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Solidarity Missions to Israel Mix Moral Support and High-level Briefings

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Surveying the damage of an apartment building hit by rocket fire, playing with children evacuated from the North and meeting with Israel’s top leaders, a parade of Jewish solidarity missions are making their way through Israel to show their support in a time of war. Most of the groups toured Haifa and other northern towns, trying to assess needs and concerns of Israelis suddenly in the firing zone of Hezbollah rockets.

“You begin to realize this is truly an act of terror,” said Steven Nasatir, the president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, who was in Israel as part of a United Jewish Communities mission that visited Haifa on Tuesday. The Haifa visit came an hour after a barrage of rockets hit the city. They viewed one of the buildings that was damaged.

“When you think about this kind of a weapon being used, its pretty frightening,” he said. “It was up close and personal today.”

Many of those participating in the delegations said felt they had an obligation to be in Israel to show their concern in person.

“I want to hear firsthand what the intentions are, and to give our support that they should not pull out too early,” said Jerry Platt of American Friends of Likud, who came to Israel as part of a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with several of the visiting delegations and reiterated his message of determination that Israel would defeat Hezbollah.

Six representatives from the Conference of Presidents delegation met with the families of two soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah on July 12. The kidnappings precipitated Israel’s dramatic counter-response.

“It was extremely moving,” said Robert Abrams of the America Israel Friendship League. “They have not heard anything new, but told us how they heard about the abduction.”

The group told the families that they would try to keep the soldiers’ fate in the public view. The visitors were deeply impressed by the families’ “courage and the control of their emotions,” Abrams said.

Groups also were briefed by high-ranking army commanders, getting an overview of the situation with maps, photos and explanations of Israeli strategy.

Other solidarity missions have come from the European Jewish Congress, the Reform and Conservative movements and ORT. The American Jewish Committee, which came last week, met with Haifa officials, visited victims in the hospital and donated blood.

Many of the visiting groups have launched special fund-raising campaigns to help offset the costs associated with the Hezbollah attacks.

On Monday, members of the UJC delegation visited a summer camp near Netanya for Ethiopian children evacuated from the northern city of Safed. The UJC has raised more than $11 million for its Israel Crisis Fund, which will in part enable as many children as possible to attend camps in the center of the country.

Kids at the camp, which is run by the Jewish Agency for Israel, play sports and run around outside, a contrast to the cramped and often unairconditioned bomb shelters back home.

John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York, said the federation has received many calls from people who want to contribute funds for Israel. The federation is trying to send the money to aid to those who survived attacks and to provide safe places for families in the North to live while the fighting is going on.

They also are planning to make funds available for emotional support for Holocaust survivors, for whom a crisis like this can trigger past traumas, and for soldiers without family in Israel.

“The North American Jewish community is exceedingly united in its commitment to… the people of Israel, and expresses this in multiple ways, including writing a check,” Ruskay said.

Nasatir said it soon would become clear how contributions would best be allocated. The cost of the war would likely make it difficult for the government to implement plans to up social welfare spending, and Nasatir suggested that American Jews might have to help make sure that the country’s economic gaps don’t widen even more.

“I think the issue now transcends one project or two projects. I think that if the American Jewish community really wants to step forward at this time, I think three main things to do are advocacy — coming here at a time when the airplanes are no longer full — raising significant amounts of money and to be partner to Israel at a time of great need,” Nasatir said.

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