|Scenes from the federation’s mission of support for Israel.|
They didn’t want to sit on the sidelines.
So last week, they went to Israel on a mission with the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
“Instead of sitting in my family room with my iPad reading the news in Israel and feeling bereft, I was standing shoulder to shoulder with the families in the south who are suffering,” said Nina Kampler of Teaneck, who helped organize the trip as its volunteer chair.
The group spent most of its time in the south, but ventured north to visit the federation’s sister city, Nahariya, at the end of the trip. The visit combined meeting with Israelis, including the wounded and the mourning, and hearing from experts.
“We were able to witness a society just beginning to emerge from the depth of the war but still reeling from its enormous impact, while directly infusing the people we met with support and love,” said Ms. Kampler, whose husband, Dr. Zvi Marans, is president of the federation.
“We helped our brothers and sisters in Israel not feel as isolated and neglected. It made them feel stronger and more connected. And in turn, it made us not feel distant from Israel’s trauma,” she said.
The trip was Israel Blum’s first involvement with the Jewish federation. Mr. Blum, who lives in Englewood, had given the organization his email address when he attended last month’s pro-Israel rally there. “As soon we got the information they’re going to Israel on the mission, I said book me,” he said.
“Everyone should have gone. Israel needs our support. When you go and meet people in places like Sderot and Netivot” – two cities that are near Gaza and among those most affected by rocket fire from Hamas – “they’re waiting to see people come and visit them.”
The most moving part of the trip for him was visiting wounded soldiers in the hospitals. He met a soldier wounded in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, and gave him money to renovate his apartment.
“Hopefully he will make full recovery,” Mr. Blum said.
The participants on the trip raised some money for federation to fund specific projects, including supporting a tank battalion and providing air conditioning for a shelter, said Jason Shames, the federation’s CEO, who led the trip.
The main goal of the trip was “to show support for our family in Israel through thick and thin, and to send the message to the rest of the world that Israel matters, and the double standard is unacceptable,” Mr. Shames said.
“Israel is extremely relevant to our community and a common fiber for all of us,” he added.
Over the last two months, the federation raised more than $570,000 for its “Stop the Sirens” campaign to help Israelis cope with the crisis. That amount came from more than 1,200 people, and exceeded the amount expected. “Israel is the common denominator,” Mr. Shames said.
Fred Fish of Englewood said he found the morale of the Israeli population “as high as I ever remember in the two dozen plus times I’ve been to Israel” – the first being back in 1962.
The high morale came from a cross-section of Israeli society, including “the university professor and the cab driver, the waiter and the doctor.”
He said that for him the most moving moments of the trip were visits with wounded Israeli soldiers and a dinner with lone soldiers, including one who was a native of Englewood.
The group also visited an Iron Dome anti-rocket installation.
“On a physical basis, it’s very unimpressive. It’s two batteries, a couple of pieces of equipment, a Quonset hut. It’s like two tanks,” Mr. Fish said.
In view of its small size, “It’s incomprehensible how effective they are. Nine protect the entire country,” he said with amazement.
Ms. Kampler said that “more than any other trip I’ve taken since my first trip in 1977, this validated the living miracle that is Israel.
“We had the opportunity to play with kids in an absorption center, who were actually drawing pictures of the war, of the good guys vs. the bad guys, as children are wont to do. We visited with families who had lost a husband or son in the war, and extended our deep condolences.
“We climbed hilltops overlooking Gaza and really understood just how close the danger. We spent time at a kibbutz that was empty of residents, because of the proximity of the tunnels, and was hosting a celebration for 300 soldiers back from Gaza,” she said.
The group also received briefings, including from staff at the U.S. embassy, members of Knesset, national security officers, and the head of the IDF department dealing with kidnapped soldiers and those missing in action.
The group also visited Nahariya. As Israel’s most northernmost city, it had not been threatened from the rockets from the south. But its boys went off to war, and the federation group met with the family of a soldier who had been killed in Gaza.
Ms. Kampler said it was a privilege to help the people in Nahariya “feel connected and validated during these stressful times. It’s a beautiful, bilateral relationship. These connections are growing deeper and they’re broadening.”
The final event on the trip’s schedule was a buffet dinner in Nahariya hosted by a group of women. After the dinner, the Nahariya residents “turned to us and said, ‘when you’re ready to come, and if God forbid America becomes another France, our homes are your home,'” Ms. Kampler said.