As the global COVID pandemic drags on in Israel, the US, and around the world, it is heartwarming to be connected to the generous Chicago community that helps those in need-both locally and internationally.
Building upon two earlier allocations, JUF recently approved an additional $200,000 for COVID-specific needs in Israel, bringing the total to $655,000 that has been earmarked for Jewish needs worldwide, including Israel, during the pandemic.
In this round, JUF focused on three areas of urgent need: food security, technological support for students, and assistance to the elderly.
In the area of food, our community is supporting food package deliveries to Druze villages in the north of the country. The Druze, a small minority living in the periphery, are known for their staunch Zionism and support of the state of Israel, but their geographical location and their small size relative to the overall population mean that they do not always receive the same benefits and support as other segments of society.
Hundreds of grateful Druze families in need are receiving this aid, a symbol of our own gratitude to these Israeli sisters and brothers of ours, an often-overlooked segment of our society that has always stood by our people in times of need.
Comparable food support is being delivered to hundreds of families in our Partnership Together region in the city of Kiryat Gat. This particular aid is being managed through our long-time friends and partners at the SAHI non-profit.
One of the main challenges of the prolonged COVID crisis in Israel is the switch to online learning for schoolchildren. While the technology for remote learning exists and the curriculum is ever improving, there are hundreds of thousands of children in Israel who do not have access to the necessary technology at home-a laptop or a tablet computer and an internet connection.
JUF's special emergency grant is helping to purchase the basic technological tools that will enable students in our Partnership region to study remotely this year even though their parents could not afford even the most rudimentary computer equipment. Thanks to JUF and to a few individual donors in our community long connected to our Partnership activities, countless children are not being left behind as their classrooms move online.
The elderly, too, are enduring great challenges during the pandemic. Many are suffering not only the many ills of poverty, but also loneliness, isolation, limited opportunity to interact and to exercise, and technological disconnection.
Our JUF grant supports several programs for the elderly in the region, including trainers who will lead the elderly in safe, socially-distant physical activity in parks; a program for university students to assist and provide company to the elderly in an adult daycare center; enrichment programs for senior citizens; computer equipment for those unable to communicate with their families during the lockdowns; a program to bring volunteers to the homes of the elderly to provide company and support; and food packages.
JUF is also funding personal protective gear for first responders from United Hatzalah, Israel's largest independent, non-profit, fully volunteer Emergency Medical Service organization providing fast and free emergency medical first response.
We in Israel will never take for granted that our sisters and brothers in the Chicago Jewish community stand shoulder to shoulder with us and help alleviate some of the needs of thousands of Israelis. The generous support of the community inspires us, showing the way to philanthropists and to Jewish federations across the US.
We can always count on the support of the Chicago community in good times and in emergencies. And that embodies true kinship-kol israel arevim ze bazeh-all of Israel are responsible for one another.
Ofer Bavly is the Director General of the JUF Israel Office.