May 11, 2023

Only two days ago Israeli citizens of the South were filled with anticipatory dread, waiting for the first shot to be fired from Gaza into Israel, following Israel’s targeting of high-ranking Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist leaders and weapons manufacturing facilities.  The unusually lengthy silence turned eerie and then deafeningly threatening.  One resident shared with us that she was up all night, out of her mind with worry. Another told Israeli radio that she took her four-year-old son who suffers from PTSD and at 2:15am (a minute after Israel’s targetting of terrorists in Gaza) left Sderot with a tent, some belongings and food to camp out next to the Kinneret in safety. Many thousands have followed since.

The news largely did not cover what happened in the 36 hours until rockets were fired on the south and across Israel in the early afternoon of Wednesday, the 10th of May. One could say ‘nothing happened’ – but that would do an injustice to what Israeli citizens in the south have been going through.  All residents stayed indoors, close to bomb shelters. Schools, kindergartens, community events, celebrations and meet ups were all cancelled. Municipalities in the south were on alert and the people were trembling and on lock-down for their own physical safety.  Those evacuating needed to notify local authorities so that, in the case of an attack, they would not be searched for unnecessarily. 

In the ‘nothing happened twilight zone’ all day-to-day activities, including special ones like children’s birthday parties and weddings, were cancelled. Couples who were supposed to get married were left without a place for their ceremony. In Facebook posts prayer-like in nature that soon became viral, they asked for a venue to be offered to them in the centre of the country so they need not postpone their unique day. There is a cost to life stopping. And this doesn’t include the mental toll.

48 hours later and we are in a far different reality

Over the past two days, terrorists in Gaza have fired more than 500 rockets and mortars at Israel. The attacks have sent millions into bomb shelters, causing extensive trauma, dozens of injuries, and—just a short time ago—killing at least one Israeli in the city of Rehovot. This comes on the heels of a terrorist attack on the El Ghriba Synagogue in Tunisia on Tuesday, in which five people were murdered and multiple others injured.

Now and always, we stand with Israelis and Jews worldwide. We mourn the loss of innocent life, pray for the wounded, and support the right of Israelis to protect their children from terrorism. But solidarity also means taking action to help those who are hurting.

Here are just some of the ways our Canadian Jewish federations, together with Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA, are helping:

 Emergency aid for victims of terrorism

 Through the Jewish Agency’s Victims of Terror Fund, we provide immediate payments to those directly impacted by terror. Delivered within 24-48 hours, funding helps cover emergency expenses in the aftermath of an attack. This program is now being used to help the families of those murdered while attending services in Tunisia. In Israel, as in previous conflicts, the Fund will be assisting the victims of rocket strikes throughout the country.

Strengthening resilience and mental health In UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s partner community of Sderot

Sderot has suffered horrific rocket fire. When UJA Federation began supporting Sderot in 2006, one of the first things the Federation did was invest in bomb-proofing its physical infrastructure. This included building a second, reinforced storey on a local community centre—now called the Canada House Community Centre—to ensure it could be safely enjoyed by residents. Today, Canada House was directly struck by a rocket, which did not penetrate the building thanks to Toronto’s and Canadian Jewish Federation Emergency Campaign dollars investment years ago, and no one was injured.

Canada House Community Centre Sderot, Israel, May 11, 2023

Sderot father protecting his daughter during a rocket attack

For thousands of children and youth in Sderot, the past 48 hours have brought renewed trauma and anxiety. Through the UJA-funded Sderot Resilience Centre, online therapy is being provided to children as they spend hours in bomb shelters, including art therapy and psychological care. For parents and children alike, these services are making a world of difference in getting through these difficult hours.

Supporting Resilience In Montreal Federation CJA’s partnership region Beersheva and Bnei Shimon

Just 40 km from Gaza, tensions were and continue to be high. There too, celebrations and weddings were postponed. Dr. Arie Levy, Director General for Montreal Federation CJA’s Israel Office, who lives in the area indicated to Jewish Federations of Canada - UIA (JFC-UIA) that early on, “many people decided to go shopping in case this continues until Shabbat.  My kids seem happy not to be in school of course and have been through this many times, yet we can feel, as parents, the level of stress rising at home and within our friends and community.  Montreal Federation CJA has invested serious funding and efforts in resilience building programs, over many years, which are more than ever crucial to cope with these situations.”

Canadian Coast to Coast Partnership in Etzba Hagalil (Eastern Galil, along the Lebanese border)

As Meytal Novodomsky, Canadian Coast to Coast Partnership Director in Etzba Hagalil indicated,  Israel is a small country, and we are all connected. For good and bad.  shared, there is a sense of disquiet.  Support has been extended to those from the south needing respite and a place to stay. In addition, reverberations of what is happening in the south of the country affects the mental health, especially of children, in the communities of the region.  Mashabim – the mental health community resource that our Canadian Coast to Coast federations support, has developed a video for children and young adults to allow them to find their own sources of resilience when things get tough as well as extending a variety of programs and resources to all.

Back to today.  The situation continues to evolve at a dizzying pace.  The Canada House Community Centre in Sderot’s suffered direct hit, without loss of life, illustrates the importance of our work.  We never know how much good we do when we give.  

Likewise, when on the radio and television the news anchors say after rockets are fired that there are, “no physical casualties”, they invite us to contemplate the thousands of Israelis not mentioned, those who suffer emotional wounds and psychological trauma.  Providing the professional support to those who are suffering and letting them know that they are not alone, is a kind of fortification, like the fortification of the Canada Centre in Sderot. This is where our support matters most.  This is the good done by your federation, JFC-UIA and each of our federations together, across Israel. Small and courageous. Night and day.

May we know quieter times,

Steven Shulman        Ariella Rohringer          Sarah Mali
President & CEO       Chair of the Board        Director General, Israel