Their hearts are in Israel
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Their hearts are in Israel

Naomi Ifhar, originally from Herzliya, has lived in Cresskill for the past three years. She expects to be in Bergen County another two years or so, because of her husband Ifti’s job for a high-tech corporation. But every summer, Naomi and her daughterChen go back to Israel. In fact, she said in a conversation with The Jewish Standard, Chen is already there, and she herself planned to leave for Israel this week. Her husband will join her in August.

"The Israeli community here is deserted during the summer," she said. "All the wives and children go back to Israel."

Ifhar is a member of the JCC on the Palisades’ Israeli Club, which, says director Esther Mazor, has a mailing list of over 1,000 members, many of whom attend the group’s events. "Israel-centered events get a great response," said Mazor, noting that the JCC has seen an increasing number of Israeli members, particularly young couples with children.

With regard to the current situation in Israel, Ifhar said, "I keep checking the Internet, CNN, Israeli newspapers, and I keep the news on all the time — just like in Israel."

Ifhar’s older daughter Lee,’1, is an officer stationed in Ramallah. "She says that things are very tense and they’re confined to the base," Ifhar noted. Chen, who has one more year at Cresskill High School before she begins her army service, is visiting her grandmother in Zichron Yaakov.

"My whole family is there," said Ifhar. "[My relatives] in Haifa all left and went there with their kids because of the danger." She added that friends of hers in central Israel have opened their home to families from the north, which has been under constant bombardment.

"All of Israel is united now," said Ifhar. "We feel Israel should continue what it’s doing to eliminate Hezbollah. We’re used to [this] in Israel. Rabin said Israel is fighting one war, and it began in 1948."

Ifhar said that those friends whose return to Israel will make them eligible to be called up as reservists are, for the most part, prepared to serve.

"It’s hard to be here now," she said, adding that all her Israeli friends are eager to be back in Israel now, together with friends and family.

David Hyman, shaliach and director of the Israel Programs Center of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, is one of the "summer bachelors" remaining behind in the U.S. while their wives and children are off in Israel. "It’s cheaper to bring the children to Israel for the summer than to put them in camp here," he pointed out.

But Hyman — whose family recently came within a mile of a rocket barrage in Haifa — is now asking himself what he calls "the million-dollar question": Where should a shaliach be at a time like this, with his family in Israel, or here in New Jersey, with the community he serves.

"I’m the main contact between [UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey] and Israel," he explained. "I deal with press, report on briefings, provide information, and answer calls from parents whose children are on trips to Israel, whether from NFTY, Birthright Israel, USY, or other groups."

While Hyman could not provide the number of local youngsters in Israel, he noted that 190 groups are touring the country, including about 8,000 teens and college students. (See cover story.) "I get briefings from the Jewish Agency and I tell parents what I have heard," he said. "Their children will only be taken to safe areas."

Hyman — who can be called up to active army service under the provisions of emergency recruitment — said he is more than ready to rejoin his old army regiment if necessary. "It’s an Israeli thing," he said. "We grew up with it. It’s not just part of our education; it’s in our genes. You drop everything. The security of Israel comes first."

"I speak to family and friends all the time," he said. "Some of the guys from my old regiment have their army boots ready."

According to Hyman, Israelis he has spoken to are united behind the government and hope that they will use this opportunity to "rearrange the situation in southern Lebanon. To go back to the old situation [with Hezbollah] would be the worst possible scenario," he said, adding that Israelis are hopeful that either the Israel Defense Forces, Lebanon, or an international force will move into the area.

Hyman pointed out that all his Israeli friends in New Jersey who planned to visit Israel this summer are moving ahead with their plans. "Israelis don’t cancel," he said. His wife, as scheduled, will come back to New Jersey in August, although she has now moved with the children to her sister’s home, south of Haifa.

"Life in the north has been turned upside down," said Hyman. Summer camps and other activities for children have been canceled and some parents have to stay home from work to care for their children. "There’s no routine," he said. "Families with young kids are stuck in their apartments and the children can’t wander in the streets. People are saying that while the first two days were exciting and different, the joke isn’t funny any more."

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