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A Message from Mark Wilf, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Eric Fingerhut, President & CEO
The Jewish Federations of North America

Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised, but the outbreak of fighting in Israel still shook us up this week.

We had been focused on reopening after the Covid pandemic, working to make sure schools and summer camps and Israel trips could resume this summer and fall. We are planning our first ever “hybrid” General Assembly for October and optimistically working on in-person conferences for our National Young leadership Cabinet and International Lions of Judah.

We were following the daily updates on Israel’s effort to form a new government, including the growing possibility that Israel would have a new prime minister for the first time in over a decade. And, of course, we were counting down the days to Shavuot, which begins Sunday night, and then to Memorial Day weekend in the United States a week later, both heralding the beginning of summer – a summer that we pray will be open and safe, healthy and restorative.

By now, as we head into the second full day of what is clearly a major military operation, we realize that the signs of this conflict were there all along. Israel has been taking aggressive actions to prevent Iran from terrorizing its citizens and from building an offensive nuclear bomb, and Iran has vowed revenge both directly and through its proxies in Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Palestinian Authority cancelled planned elections once again, denying Hamas a hoped-for political victory in the West Bank and creating an incentive for Hamas to try and take center stage by leading attacks on Israel. The confluence of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) and the end of Ramadan put the area of the Temple Mount and Al Aqsa mosque squarely in the sights of provocateurs seeking to incite violence. And the opportunity to test both the new administration in the United States and disrupt the already contentious Israeli political scene surely added to the calculus that Hamas made as it launched this barrage of rocket attacks.

But we also can see clearly that the government of Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces are firmly in control and are making the necessary strategic and tactical decisions that are their responsibility at such times. They will decide how deeply to strike back against Hamas, and when to seek or agree to a cease fire based on their assessment of Israel’s security needs. The fact that the operation now has a name – Operation Guardian of the Walls – makes this point even more dramatically. Israel didn’t seek this conflict, but it will aggressively seek the best outcome for the country’s both short and long-term security.

We support the government of Israel and the IDF as it undertakes its sacred work to protect and defend our beloved Jewish State. We stand with the people of Israel who are under attack. We mourn those who have died, Jews and Muslims alike; we send our prayers for the speedy recovery of all those who have been injured.

Through our partners on the ground – the Jewish Agency, JDC, the Israel Trauma Coalition and more – and directly through all our relationships, friendships, and funding commitments, we will do everything that we can to alleviate suffering and to quickly repair and rebuild the damage.

We will return to Israel just as soon as the pandemic and the security situation allow – and not a moment later. We will walk the streets, visit our family and friends, pray in the synagogues, eat in the restaurants, and shop in the stores. We will meet with Israeli leaders to better understand the current political and security situation and learn what more we can do to help. And we will celebrate, as always, that we have the privilege of living in a time when we, the Jewish people, have the ability to shape our own history, not to be the victims of a fate determined by others.

At this time, we cannot adequately express how proud we are of the ongoing support flowing from the Jewish Federation system across North America. Through all your words and deeds, you have demonstrated once again what it means to be am echad, one people. We have been anxious to learn what more we can do to help, what additional steps we can take.

It is hard to wait and see what is needed – we want to mobilize urgently. And we are already responding. The Fund for the Victims of Terror, established by the Jewish Agency and supported with special allocations from our entire Jewish Federation system to be ready for just such occasions, is already distributing funds to victims of bombing in Ashdod, Ashkelon and elsewhere. We will constantly monitor the situation and respond, as always, quickly and thoughtfully.

Stay tuned for regular reports from our JFNA team in Israel, like  today’s comprehensive update, and yesterday’s. Our Israel & Overseas Committee, chaired by David Butler, will stay in touch with ways we can all help. And let us know any ideas you have on how our Federation system can do more to support our brothers and sisters in Israel. See below for upcoming webinars and ways to take action.

There is an old Jewish joke that, when we see someone we should know but can’t remember, we say “we met at Sinai.” The joke comes from an old rabbinic story (midrash) that it wasn’t only the Israelites who had left Egypt who found themselves at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah on Shavuot, but all Jews who ever lived and everyone will live were at the base of the mountain that momentous day. This story feels particularly relevant as we approach Shavuot this week. May all Jews gather figuratively at the foot of Mt. Sinai this coming Sunday evening – to receive the Torah once again, to support each other, and to send the clear message that we are standing together as Israel yet again defends itself and the Jewish people.

Chag Shavuot Sameach and Am Yisroel Chai.

Mark Wilf
Chair of the Board of Trustees
The Jewish Federations of North America

Eric Fingerhut
President & CEO
The Jewish Federations of North America