Thursday, July 20, 2006

We Don't Wait For the UN; We Help Our Own Refugees 

The missiles have been falling on Israel's northern cities for a week now. That's a long time to stay in a bomb shelter. Especially for the kids. That's a lot of sleepless nights listening to explosions. Especially for the kids.

Not surprisingly, many families are packing suitcases and travelling south to get away from the danger and the chaos -- anywhere else in the world and they might even be described as refugees, albeit temporary ones. As they leave, carring with them the anxiety of leaving their homes and possessions behind, I can only wonder at how they held out as long as they did.

One such family is staying with us right now. They arrived the night before last with their three kids (3, 9 and 15), all exhausted and shaken -- especially the three year old who walked around saying "boom boom boom." That's all a three year old can say to describe the experience of having explosive laden rockets flying randomly over his house and exploding nearby, day after day.

Brief anti-troll immunization interlude:

Of course I realize there are Lebanese and Palestinian youngsters suffering through trying situations as well. But I will not be harrassed into apologizing for trying to help fellow Israelis who are facing enemy bombing, especially since all the other side needs to do if it really wants peace for its own people is to stop attacking us. Nevertheless, the innocent kids on both sides deserve help, and peace, and I hope they get it.

One other thing to clarify: When this post's title refers to Israelis not waiting for the UN to help its refugees, it is not trying to make a statement comparing our situation to that of how the Lebanese refugees are treated today. The comparison is directed at how the world, and Arab governments in particular, treated the refugees of 60 years ago, the Palestinian refugee problem. Rather than doing the best they could to get the refugees back on their feet and integrated into a life somewhere like refugees from every other conflict in world history, they treated their people like poker chips and left them to rot where they were, scoring political and diplomatic points at the expense of their ability to move on with their lives. Israel has tried to negotiate various solutions to this problem, but it will not be solved by revoking Israel's license to exist, either by military, diplomatic or nuclear means. But as the world has shown over and over since time immemorial, there are other ways of solving these problems. Arab governements instead turn Palestinian refugeeism into a new sort of religion that is passed to children and grandchildren until down the road a few years, based on current rates of the growth of the "refugee problem," most of the world's inhabitants could be Palestinian refugees.

For many Israeli families the move South, while stressful under such traumatic circumstances, is not difficult in practical terms. Many have cars for the trip and friends or relatives ready to welcome them.

But not all are so fortunate. Not everyone has a car. Not everyone can afford extended time without work. Not everyone has family or connections where the missiles have not reached.

The family staying with us doesn't have a car and had to write a check to pay for a taxi to bring them all the way down to our town, Beit Shemesh, a two or three hour drive. And they don't know us, having been sent to us only because we volunteered on a list of willing hosts. They're staying with strangers -- welcoming strangers, but strangers nonetheless. And even they consider themselves lucky compared to those who don't have the money for such a taxi ride, or for whom volunteers have not yet been found to host them. There are still families remaining in the North, never straying far from their basement shelters and praying the warning sirens give them enough time.

Compared to what they go through, this war seems like little more than a top-of-the-hour fixation for the rest of us. But if we examine the effect of our own sense of personal powerlessness -- our inability as concerned citizens to make the missiles stop, to shelter our people from danger -- we realize it eats away at all of us. Especially our own children. I can see it clearly in my own kids, with their anxious questions about bombs, and need for reassurance that we would move them if they were in danger.

So far, the best thing for our kids, and for us, has been this chance to help another family. It has been a chance to attach this distant problem to a real-world face, and to do something to help. When these three kids and their parents arrived, our own kids were so excited they even cleaned their rooms to make them feel welcome.

That same opportunity is available to all of us. We all can help. There are a number of groups organizing relief and fund-raising to make sure no one slips through the cracks and everyone has a safe place to stay. One is an effort local to Beit Shemesh, Lema'an Achai:

Over one million Israelis are now suffering constant barrages of over a thousand rockets and missiles, and the terrifying, constant threat of death and injury.

And the flow of families fleeing from the war and terror on the northern half of Israel, and from the rockets from Gaza in the South, is rapidly growing from a trickle to a flood.

Yesterday, our town, Beit Shemesh was asked to accommodate 117 'refugees' from Naharia. Today, a bus-load from Tiberius, 74 people from Carmiel and 119 people fleeing from Haifa. Tomorrow... Our small community is now preparing to absorb 1000-2000 people for up to a month.

So we are turning our public buildings (schools, community centers, sports halls..) into sprawling camps - where our guests receive a roof over their heads, sustenance, and no imminent threat of rockets.

Local families are 'adopting' the refugee families, and help with their laundry, meals, and social integration into their new (temporary) community.

Lema'an Achai (www.lemaanachai.org) is heading this community-based emergency relief project in partnership with the Beit Shemesh Municipality, the community centres, Ezrat Achim, and numerous shuls and organisations.

Lema'an Achai has been mandated to raise funds to meet the multitude of needs of such a large group of newly homeless families.

For Food, Drink, Provisions, Bedding, Fans, Kettles, Clothes.... teams of social workers & counsellors to help with trauma...

Lema'an Achai has established a designated Refugee Relief Fund to meet these emergency needs.

Please now donate generously to:-

24 Hour Credit Card Service in Israel - 02-99.999.33

US Tax Deductible Donations:
Checks payable to: "US Friends of Lema'an Achai"
Memo line - "Refugee Relief"
PO Box 532, Oceanside, NY 11572-0532

UK Tax Deductible Donations:
Cheques payable to "Jewish Aid Committee"
c/o Refugee Relief Fund - Lema'an Achai,
40/7 Nachal Lachish,
Ramat Beit Shemesh,
99093, Israel.

Canadian Tax Deductible Donations:
Checks payable to: "Shaarei Tefilah Charity Fund" -
Memo Line: Refugee Relief Fund - Lema'an Achai
C/O Murray Shore, 31 Marvill Street
Toronto, Ontario, M3H 3L2

Israel Tax Deductible Donations:
Checks Payable to "Lema'an Achai - Refugee Relief Fund"
40/7 Nachal Lachish,
Ramat Beit Shemesh,
99093, Israel.

In the (happy!) event that any funds raised are not required for Refugee Relief, they will be used for other critical charitable services.
Centrerion Canadian Politics is also publicizing another effort being organized by the Jewish Federation:

North America's Jewish federations are fundraising to move Israeli children south, away from Hezballah's rockets. To that effect, there's an emergency fund in
He has a donation badge and more information at his site.

Please consider even a small donation to one of these charities, or another of your choice. You'll not only help protect Israelis from this danger, you'll also help fight off your own sense of powerlessness in the face of this terror, the very sense Hezbullah and Hamas are counting on.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: