Direct from Israel: The needs we must meet

Andrew Rehfeld

By Andrew Rehfeld

It is Monday night, and I am about to return to St. Louis after attending a Jewish Federation of North America mission of 120 people from around the United States to see firsthand how the work we do helps those in need in Israel and abroad.  None of us could have ever anticipated that our arrival in Tel Aviv on July 9 would coincide with an emergent need. Two days prior, Hamas rockets landed in the south and then much farther north than anyone could have expected.  The onslaught spread fear and anxiety throughout the country. 

And yet, life still goes on.

Our group spent time in Jerusalem and had the honor to be addressed by Gil’ad Shaar’s father, who spoke of the deep sense of connectedness he, his wife and his family felt after the outpouring of support worldwide to the kidnapping and subsequent killing of his 16-year-old son. His talk was followed by the spontaneous reporting of representatives from each community, who stood up to tell him and his wife (Gil’ad’s mom) what their community had done to honor their son’s memory. 

Julie Gibbs, director of women’s philanthropy for Jewish Federation of St. Louis, spoke of our community’s gathering the week before at the Jewish Community Center and related a more personal story of her daughter who was in Israel at the time. 

The “witnessing” of so many communities reporting directly to Gil’ad’s parents was as profound and moving a sense of a united Jewish people as I have ever been a part of.

Amid all this, a sense of normalcy pervaded but was punctured by frequent “un-normalcy,” as we got used to spending time in bomb shelters, as most residents of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have. Thanks to the vigilance of residents and preparedness training, the missiles have had a very minor material impact on Israel so far.  Most of them are falling in unpopulated areas, and those aimed at population centers are not getting through: It has been reported that the Iron Dome defense system has been shooting down 90 percent of those it has targeted. 

For children and citizens in the south — Sderot, Beersheba, Ashkalon and Ashdod, among other places — the psychic harm and significant likelihood of material harm is terrible.

We saw it first hand in the reactions of children in the bomb shelters and stairwells to which we ran for protection. And we had 90 seconds, not the 15 seconds that those in the south had to get to shelter. Without question, the largest and deepest impact on Israel right now is the psychological trauma of a terror campaign inflicted upon its citizens. The attacks may be politically motivated, but the targeting of citizens for such a purpose is unjustified.  

At Federation, we intend to stay very focused on responding to the most compelling needs brought about by the developing situation in Israel. Our social service partners JDC, JAFI and the Israel Trauma Coalition are on the ground providing assistance as needed. They are ready to help today because of your contributions to our annual campaign in years past. 

In order to meet current needs, Jewish Federation of St. Louis has created a relief fund to help our partners deliver immediate services and assistance to those under the most pressing threat of rocket attack. A significant part of this goal is to support the relocation of children from the south to the north, where they are less likely to be under attack and have much more time to get to shelter if they are. Additionally, funds will help support the growing need for trauma counseling services that address the symptoms of post-traumatic stress caused by life under rocket fire.

We join with Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) in seeking to raise $10 million of relief for the people of Israel. The money we raise will be allocated by a JFNA committee co-chaired by Heschel Raskas, former board chairof our Jewish Federation, and immediate past treasurer of JFNA. Recipients are likely to include the Israel Trauma Coalition, along with our overseas partners JDC and JAFI, all of whom are working in the region.

We ask for the community’s help to provide social service needs and emergency relief to thousands of Jews in harm’s way. Caring for vulnerable Jews domestically and overseas is a Jewish Federation of St. Louis priority. As a community, we have always risen to help people in need, and we must do so again. Together, we have the power to make an impact. A donation box has been opened at 

We plan to use every opportunity and tactic to involve our community in supporting this effort. At 7 p.m. Monday, July 21, Federation will convene a community briefing at the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, on the situation in Israel. The meeting, open to the community, will include an overview of the situation, reports from those of us who have been in Israel during the crisis, and an overview of the needs that we have. We hope you will join us for this powerful discussion.

As a community, we have become too experienced in responding to crisis, and yet, that is our ultimate responsibility to one another as a community, and for all those in harm’s way. We all wish for a safe and speedy recovery for the people of Israel and the region.

Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., is President and CEO, Jewish Federation of St. Louis