A letter to the community about the situation in Israel

Israel update briefings for the community and a city-wide rally are some of Chicago's responses in support of Israel's pivotal struggle against terror, as it takes steps to defend its citizens.

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Dear community member:

Israel is in the midst of a pivotal struggle against terror, taking steps to do that which every sovereign nation is entitled: to defend its citizens. We write to provide you with the most current information available and let you know how JUF is responding on your behalf.

(A JUF-organized city-wide rally drew an estimated 3,000 people to Federal Plaza on Friday, Jan. 9, and an Israel update briefing at North Shore Congregation Israel and an update briefing at Anshe Emet Synagogue drew hundreds earlier in the week.)

Three years ago, Israel unilaterally left Gaza, providing the Palestinians an opportunity to flourish. Instead, with Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza, the strip became a base for advancing radical Islamist rejection of Israel's very right to exist. Terrorist rockets from Gaza rained regularly on Israel's nearby civilian population and grew in number until, six months ago, a so-called ceasefire was reached. It is truly chilling that the lull in terrorist activity since that time meant that "only" 365 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from Gaza.

With the aid of its patron, Iran, Hamas used those six months to build up its supply of missiles, increase their accuracy, and extend their range. Two weeks ago, instead of renewing the "ceasefire," Hamas resumed heavy shelling of Israel, now with missiles that could travel 20 miles and put 1 in 8 Israelis in firing range. As the calendar year drew to a close, hundreds of missiles struck Israeli civilian targets in communities including Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheva, and Kiryat Gat, and as of this writing four Israelis had been killed, including a young mother of four.

Under these circumstances, Israel did what any responsible government should be expected to do: took action to defend its people, launching air strikes to destroy Hamas' terror structure. In the initial days of the current fighting, Israel systematically struck 300 strategic targets, including 40 tunnels used to smuggle munitions and manpower into Gaza, while making every effort to target only terror-related sites. Israeli ground forces stand at the ready to move into Gaza if necessary. Yet Israel still has allowed 150 trucks of humanitarian aid into Gaza, much to the appreciation of the Red Cross.

Israel is strong and determined, but Israel also needs our expression of solidarity at this crucial time. JUF has been in ongoing contact with key members of the media, Congress and other elected officials to advance understanding of Israel's action and to assure critical U.S. support. JUF is uniquely positioned to do so, having hosted fact-finding trips to Israel for a wide range of elected officials, having maintained close relations with them and other public officials, and commanding a high level of credibility in the eyes of the local media.

Financial support also is essential. As it has done in the past, the Jewish Agency's Victims of Terror Fund -- funded largely through JUF dollars -- already is dispensing assistance to the survivors of the Israeli citizens who were killed, and also to Israeli families whose homes have been damaged by rocket fire or who have been injured. The JUF-funded Jewish Agency also has established a hotline for Israeli residents needing assistance, and is working with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee -- again, funded through JUF dollars -- to serve the most vulnerable populations under fire in Israel: new immigrants; senior citizens; people with disabilities; students at Sapir and Ashkelon Colleges; businesses and public housing in Israel's southern region; and thousands of traumatized children who are now confined to bomb shelters.

(Also read about JUF's recent advance of $1 million to help meet the urgent needs of 900,000 Israeli citizens currently under fire.)

This is part of the country with which JUF has ongoing connections through our Partnership 2000 project, and we are giving special attention to meeting the needs of our friends in the Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir region -- and also to our young people from Chicago who have been in and around Kiryat Gat as part of JUF-sponsored programming. The college students participating in OTZMA have been evacuated from Kiryat Gat to more central Tel Aviv, and the high school students in Israel with KOLOT have deferred their trip to the region for the time being.

Here at home, it may be no coincidence that one of our community's oldest synagogues, Temple Sholom, was firebombed early Monday morning. JUF is working with law enforcement officials to deal with this troubling incident and continues its longstanding role of advising local congregations on security matters to help ensure the safety of Chicago's Jewish community.

We also are aware that local anti-Israel protests are scheduled, and pledge to you that JUF will be there to monitor and respond to them appropriately. As has been the case in past times of war, JUF stands at the ready to bring our Jewish community together to express our solidarity with Israel through news conferences, rallies and other public communications.

We hope you are proud that your dollars and your Jewish United Fund are working on your behalf on so many fronts to strengthen Israel and the Jewish people at this critical hour. We will keep you posted as events unfold. We invite you to sign up for E-Alert, a weekly e-mail with news and events from Israel and the Chicago Jewish community.

For now, our thoughts and prayers are with the brave men and women of the IDF, who once again are putting their lives on the line for our Jewish State. We pray for them, for their families, and for all the citizens of Israel.

Help Israeli civilians under fire by contributing to the Jewish United Fund.



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