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CJF 42nd General Assembly Focuses on Continuing Needs in War and Peace

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The cease-fire in the Middle East must not mean a cease-fire on the part of American and Canadian Jewish communities in providing cash to help Israel meet the humanitarian needs that now face her after 19 days of war. The battle Israel waged in self-defense against the Arab aggressors who attacked on Yom Kippur has ended. But a struggle continues to find ways to finance continuing absorption of immigrants, new housing and health and social welfare services; upgrading development towns and poverty areas such as Katamon in Jerusalem; meet the budgets of institutions of higher learning –as well as caring for the wounded soldiers and rebuilding areas ravaged by the war.

This was the message brought to the 42nd General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds by Moshe Rivlin, Secretary General of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. In fact, this was the theme of the four-day convention here that ended yesterday where some 3000 Jewish communal leaders from the United States and Canada gathered to focus on the commitments and responsibilities of Jewish communities, particularly as they relate to Israel in the aftermath of the war. Rivlin, who came here from Israel after a short stopover in London, presented a vivid account of the immense heroism and sacrifice of the people of Israel who, as he put it, were determined not to permit a recurrence of Massada. He told the delegates that the original estimate that the war cost Israel $2 billion a week turned out to be wrong. “After a careful appraisal it turned out to be twice as much,” he stated. As a consequence, the strain on Israel’s efforts to meet human needs has become awesome.

Rivlin noted that a month before the war erupted it was announced in Israel that the national budget for human needs was greater than the defense budget for the first time since the end of the Six-Day War in 1967. “It seems that we were punished because the people of Israel thought they could live peacefully, like other people,” he said. Before the war, Israel was geared to give more time and attention to basic human needs, Rivlin noted. “Now we have greater, more intense and unanticipated needs that must be met and met decisively and quickly, both in terms of quality and quantity, to heal the wounds of the war and to carry on with the work that we had charted before Oct. 6,” he declared.

He noted that one human need is to “find a way of communicating between generations.” The youth of Israel gave unstintingly of their time, their savings and their lives, Rivlin said. He recalled that many of the soldiers refused to accept their pay and requested, instead, that it be donated to the voluntary fund that was organized by the Israeli people to help meet the needs of Israel after the war began. Rivlin recalled, too, that among the soldiers guarding the Barlev Line, 46 were youths from the Katamon district. “Can we deal with Katamon now as we did before?” he asked. “Can we deal with development towns as we did before? The answer is that we cannot.” Focusing on another vital need, Rivlin recounted the fact that Israeli Arabs proved to be loyal to Israel. “There was not one incident, of hostility,” he said. “This proves that Jews and Arabs can live together. But it also proves that we cannot deal with the problems of Israeli Arabs now in the same way as we did before the war. We cannot neglect or postpone their needs.” The needs also continue in terms of new immigrants, especially those from the Soviet Union. Money is required for new housing units for these immigrants as well as for young couples who are seeking homes, he added.

“The battle for Soviet Jewry and the battle of Israel against the aggressors are part of the same war,” Rivlin stated. “It is one front and world Jewry is as one in this struggle.” With the arrival of hew immigrants, the needs of the young married couples, the poor and the Israeli Arabs, new housing units are a top priority. But Israel is now entering a period of inflation and an apartment costs at least $20,000. “With 100,000 Soviet Jewish immigrants who will have arrived in Israel by the end of next year, the cost of housing units for them will amount to $400 million. The cost of initial absorption will be $200 million. Housing units for young people will cost $350 million. Can we say no to any of these needs?” Rivlin asked. “Can we be satisfied with absorption centers and temporary housing for new immigrants. Can we say no to the needs of the young people who fought and died in this war?”

Israel, Rivlin asserted, is an injured nation but trying everything possible to heal its wounds. Israel is sad but confident. “It is a nation which felt what loneliness means. It is a nation that is grateful to the United States government for the help it gave us. It is a nation that is strengthened from the solidarity with the Jewish people all over the world,” he declared. “The war was not a fight of desperate soldiers but of a people ready to sacrifice, knowing that it would lead to a new life. The Israeli army proved it could do the impossible. The price of winning was terrible but the nation was not bent on suicide. The war should really be called the War of the Sons, because it was the children of those who led the battle in 1948 who were now being killed and wounded. Now that there is a military cease-fire I hope that there will be no cease-fire in giving on your part to help Israel meet its vital humanitarian needs.”

Elaborating on this theme. Paul Zuckerman, general chairman of the United Jewish Appeal, asserted that it was now imperative to receive cash–not just pledges–to assure the fulfillment of Israel’s vital human needs. He recalled that on Oct. 7, a day after the war began, the UJA received a call from Jerusalem saying that $100 million had to be raised within five days. “In that five-day period we received $107 million in cash,” he said. “As of now (Nov. 9) we have gotten $272 million in cash and Israel is ready for more. They will get more. We will not stop.”

Zuckerman noted that the response to Israel’s need was overwhelming and observed that there is a lesson to be learned in this. During the first nine months of this year, he said, the UJA raised only $120 million in cash but a great deal more in pledges. Referring to the UJA’s 1973 slogan, “Keep the Promise,” Zuckerman said: “We kept only half the promise. People pledged more but gave less cash because Israel seemed to be in no danger of attack. It is evident that we are geared to respond to give when Israel is in trouble but not when Israel is at peace. But why must we wait for young people to die, for blood to flow, for war to be waged before we give cash?”

The UJA leader suggested that one full month be devoted to raise the maximum amount of cash to meet the $900 million goal–$750 million for human needs abroad including Israel and $150 million for U.S. and Canadian Jewish communities. “Let’s close our businesses, discontinue our routine activities, roll up our sleeves and let’s get to work,” he declared. He recalled that after the Israeli army gained its decisive victory over the Egyptian and Syrian forces a non-Jewish friend came over to him and said, “You guys sure gave the Arabs a beating.” This, he continued, made him realize that “I was no longer Paul Zuckerman, no longer a Detroiter, no longer an American. I was one of you guys. So be it. We are all one of you guys. We are all one people. And this is the way we have to be and act–as one people whose fate is indissolubly linked together in the struggle for continuity and survival.”

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