A Day at the Zoo....

This posting was contributed by Pamela Ingram of St. Paul, MN, who is in Israel for a Solidarity Mission to southern Israel with other alumni and members of the National Young Leadership Cabinet and members of NYL's Ben-Gurion Society (read more about BGS). This posting came from her own blog about her travels.

Learning to tie your shoes, writing your name, wondering what dessert you will have at dinner. These should be the concerns of a five-year-old. Childhood should not involve carrying the worries of life and death, but for 5-year-olds living in the southern regions of Israel they have already lived through dodging 10,000 rocket attacks. In the last two weeks alone (during which a cease fire was supposedly in place) 12 rockets have fallen from the sky, 7 today alone.

For these children, the experts no longer speak of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD requires that you have been traumatized and then begun to live after the trauma. For these children, the trauma is a way of life and they live with continuing traumatic stress, their childhoods robbed from them. They sleep at night in underground bunkers, they watch the sky for the next attack. Whether Jewish or Arab, their only crimes were being born to the Israeli families of the region. Some of these children have already relocated at least once, when Israel pulled its settlements out of Gaza, and yet they still live with bombings and gun battles as the normal background of their lives. These children are the reason we have come this week.

While I intellectually knew this fact, it wasn’t until Rebecca Caspi of UJC reminded us tonight that the thought truly sunk in. Israel has never fought a war that wasn’t on her homeland and probably never will. I have a hard time trying to translate that concept into my daily life. In the US we are used to wars that are far away. We send our soldiers off to fight the battles and we live safely an ocean away. We do not watch our neighbors die, or our schools leveled. We do not awake in the night to sirens and screams. Even during WW II where great sacrifices were made at home during the war, the sacrifice of our daily safety was never closer than one day at Pearl Harbor. What would it mean to not be able to go anywhere in your homeland and not know you were at risk? Could I do it? I would love to say I could, but I am doubtful.

The inability to escape the constant stress of war is one of the primary issues Israel and its American partners, such as UJC, JDC and JAFI, are trying to address for the children in the southern regions. At the start of the current incursion 5 weeks ago, the Israeli Ministries of Education and Defense not only braced for war, but also for the impact on those living in the region. They developed a plan to give over 30,000 children in the area (both Arab and Jewish) a break from the fighting. They turned to children-friendly industries in other parts of the country, such as zoos and safaris, and asked for their help. They asked to bring to bring the children for a day… one day of childhood. Israel did what Israel always does when family is hurting and welcomed them with open arms -- all admissions were waived. But this still left logistics that couldn’t be managed and which the government had no way of funding. How to transport the children, how to feed them during the events. Here the Israelis turned to the US and United Jewish Communities and UJC was there to answer the call.

There are many misconceptions about giving money to UJC and where that money goes, so let me clear one up. I have sat at many Federation meetings hearing how the needs at home are too great, that we cannot take sides. That our money shouldn’t be used for war costs. But what is the cost of war? War costs are more than bullets and bombs. Wars have human costs, like sandwiches and buses. Like the recent '120 Strong' program that made sure that the 25,000 elderly and sick in the south had their medicines and were safe during the fighting. UJC and our partners, like JDC and JAFI, do not provide money for the military, but yes we support the Israeli costs of war, without care whether those in need are Jewish or Arab. And as long as wars must be fought on the playgrounds of five-year-olds and in the backyards of 80-year-olds, near the bedsides of the sick and infirm, we must all be willing to donate to help pay those costs. If each of us give just a small amount, the cost of a sandwich and a seat on a bus, lives that are otherwise bleak can be changed!

- Pamela Ingram

Give to UJC's Israel Solidarity Drive Now.