A Helping Hand


American Jews are opening their hearts and their wallets, responding in a big way to help Israelis who are in the line of fire from Hezbollah and Hamas rocket attacks.

To help protect volunteer paramedics and emergency medical technicians who respond to medical emergencies while more rockets are falling, a campaign has been launched to raise $350,000 to equip 250 of them with bulletproof vests and helmets.

Eli Beer, commander of Israel Rescue and Hatzolah, said that based upon an initial response to the fund drive, 100 helmets and vests have been ordered and 65 were delivered this week. He said he hopes to have enough money to pay for all 250 next week.

Donations may be made through www.israelrescue.org. Migdal Ohr, an organization that operates a youth village just south of Haifa for 6,500 underprivileged Israelis during the school year, has been forced to shut down. It has moved about 800 youngsters attending its summer program (and an equal number of staff) to five makeshift camps in the center of the country. And it has welcomed to those camps another 2,600 youngsters ages 6 to 16 who have come from the north.Robert Katz, the group’s executive vice president, said its president, Rabbi Yitzchak David Grossman, has opened his doors to all of those who want to "get their children away from the trauma and stress" of the daily rocket attacks. Katz said that although initially it was thought the camps would be operated for 20 days, they would remain open as long as needed. He said $2.5 million is needed to cover expenses for the first 20 days: such things as admission tickets to water parks, meals and trauma counselors. As of the beginning of this week, $400,000 had been raised. Every dollar raised will be matched by the Jewish Agency. Donations may be made at www.migdalorhusa.org. The Jewish National Fund (JNF), which calls its special fund-raising drive, Operation Security Blanket, had raised $1.3 million by the beginning of this week. The money is going for three special projects and donors may ask for their contributions to go to one or all of them. It, too, is sending children in the north to summer camps in central Israel. About 1,000 youngsters will attend these camps for up to one week.

Another project involves the construction of three bypass roads along the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip to provide greater security than the existing roads. And $100,000 from the campaign has also been earmarked for the purchase of 70 compact fire trucks. These four-wheel all-terrain vehicles are able to maneuver more easily and reach fires more quickly than regular fire trucks. The JNF also wants to equip firefighters with helmets and vests that are fireproof and bulletproof.

Although the government of Israel has not asked State of Israel Bonds to increase its goal of raising $1 billion this year, Raphael Rothstein, a Bond’s spokesman, said the organization expects "more Jews to come and buy at different levels."

"A lot of Jews from the ranks are buying," Rothstein said, noting that people can buy Israel Bonds for as little as $100. "We expect to accelerate the campaign and get more people involved."

He said there are major fundraising events scheduled in 11 cities (including New York, Washington and Philadelphia) next Tuesday and Wednesday that will feature such speakers as former Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Although Bonds cannot be bought on the Internet because of U.S. government restrictions, the prospectus and order form can be downloaded from its Web site, www.israelbonds.com/Forms.html.

Israelis themselves are helping fellow Israelis in need. The Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem is hosting 50 families displaced from their homes in Kiryat Shemona along Israel’s northern border. The Inbal and the Israel Hotel Association are sponsoring their stay. To help Israelis in bomb shelters who have been unable to get to a supermarket, the Strauss-Elite food conglomerate brought them dairy products, salads, cookies, chocolates and other items. The donated items came from Strauss-Elite factories throughout northern Israel that have maintained an "emergency work schedule" to keep up with market demand. Because many workers in the north had to deal with family crises, a "substantial number" of company employees in central and southern Israel volunteered to relieve them to keep the operations in the north running, according to a company spokesman. And the company opened a crisis hotline to provide social workers and psychologists to those in need.