As needs mount, Israeli charities swing into action throughout North


NAHARIYA, Israel — Stale, hot air fills the flight of concrete stairs that barrels deep into the earth and leads to the surprising cool of a bomb shelter in a corner of Nahariya’s poorest neighborhood.

A gleaming new air conditioner blows cool air for the shelter’s residents, who on Tuesday were spending their 21st day underground.

The air-conditioning unit is one of 220 secured in the first days of the war by Natan Golan and Hanan Chen, founders of Galila, the Northern Galilee Development Foundation.

Residents of the northern town of Kfar Vradim, the pair founded the grass-roots philanthropic organization six months ago.

Since the fighting began, they have been on the ground every day, assessing people’s most basic needs — from flak jackets and helmets for rescue workers and municipal workers to air conditioners for bomb shelters.

“We were choking here; the air was hot and sticky,” Maya Edri, 23, said of life in the shelter before Galila installed the air conditioner.

Edri is one of 25 people living in the shelter and is eight months pregnant.

“We were irritated, and it was hard to be here. Now we’re still frightened, but at least we have a much more comfortable atmosphere to be in,” she said.

Galila is one of several organizations working overtime to help residents of the North who have been living under a barrage of rocket fire unprecedented in Israeli history for its duration and intensity. Hezbollah has fired thousands of rockets into northern Israel since the confrontation began July 12.

Most recently, Galila has turned its attention to getting northern residents to Jerusalem for brief holidays at hotels where they can go on guided tours, enjoy free meals and take a break from the stress of life under attack.

Oshri Shloosh, deputy mayor of Nahariya, sent a busload of residents to Jerusalem on Tuesday morning in a trip organized by Galila and a Jerusalem travel agency, Da’at.

“Everyone talks. They act,” Shloosh said of Galila.

Some 300,000 residents have fled the North, finding shelter among friends and family or at hotels in central or southern Israel.

Many of the Jewish Israelis who remain in the North are those from some of the weaker segments of society — recent immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, the elderly and the handicapped.

Israeli Arabs, who make up much of the population of the Galilee, have mostly stayed at home.

Most of the local campaigning by Israeli charities has been for food assistance provided by organizations like Latet, Meir Panim and Chabad, and calls for donations of refrigerators and air conditioners.

Abroad, a host of emergency fund-raising campaigns have been launched. Major philanthropic players like the United Jewish Communities and the United Israel Appeal of Canada federation systems are central addresses whose fund-raising helps support the work of organizations such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Others, like the Jewish Funders Network, are working to help funnel donations to JAFI, the JDC and other private foundations that are addressing local needs.

Working with their foundation members, the group is educating donors about where the funds are most needed. There is a tremendous desire to help “to alleviate short-term and long-term problems created or exacerbated by the crisis,” said Mark Charendoff, the president of the New York-based foundation, which has already sent more than $800,000 in donor-designated funds to the region.

The JDC focuses in part on assisting the elderly through its Eshel program, which has been helping partner organizations in the North provide some 5,000 meals a day and working to evacuate northerners to hotels in the center of the country.

For those elderly too frail to leave the bomb shelters, the JDC also has put together kits with basic supplies like toothbrushes and flashlights.

The organization also is helping to bring some 16,000 children to central Israel to attend day camps. For children in the shelters, it’s providing packages with toys, computer games and arts and crafts supplies, as well as providing support for trauma counseling through an umbrella organization called the Israel Trauma Coalition.

“Because we are familiar with the needs, we were able to mobilize,” said Becky Caspi, a member of JDC’s emergency response team.

Charlotte Friedman, director of Shiloh, which helps the elderly in Haifa, said her organization’s efforts to provide clients with hot meals, medications and trips to the doctor depend on support from the JDC during crises like this. About a quarter of Shiloh’s clients are Holocaust survivors.

The JDC is “transferring money into our account, and that’s what’s needed now,” she said. “They’re not just talking; they’re helping.”

Officials at JAFI, meanwhile, are spearheading efforts to help children from the North by bringing 20,000 so far to overnight camps in the center of the country. The price tag is about $4 million; $3 million came from the UJC and $1 million from an Israeli philanthropist, according to Michael Jankelowitz, a JAFI spokesman.

Arab and Druse children also have been brought from the North to two of JAFI’s camps.

JAFI also is assisting in the purchase of air conditioners for public bomb shelters and is helping recent Ethiopian immigrants at absorption centers in the North cope with the crisis through psychological counseling in their native language of Amharic.

Trauma counseling is another urgent need. Ruth Bar-On, founder of Selah, the Israel Crisis Management Center, focuses on those who have lost loved ones and need psychological counseling and those with no money for rent, food or extra medicine.

Selah is seeking extra funds to hire a Russian-speaking social worker and a volunteer coordinator for the North.

“The first thing we have to feel is that we are safe in our homes, and this crisis shows us we are not safe,” Bar-On said.

Natal, another organization that provides trauma counseling, tries to reach those directly affected by terrorism and war. The group has been sending counselors to shelters and also to train community leaders dealing with residents in distress.

The organization typically receives 4,000 calls a year for assistance; now it’s getting about 4,000 calls a week.

To help ease the psychological stress, Jerusalem’s Hadassah-University Hospital is sending teams of pediatric psychiatrists, pediatricians, social workers and even clowns to meet with children and their parents at shelters.

Joseph Hyman, president of the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy, a nonprofit organization based in New York that advises potential philanthropists in exploring meaningful Jewish giving opportunities, has been working to identify some of the most critical needs in the North.

Major priorities he has identified include providing meals and trauma counseling and boosting overworked and understaffed firefighting teams.

“I don’t think if you look back on previous wars you would find the same kind of issues,” he said.

This is a time where generosity is especially key, Hyman said.

“I think the system of American Jewry is adjusting quickly, and I think they are beginning to respond in a serious way,” he said.

Sitting in the operations center in the underground shelter of the Ma’alot-Tarshiha municipality building is Silas Libilya, deputy mayor of the joint Arab-Jewish municipality.

He lists off the support received from Jewish organizations and from communities across the world, including sister cities of Montreal, and Marseilles and Perpignan in France.

“We feel their desire to help. Every day you feel good knowing there are Jews in the world,” he said.