Breakthrough Solidarity Mission: On The Ground in Ashkelon, Part I

This column was written by Dan Brown, founder of ejewishphilanthropy.com, and is crossposted to that esteemed Web site.

Currently home to Olim from Argentina, Peru, Russia, Turkey and Uzbekistan, the Calanit Absorption Center staff continually deals with young adults adjusting to life in an unfamiliar country. Lately, in addition to the everyday challenges of a new country and learning a new language they have had to deal with the residents living under war induced stress.

The students, several of whom are Taglit Birthright Israel alumni, are passing through Calanit on the way to IDF service or University. Learning Hebrew is on the top of their agenda. Last month, war interrupted their plans.

But as they told us, they "feel safe" at Calanit and are now "used to it." Something their parents - all of whom whom live in the Diaspora - are grateful for. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the house mother has gone out of her way to open her home kitchen and prepare foods native to the Olim's own culture!

In a way, the Calanit residents have it lucky. They live where they study. Sometimes they're in the shelter (which they really don't mind as this is the Center's computer room) and when things are calm they have the building to roam in. But for the 26,000+ children of Ashkelon, like the most heavily populated parts of the South, it's a different story - they never returned to school following last month's Chanukah vacation - spending their time largely in the underground shelters made ready through Federation dollars.

In collaboration with a number of Israeli companies, supplies of books, toys and computers in addition to the more basic needs of mattresses, first aid kits, emergency lighting and heaters are being distributed to hundreds of shelters. JAFI, through effective use of Federation fundraising efforts, is also developing programs to help ease the trauma, among children and adults.

If you're interested in learning more about JAFI's efforts, supported by the UJC/Federations of North America, you can check their recently updated Summary of Activities.