"I'm sure glad I'm here"

This posting was written by Richard Friedman, Executive Director of the Birmingham Jewish Federation, who is blogging from southern Israel during a solidarity mission for UJC National Young Leadership Cabinet members and alumni and members of NYL's Ben-Gurion Society (read more about BGS)

TEL AVIV -- Well, I never thought I'd be back in Israel so soon. I was just here in late November, with a Birmingham Jewish Federation delegation, to attend the International Lion of Judah Conference and United Jewish Communities General Assembly. When I left, I figured it would be at least a year before I'd be back; however, Hamas changed all that.

After years of enduring deadly rockets, fired by Palestinians living in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Israel finally decided to respond and launched its military offensive against Hamas Dec. 27. The cost of what has been named Operation Cast Lead has been high, despite its success. There is much fallout, an unsettled aftermath, costly needs and a traumatized population. UJC, which is made up of North American Jewish Federations, swung into action immediately right after the war began, raising money and instituting solidarity missions from supporters abroad, including visits to the most vulnerable parts of southern Israel.

As part of UJC's effort, an opportunity arose for me to visit Israel on a trip for members and alumni of UJC's  National  Young Leadership Cabinet as well as members of NYL's Ben-Gurion Society. I was a Cabinet member in the late 1970s, before becoming executive director of our Federation. When I told Amy Saag, our Federation president, that I had an opportunity to go on a solidarity mission, she encouraged me to go. She felt it was critical for a representative of our Federation to visit Israel right now, to meet with the people, hear their stories, express our support and report back to our community. So, here I am back in Israel.

It's a short trip. It begins tonight and ends Tuesday night and I will be back in Birmingham Wednesday, which is just as well because we're in the throes of our 2009 BJF Campaign and we have a combined executive committee and board meeting scheduled for Thursday at which I'll report about my trip.
 
The people of Israel have suffered so much over the decades, and somehow these bad guys -- these Israel-haters -- never quite seem to go away. They are bound by a fanatical hatred of Israel and a belief that if they continue to torment, pressure, intimidate and attack the Jewish state that Israel will disappear. And all that we have standing in the way of them achieving their dreams is us. Yes, us -- Jews in Israel and abroad, and our few other devoted friends, such as the US government and pro-Israel Christians in the United States.

When it comes to defending Israel, the people we're going to meet in the next two days in southern Israel are, by far, the bravest. They're the ones whose lives literally are on the line, every single day. They are the ones whose day-to-day living is marked by courage and tenacity, and an unwillingness to flinch and give in to our enemies. It's a war in which even young children, who deserve a childhood free of trauma, must play a role, as they, too, are soldiers. To be afraid is to give in; to be brave is to triumph.

Fourteen  people are on my trip, including participants from Atlanta, Washington DC, southern Maine, St. Paul, Detroit,  Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Miami and Boston. The program begins tonight and it's going to be an action-packed two days.

These are serious times for Israel and the Jewish people. About a month ago, I was chatting via email with a colleague who has been working professionally in the Jewish community about as long as I have (28 years). He's someone who has worked for several local Federations and a major national agency. "The weeks since November's UJC General Assembly, with Mumbai, Madoff and now Gaza, have been some of the most challenging I can remember since you and I joined the field," he observed. I agree. The economic downturn in our country, growing human needs, increasing anti-Semitism and the situation in southern Israel and Gaza have made this the most demanding time our Federation has faced since I came to work for our Federation in 1981.

I fully believe that we can meet these challenges. However, we can only do it through action -- which includes giving, going to Israel and grounding ourselves even more deeply in our heritage, faith and belief in our future. Phrased another way...."I'm sure glad I'm here."
 
- Richard

Give to UJC's Israel Solidarity Drive Now.