and courageous virtue because it is the belief in ourselves, the belief that, together, we can make the world better.
It is our time to courageously believe in our capacity to rebuild our future here in our homeland.
It is our time to seed together the ideas, plans, infrastructures and programs for the re-creation of life in the Jewish State.
And as such, it is no wonder that our national anthem, our call to action is, Hatikva: Hope.
A newly-wed couple ordered a lovely sofa for their home. True to Israeli style it had been delivered later than anticipated. Too late.
By the time it had arrived at the couples’ new apartment the husband had been murdered by Hamas terrorists.
All of the usual things, regular life, a new sofa, all of this has been cruelly and unequivocally appropriated to October 7th. The language we now use that we thought we’d never use: Pogroms, Holocaust, massacre. Sayings we were used to saying, we now can’t. I mean how can you ever say again: ‘we are going to need to pick up the pieces’ after what happened in the Gaza envelope?
Our dreams have been invaded. Regular meetings that had a sense of order about them turn their head. A lawyer in a ‘regular’ work meeting tells you, in response to your question about his green wristband that he is on reserve duty and identifies bodies. That he has too much work to do there but came out for a couple of hours…almost three weeks after…
All of this is to say that what we are facing in Israel is nothing less than an onslaught on our sense of being alive.
The temptation to collapse into melancholy, rage, despair, and fear is imminent and ubiquitous.
We’ve been at the edge of the precipice. And we are taking a giant step back. Collectively.
I cannot underestimate how much force and effort and courage is going into this step. It is gargantuan.
What I am trying to describe is an internal and external battle by all of us now in Israel to be able to smile again, breathe again, sleep again.
And we have begun. We are talking about the atrocities. We are getting married. We delight in newborn babies. We are going out just a little to spend time with our partners.
We are giving endlessly. We are preparing to protect our country.
I’m a believing person but haven’t felt so close to the idea of faith as I do today.
It is faith in the people of Israel and the Jewish People.
We have grit. And honesty. And intense love. So much love we can tear ourselves apart at times. But today it is our most potent source of strength. A love for each other.
A belief in this country.
Israel is, to coin a phrase, the place where our covenant of destiny and our covenant of fate meet: It is the place which both gives us sublime purpose, and which indiscriminately connects us in the face of our enemies.
With this awareness, we are fighting the fight of our lives.
My friend overseas told me that she looks at us and it reminds her of the fight she had in her when she battled cancer.
Our purpose has never been clearer. To live as free people in our homeland. To be alive. Again.
This isn’t like another war.
This is the battle for the re-creation of Israel. It is our 1948.
And I know that we are ready. We have the resourcefulness and courage and tenacity to face evil and be good and healthy and broken but whole again.
I know there will be a day not far from now that a young couple will curl up for their first kiss on that sofa, that kids will jump on that sofa, they will be told to ‘get off that sofa now’, parents will fall asleep and dribble indelicately on that sofa, grandparents will hold hands on that sofa. That sofa will be used. By us all.
A Message from my Colleague, Eddy Azran, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Representative in Sderot*,
written this week (week of Oct. 16th), about his experience in the barbaric terrorist attacks of October 7th
(*Note: Sderot has been a partner community of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s for 18 years.)
On the morning of Shabbat and Simchat Torah, my family and I woke up to an extensive barrage of rockets. The sound was different. This was no ordinary bombing. It went on for an extremely long period without any breaks in the ammunition being fired. We all became concerned.
I immediately wrote to the groups in the area that are responsible for ensuring the safety of our families if threatened by an intrusion of terrorists or any other security breach. I wrote in my Kibbutz’s WhatsApp group, "Probably a drill in preparation for an infiltration” but, I was still calm and confident that if there were in fact terrorists, that they would be dealt with immediately.
I was so confident that even after I began receiving messages about the attack in Sderot, I didn’t believe it. As quick as it began, so did the beginning of an influx of messages from colleagues and friends in the kibbutzim around us and on the border, describing terrorist shootings and vicious attacks in our neighboring cities and villages. People were begging for help.
I called my friends in the immediate area and in the kibbutz and we began organizing. Those who were able joined in trying to protect our families. We had people on the roofs of homes on the lookout.
A friend from the army who lives in Nir Moshe, which is a village near to ours, informed me that the terrorists were attacking Moshav Yachini. My friend said, "Brother, we have no chance, we have to hang up, take care of us, we have are as good as dead."
I left my family and went into the fields in the direction of Yachini. I asked a member of our kibbutz to be on the lookout from the roof, fearing that terrorists would be coming from the direction of Yachini which is only a few kilometres away. An army border vehicle drove by me and I told them what was happening. Without hesitation they drove there to help residents. Later I found out that both the officers died fighting to protect the kibbutz.
The magnitude of the massacre is indescribable. We were shocked by the degree of cruelty and disgusted, but we are focused now only on being victorious. We have no other option. We know that we may still suffer from more loss and destruction, but we are united.
Already in the first hours of the brutal attack, people began to organize and evacuate Sderot and the surrounding area. We decided to divide into shifts. I took the night watch 1:00 am - 7:00 am. We received constant updates on the battles. The number of casualties is heartbreaking. I was going on without sleep and food for more than 24 hours by then. At the time, I didn’t realize that the next time I will get to sleep (for a short while) was three day later.
On the morning of Sunday, October 8 (the second day of fighting), I left everything and went to Sderot – my hometown, where most of my family lives and where I work for UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. On my way there, I saw with my own eyes the horrors of the savage attack. The dead bodies and damaged vehicles remained in the streets.
Soldiers stopped my car and told me that I could not drive any further. I pleaded, telling them that I needed to check on my parents who I had not been able to reach because of the collapsing of the cell phone service and power outage. I knew that they were only trying to protect me, but I knew I needed to move on. They wouldn’t allow me to proceed. By chance someone I knew passed by and together we convinced the soldiers to let us through. That is Israel for you.
When I arrived at my parents, they told me they did not want to evacuate. All I could do was to show them how to charge their phones in the car (as the power was still out) and ensure that they had food and water. I returned to my kibbutz. By the time I arrived home, entire families had already organized and were evacuating. Our kibbutz was emptied within hours.
Two days later, we decided it was the best time to get the family out of the area. My parents did not agree to evacuate and decided to stay but my sister and her children as well as my wife's parents and brothers along with their families evacuated Sderot with us.
Since then, I have been thinking about how we can bring value and help on all levels to the evacuees, the victims and the emergency teams that are still functioning in the field. Currently, there are still combat zones and people who have not yet been evacuated. I am assisting them with putting in place situation teams that can assess needs and respond quickly, and working to get much needed live-saving equipment for the people who evacuated. Efforts which the Toronto Jewish community, working with JFC-UIA, has been supporting generously.
We need to be prepared for hard and long work. We know how strong the Jewish people are, both in Israel and in the Diaspora and believe that our mobilization and cooperation will only strengthen our nation.
At the end of this bitter road we will all experience the pain and be left scared. But we will recover and take care of each and every one who lived through the trauma of the last 22 years and survived the disaster of October 7, 2023.
On Shabbat, we read in Parashat Genesis: “And God created man in His image; in the image of God created him.”
Immediately afterwards, Cain kills Abel and, with his own hands, destroys that image. The interpretation says that "Abel seemed to his brother like an animal". Are we doomed that, for eternity, we will always live with some in this region who view Jews as human animals?
On October 7th, we met the sons of Cain who butchered us. And this is what we are standing against: those who would destroy the Jewish people in the only Jewish state in the world, and those who would destroy the image of God in man.
Let the whole world know.
Wishing us all Shalom, and thanks to all the people who prayed for my wellbeing, we will meet again soon.
UJA Representative, Sderot
We are punctuated.
By rockets. Sirens. Funerals. Shivas.
Stopping to feed our own neglected children. Putting the washing on.
Then back to the urgency of our efforts for Israel. Totally and obsessively. The only place where words and images flow.
Punctuated by news flashes.
By friends outside asking us questions with no answers.
By the news of someone else, dead, injured, taken.
By calls from our girls, away serving their country.
Punctuated by a numbing guilt. That we are ok.
By our thoughts and sentences. Stopping and starting.
By the pain; piercing, clear and unapologetic.
By the audible cries of the children that are alive and taken.
By visions of the elderly, shaking without their medication.
Punctuated by the knowledge that our naivety brought us here and cannot redeem us.
We are punctured.
Through the heart.
We are lifted
By the joy of weddings in uniforms,
By a hug from a stranger in the street,
By a song sung for free by someone famous.
By an elderly couple holding hands on a bench.
Lifted by your love, our People, distant yet close, sleepless and unwavering.
By Sarah Mali, Director General, Israel, Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA
It is totally bewildering to me that we are reentering Shabbat.
There has been no structure to the week. You wake and have this split second where you think life is normal and then your whole stomach churns and your heart aches, again. No day, no night, incessant calls, no meetings, from doing to more doing punctuated by travel to funerals and then back to the mayhem - the tohu, vavohu – the chaos – that we will read in this weeks' Torah portion. If you have spoken to an Israeli this week you may have found it odd, sentences stopped in the middle, lines of thought dissipating intermittently, children, sirens, thunder, succahs falling down in the wind in the background.
Though our speech may be choppy we have total clarity.
We have been enlightened in the cruelest of ways. And we will overcome darkness.
Medieval, grotesque darkness.
History is important: The spiritual leader of the Palestinian community in the 30s was Haj Amin Al-Husseini who was pictured meeting Hitler and who notoriously said "Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion. This saves your honor. God is with you." He is the acknowledged spiritual symbol of Hamas.
There is no room for moral equivalency when facing terror.
This is pure evil.
You may need to suspend a romantic part of your belief system to say this.
That we are all human, that this is a human disaster on both sides. It won't be simple.
You need to do it.
Because what Israel and the Jewish People need to do now is defeat evil.
You may also, heaven forbid, need to face that in your communities too.
We said never again in the past, we cannot afford to use it as a mantra when we are purged.
We need to use it as a defiant, bold, and unwavering call for action.
It is quite possible, even were we to live long lives, that we will not see Israel fully repaired in our lifetimes. But we will do everything to ensure that Israel and Israelis are rebuilt from the inside out and the outside in. That we are strong and full of life like we know how to be for the long run.
Listen for a minute to the final chapter of the book of Lamentations, the biblical chapters that tell of the destruction of Jerusalem:
We have become orphans, fatherless, our mothers are as widows.
They ravaged the women in Zion, the maidens in the cities of Judah,
Leaders were hanged by their hand; the elders were shown no respect.
Young men drag the millstone, and youths have stumbled under the wood....
Gone is the joy of our hearts; our dancing has turned into mourning.
This book begins with:
How solitary is Jerusalem – how alone are we
This week I have been inundated by calls, emails, and messages from the Jewish communities across Canada. It is a humbling experience to feel such generosity from Canadian Jewry who are standing up for the Jewish homeland in unprecedented ways. (You have also asked how I am, which has warmed my heart.)
Together, at rallies, parlour meetings and in more discrete ways you declare:
Israel will never be solitary again!
Since before its founding Canadian Jewry, led by our federations, has been consistently committed to and interconnected with Israel.
This is our moment, as Canadian Jewry and the Jewish People, to be the people our history has taught us and our future demands of us to be.
Am Yisrael Chai
no slogan, unapologetic, upright, unequivocal, and enduring,
A Message from my Colleague David Corre, JFC-UIA's Vice President, Finance & Properties, Israel
Monday, October 8, 2023
I just wanted to thank you for all your messages of support and apologize for not being in contact until now.
I have been in Israel for 31 years; I served and was a reservist for nearly 20 years. The last 48 hours have been the hardest two days that I can remember. As you can see, Sarah is leading the charge, together with our wonderful Federation reps, with regards to the needs, both physical and emotional. I just wanted to share with you my personal perspective as a father and father-in-law of those serving in harm's way at this time.
As of 10 days ago, my son was on the leave that you get before formal discharge from the army. We were proud of his service and relieved that he had served with distinction and would now be returning to his studies in Yeshiva. Of course that all changed at 6.30 on Shabbat morning. He, like thousands of others, was called back in on Shabbat, came home to get together his stuff and went straight back to his base. There he discovered that his Company Commander had been killed earlier in the day and he started to understand the scale of what was going on. They spent the night preparing their equipment and as of yesterday lunchtime his phone has been off and they are readying for the next stage. As a parent, the feeling of helplessness is quite overwhelming.
My daughter and son-in-law had spent Shabbat in Kibbutz Saad which is a stone’s throw (literally) from the Gaza border. Once they managed to get out of there yesterday morning we discovered the scale of atrocities that went on in those border areas – I won’t give you many details but my son-in-law could not sit back in the safe room whilst people in the neighbouring community of Kfar Azza were being massacred (there is literally no better term for it) and he went to join other civilians that were trying to hold back the wave of terrorists. It is a miracle that he is alive and well and the things that he saw were truly horrific – although he has no time to rest – he has joined his reservist unit and will be on the front lines. He and many like him are true heroes.
I hope this mail is not too self-indulgent. There is the professional side of the work that our Board does to strengthen Israeli society and the people of Israel, but at root the people on this email are here because of their unwavering love and support of Israel and its people. Your work and support is of great comfort to us all here at this time. We pray that Hashem will give us the strength to defeat this evil and help to bring a stronger future for our people.
I understand that that today is Canadian Thanksgiving – I give thanks to each and every one of you for your support and look forwards to seeing you under better circumstances.
Sunday, October 8, 2023 at 4 p.m. Israel Time
The nightmare of nightmares is upon us.
We are horrified and in shock by the events that have overtaken us since yesterday morning in the south of Israel. Sderot and the region are still not safe. Sderot is a partner community of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. Since I started writing these reflections, the numbers of those murdered has risen from 500, to now over 600 – and counting. This number has increased because the IDF has now gained control of the place where the desert rave took place. The hospitals are overflowing with the wounded, close to two thousand injured. This is not a retrospective by any means.
The mood is subdued. Across the country, nearly everyone is staying home. The roads are very quiet. The streets absent their usual liveliness. Schools closed. Stores shuttered.
As we learn more about the monstrosities that have unfolded in the last 24 hours, the names of those massacred and held captive in Gaza are beginning to be released. Burials will begin later today.
Israel is a small country. Everyone knows someone. Who knows someone. Who knows someone. You may also know or have heard of people too. And if, that isn’t enough, there are now the men and women who are going to be sent to a long and bloody war.
Yesterday during a brief walk in our Jerusalem area, we saw fathers saying farewell to their children, hugging their wives. The whole country is conscripted.
At Jewish Federations of Canada – United Israel Appeal (JFC-UIA) we are keeping in close contact with our Israel representatives across the country. UJA Federation of Greater Toronto's Representative in Sderot, Eddy Azran, has been on the front line and I wish I could say that metaphorically. Beyond his professional role helping people every day in Sderot, Eddy has been helping the civil guard skirt the surroundings for terrorists that are still on the loose. He was up all night. His daughter, who serves in the IDF, was supposed to be on duty in Zikim Kibbutz, one of the kibbutzim terrorists raided from the sea. Instead, she was at home with her family for Simchat Torah and Shabbat. Eddy told me this morning "it is a miracle she is alive."
It is all simply unthinkable. The face of terror in your own home. In the kibbutz dining room. In a home for seniors. On an open desert plain filled with young carefree music lovers gathered for a rave. It is too much to bear. Bodies line the streets of Sderot, the kibbutzim and nearby villages. Citizens in the area still cannot leave their homes, so families are separated. Grandparents alone in their safe rooms, parents and children in theirs.
Arie Levy, Director General of Montreal Federation CJA’s office in Israel, has been called to reserve duty from his home in Montreal Federation’s partnership region, Be’er Sheva/Bnei Shimon. He left early yesterday morning and has been awake since then with his unit in the north.
Up north, our representative of Canadian federations’ Coast to Coast partnership, Meytal Novidomsky-Mazeika told me last night of her and her community’s escalating fears and anxieties of a potential attack. This morning these concerns became a terrible reality as real attacks began on the border of Lebanon in Har Dov. When we were speaking, Meytal was preparing the safe room for herself, her husband, and her children. As with all children across the country, Meytal's children are off school and she told me that she is making sure that the only media they are exposed to is watching children's tv shows, for obvious and awful reasons. It has now been recommended by the municipal mayors that citizens of the Coast-to-Coast partnership region, Etzba HaGalil, evacuate their homes. Our team is in contact with the relevant professionals to obtain information about where they will go and what they will need.
I can say with pride that Israeli society is doing what it does best in these times. My son and his friends spent last night setting up Magen David Adom emergency rooms for the community; streams of volunteers lined up for blood donations. There are WhatsApp groups dedicated to support, ranging from food and hygiene donations to home hospitality. Every request that is sent to these group chats is immediately answered. People are filling their dismay and despair with acts of kindness.
At Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, we are conscious of the invaluable expertise of our professionals, both in terms of ensuring financial aid gets to the people who need it most, in a timely and precise manner, and that we are informed of those needs by the representatives on the ground. We will be listening to them very closely in the current months as the unfathomable develops into a path of response.
In the meantime, we are in close contact with our partners and close colleagues at the Jewish Agency of Israel, in particular the Victim of Terror Fund, on which I sit as a member of their steering committee; the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), Jewish Federations of North America, and Keren Hayesod. We are also in regular contact with the Canadian Ambassador and Embassy in Israel, to keep them informed of Canada-specific updates.
While I am an optimist by nature, today it feels that Israel is broken. We have experienced indiscriminate brutality in our history. But today it is in our homeland. We take comfort in your prayers. And your tears.
At JFC-UIA we are both heartened and emboldened by the intelligent and strategic philanthropy led by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the JFC-UIA communities towards Sderot and the region, since as early as 2006, and by the work done by Montreal Federation CJA in Be’er Sheva B’nei Shimon, and our Coast to Coast federations in Etzba HaGalil, in the north, for decades.
I know that the strength and solidarity of Canadian Jewry will bolster the Israeli people for the long haul, as it has done to-date.
It is this faith that we have in the Israeli people and the Jewish people that will take us through the next hours, days, and long years ahead.
May God protect us all.
Sarah Mali | שרה מאלי
Director General מנכלית |