As JUF News was going to press Oct. 24, Executive Vice President Jay Tcath was accompanying a group of visiting JUF contributors exploring the reality of Israel, including the help this organization provides there. Events in Israel unfold rapidly and details of his fresh account perhaps will have been subsumed by subsequent developments. But the spirit and essence of this account offer a vivid snapshot of Israel's ongoing reality in a volatile Middle East.
"When was the last time the rocket siren 'Tzeva Adom' (Color Red) wailed?" I asked Asher Aberjil, Mayor of Shafir in JUF's Partnership Together region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir.
"It's been a month," he answered, and we each exchanged glances suggesting, "not so bad," even though 900 rockets had hit Israel since the start of 2012.
I apologized, saying I feared asking the question might bring more bad luck.
Later in the day, visiting a JUF-funded community service and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) preparation program in Lachish, I asked the 18 year-old participants if being within Gaza rocket range had influenced their decision to enroll in this program site, as opposed to any of the other 40 sites. "Absolutely not," every young woman and man answered. "We'll face it eventually as soldiers anyway, and the residents of this area have suffered for over a decade with thousands of rockets," one participant added.
Shortly after leaving to return to Jerusalem with JUF's Israel Office Director General, Ofer Bavly, Hamas began firing a fresh barrage of rockets into JUF's Partnership Together region and the city of Ashkleon. Within 24 hours, more than 80 rockets hit Israel, injuring three people, two of them critically. Five homes were hit. School has been cancelled in the South, with those living within 10 miles of Gaza remaining in bomb shelters for the duration. Earlier that week, IDF Captain, Ziv Shilon was critically wounded by an explosion at a Gaza border fence.
Also in Israel was JUF's second "Rosh Gadol" mission, a group of 18 young men from Chicago. They helicoptered the country from north to south, accompanied by former IDF spokeswoman Colonel Miri Eisen. Adjusting the flight path to steer clear of the rockets, the group's itinerary-including a visit to an Army officer school in the Negev-was otherwise not impacted.
The latest fire from Gaza comes amidst a massive joint U.S.-Israel national emergency drill, designed to deal with such attacks. As the fire continues, Israel's military is responding forcefully and its political leadership is unified. Iron Dome, the IDF's missile defense system, which I saw first-hand last year on a JUF Leadership Mission with U.S. Senator Mark Kirk and 20 other Chicagoans, successfully intercepted eight Grad rockets before they could slam into Ashkelon.
And so, evening falls in Israel. Probably a long, loud and dangerous one for our brothers and sisters in the South of the Jewish State. And for the young soldiers of the IDF. Where I now sit, in Tel Aviv, traffic buzzes and restaurants and stores are crowded.
Concerned colleagues, friends and family call from Chicago. It is comforting for me—as it is for Israelis—that at such surreal, dangerous times the IDF is doing what a sovereign army is designed to do.
And it is comforting that the entire people Israel—from Lachish to Lincolnwood—is standing with one another. Yet again. As always.
And JUF's overseas partners (the Jewish Agency and the JDC) are doing what our community so generously funds them to do. It is with pride that we Chicagoans can say that JUF is here—in Israel—for good.