Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hof Ashkelon Update, end of January, 2009

From Hila Levy-Hamami, Youth Director of Hof Ashkelon:

As you know we had a very tense and difficult time in the region during the Gaza war, but as soon as the war ended, we have tried go back to normal life as fast as we can.
This week (starting January 27) we had a counselors' meeting to process our emotions, relive stress and to cherish the hard & good work everyone did. We know more work is needed to prepare for the next time...which will come.
Last night, January 29, we had a rally for "Gilad Shalit" (the Israeli held by Hamas) in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai. Many people from the region attended and called for Gilad's return to Israel.
Today, the region invited 50 teenagers (we had many more) who had volunteered during the war to a show in Tel Aviv. I have to go now because I'm meeting them there.

The following pictures were taken at Moshav Heletz this week, where teens are working on renovating a "caravan" so that they can use it as a youth club. This is one of the three projects in Hof Ashkelon that we are funding from our core monies.outside
Remember my family's story--how they arrived at Heletz from Yemen...and what my father did. This really is an opportunity for this moshav & teens to believe they can achieve their dreams
The rest are inside. It is great to see all these teens participating.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Red Alert Song

When Hila Hamami-Levy, the Youth Director of Hof Ashkelon, came and spoke to many groups in Phoenix, Tucson, and Seattle in late November and into December, 2008, she talked about the Red Alert song taught younger children when they have to run to protected rooms.

Here is more information on the song.

Children at Jewish schools in the United States sing "David Melech Yisrael," with its corresponding hand movements.
Children in Hof Ashkelon and Sderot sing about rocket alerts.

The song, "Red Color," named for the tzeva adom alerts that let residents know of an incoming Qassam rocket attack from the Gaza Strip, was created to help keep children calm while they seek shelter.

When a "tzeva adom" alarm used to sound, children tended to start crying while they ran to the shelter. So a song was written about two years ago to teach young children how to react in a healthy way, including breathing and stretching exercises.

The project was piloted by Ashalim, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's children's division in Israel, as part of the United Jewish Communities' Israel Emergency Campaign.

"Hurry hurry hurry to a safe place/Hurry hurry hurry because it's dangerous," the children sing as they run to their safe place.

"My heart is beating: boom boom boom," they sing as they cross their arms and pound their chest on each "boom."

The song continues to the end, accompanied by corresponding movements, with,
"We shake our body ‹ shake, shake, shake.
We will blow in deep/We will blow out as far as possible/
We will blow in deep/We can laugh/
It's all gone/And I feel good it's over/
Yessss!" as they raise their hands in triumph.

The children, according to the psychologists, no longer shout and push each other since they focus on the song and its movements. (adapted from a UJC article).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Daily living with war

From a young high school teacher in Kiryat Malachi, e-mailed January 13, 2009

Thank you very much for your kind words, thoughts and pictures...It's always nice to know we are thought of on the other side of the world.

My kibbutz is about 22 KM from Gaza and I can hear the plains fly at night over my house. I can also hear the bombarding of Gaza. I jump at every sound I hear. On the first day of the bombing I was so afraid I went to my family in Tel-Aviv for two days just to relax. We had never been bombed before. Thank God my kibbutz wasn't hit by anything, I don't think I could bear it.

It is not a simple situation to live in, but your prayers and actions helps me feel a little bit better.

We have just returned to work and we teach the 11th and 12th graders for the winter matriculation exams, for, as you know they wait for no one. The students are half crazed with stress and boredom. We drilled them running to the shelters during lessons, and as you can imagine there wasn't much learning taking place after it. I'm sure they're doing their best in this situation, and we are too. My mother is also a teacher and she says it is the same at her school. I hope that it will soon end up and we all could return to our normal everyday lives.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Seattle's Jan. 11 rally in support of Israel

Over 1600 people from the greater Seattle area came together in support of Israel on Sunday afternoon, January 11.

Some early, displaying signs outside:

While waiting for the program to begin, attendees signed letters to the 2 Washington senators encouraging their countinued support for the State of Israel. Younger children colored pictures that will be sent to elementary schools in our partnerhsip and sister communities in Israel that are under missile attack, while others signed notes of support that too will be sent to the same communities in Israel.

As the crowds entered the sanctuary, Asher Hashash lead the audience in many Israeli songs including Lo Yisa Goy, which participants waved athousand of Israeli flags to the music.

Attendees filled Temple de Hirsch Sinai to capacity, with several hundred people standing around the edges of the sanctuary and others in the hallway, unable to get any closer.

Since the US Congress had just begun its session, members of Congress were not able to attend, but Washington States Senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray jointly wrote a letter which was read aloud, strongly supporting Israel's right to defend itself. Other Congressmen also wrote notes, and the mayor of Seattle sent a strong letter of support to the mayor of Beersheva, Seattle's sister city.
An Israeli army reservist lead the prayer for the State of Israel. Several videos were shown including AISH's "15 Seconds" and one with representatives from our partnership communities of Hof Ashkelon and Kiryat Malachi speaking of the situation there. The Israeli Deputy Consul General for Israel, Ismail Khaldi, spoke as an official representative of the government. He told how he how been the Israeli government spokesperson to the Arab media on the pull out from Gaza in 2005 and had high hopes for calm to return to the area, hopes that were dashed by the continued and increased shelling of Israeli communities around Gaza. He aos said: "Let me be clear. Israel isn't fighting the Palestinian people... Our enemy is Hamas."

Nevet Basker, the Seattle chair of Stand With Us, spoke as a member of the Seattle Jewish community.

Speakers expressed sadness for the civilians killed in Gaza and the way that Hamas homes, schools,and mosques for weapan storage, thus putting civilians more in danger.

Rabbi Simon Benzaquen, the religious leader of Seattle's Sephardic Bikur Holim, lead a group of 14 local rabbis, as all present stood and sang Hatikvah.

Thanks to Shira P (age 11) and Zach C for the photographs. Group waving photos is from the Seattle PI.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rallies in Tucson &Phoenix, in Support of Israel, Jan. 4

Tucson and Phoenix were among the first cities in the United States to have large rallies in support of Israel’s right to defend its citizens when under rocket attack.
In Tucson, prayers for peace, lead by community rabbies, were the essence of “Standing with Israel,” a community gathering attended by more than 600 people at Congregation Anshei Israel on Sunday to show solidarity with Israel in its response to daily rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. Stuart Mellan, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, and Rabbi Robert Eisen of Congregation Anshei Israel coordinated the event.

About one-third of the attendees were from outside the Tucson Jewish community. Songs of peace were led by Cantor Ivor Lichterman, while audience members wrote their hopes for Israel on index cards, which will be sent to the Conservative Congregation Kehillat Netzach Israel in Ashkelon, which is holding services in bomb shelters. An Ashkelon synagogue representative wrote “We’re looking forward to receiving the prayers. The support we’re getting gives us the strength to keep going.”

Early on December 30, Tucson Federation Board Chair Jennifer Miller Grant and President/CEO Stuart Mellan issued a statement proclaiming the JFSA’s solidarity with Israel.
“We mourn the loss of human life – Israeli and Palestinian – and pray that the violence will soon end and that peace will come to this battered region,” said the statement, which continued: “While the Federation continues to support Israel in its quest to negotiate peace with the Palestinians, no country can be expected to leave its citizens unprotected from continuous and unrelenting violence.”

Despite the rain and with just four days notice, over 1300 people crowded into greater Phoenix Jewish Community campus the afternoon of January 4th in support of Israel with its battle against the terrorist group Hamas.

So many people came that they were spilling over the balconies also.

Speakers included the Israeli Consul for Culture, Media and Pubic Affairs from Los Angeles, Shahar Azani, and Congressman Trent Franks and Mayor Phil Gordon, who spoke of their strong support for Israel in its fight for peace.
Sharron Topper-Amitai, the new community shlicha (emissary) from Israel, spoke of her grandfather who 60 years ago fought in the War of Independence to establish the State of Israel praying that his children and children's children would never have to fight for religious freedom ever again.

Rabbi Arthur Lavinsky of Beth El Congregation and Rabbi David Rebibo of Beth Joseph Congregation each recited prayers for Israel and for resolution of the conflict and ultimate peace in the Middle East and the world. As the large group sang Oseh Shalom and Hatikvah, an ocean of Israeli flags were waved in support. Children also made cards to be sent to Israelis in the areas under attack, and attendees signed letters to members of Congress, asking for their continued support of Israel.
For a video of highlights of the Phoenix rally, please go to:

To see many other communities in the U.S. who have held rallies or who plan to do so, please go to:

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Watch Israel news LIVE on your pc (in Hebrew)

From Nicole:
Unbelievably, I'm currently away, on a previously planned and much-needed vacation to Europe, right in the middle of the current situation.... I thought about cancelling but it wasn't possible, so here I am...
It's been very strange to be away from home at such a crucial time, while worrying about the situation, and about family and friends at home and in the army. Of course I have been trying to watch news, and keep in touch whenever I can. 
Anyway, if like me, you are desperate to hear first-hand news, you can watch Israeli TV news LIVE on your pc at these sites:

Update from a teacher who lives west of Kiryat Malachi

It is true that Israeli schools within 40 kilometers of the Gaza Strip are closed, but some children are still studying. The Ministry of Education has arranged for the youth in the gifted program to study via the Internet. Ariella Duvduvan teaches English at AMAL High School and also heads the regional gifted center located in the science center in Kiryat Malachi, and her 4th and 5th students are continuing classes with their teachers on the Internet.

At the end of January, many upper level high school students will be taking mid-year “bagruyot” exams, which are similar to state-mandated tests in specific subjects. Ariella’s home room students are in the 11th grade and will be taking a math test the end of January. So it has been arranged for them to go to a school in the Tel Aviv area on Monday (Jan. 5) to study math intensively for the day. Ariella and their math teacher will accompany them on a chartered bus. When they finish their full day of studying at 3, they will have some time to have fun before returning home by 7 p.m. Of course many of their mothers are worried about their traveling on the roads, but that is the situation now.

For the time being, Ariella and her husband are staying on their moshav. They have sent their two youngest children (high school students) to stay with a brother in the center of the country. Their oldest daughter, her husband, and their young daughter live in a “caravilla” or trailer next to the family home. Since this action began, they have been staying in the family home, which is more secure that the caravilla. There is no shelter near their home. The original homes at this moshav, established over 45 years old, had shelters, but then the practice ended until about twelve years ago when the government required that each home have a shelter or a secure room. Therefore, whenever they hear the Red Color alert, they rush to archway between two interior rooms, for their protection. Today, there was no alert; yesterday there were two with rockets landing in the vicinity.
Duvduvan home

Their oldest daughter, Sharona, is a doctor at Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon. She is in her 9th month of pregnancy, but has been schlepping to the hospital daily to work in the pediatric ward. Most patients who were able were sent home, and others were sent to other hospitals, closer to the center of the country. But a number are still at Barzilai, underground in a large shelter where the hospital is now operating. The only patients now in the pediatric section are three young children from Gaza. Of course, their mothers are staying with them, and Sharona has gotten to know them quite well. They are very afraid and keep on asking that their children be transferred father away from the rocket fire, even though they are in a very safe area underground. Ironically, Sharona has been traveling from her moshav to the hospital by car. When the Red Alert goes off while she is driving, she stops the car, and quickly lies as flat as she can by the side of the road, endangering her soon-to-be born baby to help the young ones from Gaza. Ariella is very relieved that Sharona was told 2 day ago to stay home, and not go in to work.

Ariella asks that I pass on to all those in the region she has met that she and her family are doing well, and that they really appreciate our support. She especially wanted to pass on that message to the students and teachers at the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle where she spent a week during the last school year.

Message from our Israeli Chair, Rachel Barkai

Thank you for your words and care. It means a lot for us to get them.
Yes, not a dull moment here in our small country.

For the last week - a very long and tiring week- we have been under heavy missile attack.
no need to speak about the fear and worry, the empty cities and the damage that we suffer.
no schools and no open Malls, no outdoor activities ... businesses are shutting down ...
you know it all.

Here in Hof Ashkelon we have arranged different trips for the kids -- for free -- in order to minimize their exposal to the missile attacks.
The trauma centers are loaded with work as well as the medical centers.
The needs in the region are greater than ever.

Time is hard over here, but although it is difficult, we all justify the Israeli act.
It seems like the situation will continue for long weeks.

We pray for peace - we know that only peace will save us - we hope one day there will be someone on their side who will be willing for that as much as we do.
Thank you for being there for us.
It warms our hearts to know we are not alone at this constant survival war.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Latest report from Ira Kerem

The Current Situation in Kiryat Malachi-Hof Ashkelon - January 2, 2009

Hof Ashkelon

Living next to Gaza has not been easy over the last 8 years but the residents of Hof Ashkelon are now going through one of the most tension filled times they can remember. Missiles and mortars have fallen on the kibbutzim and moshavim for many years with most falling on the four kibbutzim and the one moshav closest to Gaza. However, today with Hamas trying to prove that they can hit targets up to 40 kilometers away, the furthest communities in Hof Ashkelon are also being targeted. It should be made clear that as of today, the missiles are mostly landing in open fields.. So far no one in Hof Ashkelon has been physically injured or killed by the missiles; no damage to buildings has been caused by the missiles during the last week..

However, the psychological damage has been great. The sense of fear and apprehension is ever present. Air raid alarms are sounded many times a day in all the communities. The instructions for the residents require them to remain close to protected rooms and shelters and you can imagine everyone, fearing the worst, rushing to shelters several times a day. Young children especially are going through a hard time with the results being a growing number of children crying constantly, wetting their beds, refusing to be separated from parents, and remaining nervous throughout the day and night. The fear is even greater on the communities further away from Gaza whose residents are unaccustomed to being targets of the missiles.

The therapists in the Treatment Center for Children, Teens, and Families (supported in the past by the partnership and today by the Tucson Federation) have been working over time in providing help and support to individuals and families who don't know how to cope with the situation. Other volunteers have gone out to the moshavim and kibbutzim and have met with numerous families and helped them deal with their anxieties.

In many ways, the 5 closest communities to Gaza are much better prepared than the other 15 in Hof Ashkelon. The army command ordered that all preschools without protective roofs be closed. The 5 closest to Gaza are in good shape since their preschool buildings have had protective roofs installed. Most of the roofs were paid for by the government but in Netiv Ha’asara, the moshav closest to Gaza, the special roofs are in place as a result of an allocation by the Phoenix Jewish Federation. Children in Netiv Ha’asara have been in a safe and organized framework this past week while children in other communities have been cared for by parents and whatever can be improvised.

The bomb shelters and reinforced rooms have for the most part been better equipped than the other communities. A good number of the shelters have been equipped with television sets, children’s games, and suitable furnishings – many as a result of contributions from the Tucson and Seattle Federations. These shelters are also being used as program centers for children and youth. In the other 15 communities, this kind of equipment is lacking. In fact, in the community of Nitzan where 900 of the former residents have been living in caravilla temporary housing since August 2005, there were no shelters and protected areas at all. The government has rushed in with protection for preschools and for the population at large. The Hof Ashkelon Regional Council is urgently seeking support to create more protected spaces in the other communities. There is also a need for TVs, children's games, and equipment for the shelters that are now being used for children and youth activity centers since schools have been cancelled. The council is also looking for contributions to fund these activities for youth and children.

While activities and programs are being planned and held for youth and children, the major thrust in Hof Ashkelon is to try and get vulnerable populations out of the region. Institutions all over Israel are opening up their homes and centers to those who have been targeted by missiles. One hundred and fifty residents of Netiv Ha'asara are now in Eilat as guests for 3 days of the hotel owners there. One hundred teens spent Thursday (January1) as guests of the community center of Ramat Hasharon. People from Kibbutz Yad Mordechai will be guests of Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'emek. Every day next week, another group will be hosted by organizations and people in Israel who want to relieve the tension that the residents of Hof Ashkelon are facing. The regional council could use help in funding the buses needed to transport these people.

Every morning at 8:00 and every evening at 6:30, the representatives of the army, police, home front command, government ministries, and the regional council departments –welfare, education, transportation, infrastructure, security, youth, etc. meet to coordinate policies and activities. Many subjects are covered. Today they discussed what to do about matriculation exams now that schools have been cancelled. Where can the regional council organize intensive study sessions for the high school students that will be safe and meet the standards of the home front command? Can this be done in central locations or must they be held in the 20 communities of Hof Ashkelon? Who will teach them? How will transportation be arranged? The council organizes for different populations to leave the region. Who should go next? Who will be in charge? What will the program be? Who will organize the buses? Who will pay for the buses? How will it be organized so that the days away go to those most in need and seem fair to everyone? The meetings take place in the underground emergency center which was refurbished by the Portland Jewish Federation. The emergency communication center, contributed by Phoenix and Tucson Federations, have been n continuous use facilitating contact with the 20 moshavim and kibbutzim and with the army, police, and the regional council agencies servicing the communities.

One of the most valuable organized groups are the local emergency volunteer teams providing emergency medical and psychological assistance, organized according to skills and professions (nurses, social workers, educators, etc.). These teams have been meeting non-stop with families in the kibbutzim and moshavim, offering advice and counseling to those who are finding it most difficult to cope with the tension stemming from the situation today. The Seattle Federation has contributed to those teams in the five settlements closest to Gaza but now two way radios, basic first aid kits and more sophisticated medic's medical kits need to be provided to the other communities.

The regional council possesses a jeep purchased by the San Jose Federation used by their security department to check on the border areas and all 20 communities. It needs to be replaced and while the Israeli government is willing to pay for part of the cost, outside funding is needed.

(I repeat Hof Ashkelon's funding requests: equipment and furnishings for bomb shelters; programs and activities for children and youth; communication equipment and medical kits for the emergency volunteer teams; a new security vehicle; and funding for buses willing to transport various HA populations to take advantage of outside Israeli organizations willing to host them. Anything that the federations can do to cover even partially some of these items would be extremely welcome.)

Kiryat Malachi

Four missiles fell this week in open fields near the town of Kiryat Malachi and that was all that was needed to bring a sense of apprehension and fear to the population of 22,000. Theoretically, it was known that Kiryat Malachi was in range of the Grad missiles but none had ever been fired at KM. Once the residents heard the nearby explosions, they realized that they too were targets of the missiles and the feeling of insecurity became widespread.

A emergency command center has been set up in a bomb shelter that was once used as the center of the youth council and located near the partnership's volunteer apartment. Representatives of the police, army, home front command, central government, and all the municipal departments sit there all day monitoring developments and creating systems and programs to deal with any possible emergency. Three times a day meetings are held to coordinate actions. Right now the emphasis is to give vulnerable populations time out of range of the missiles. Institutions and communities throughout Israel have enlisted to help towns like Kiryat Malachi.

Almost every day, children and youth are being taken to places like Haifa and Ramat Hasharon as guests of community centers and special institutions to enjoy amusement parks, social programs with local youth, and other activities to get everyone's minds off the missiles. The municipality is scrambling to find funds to pay for the bus trips (just yesterday 5 buses carried youth away for the day). Next week, 22 blind residents of KM will spend a week as guests of an agency in Hertziliya.

The Welfare Department is also trying to help deaf residents who can not hear the warning sirens by providing them with instruments that light up when the sirens go off. Staff members and volunteers have gone out and visited the homes of all of the senior citizens of the town, explaining to them what to do when the siren is on and to help them deal with their fears. For some seniors who have panicked and can no longer sleep or who no longer take their medications, the department has called family members living in other parts of the country to take in these seniors. Staff and volunteers have met with many individuals with disabilities and have tried to improve their ability to function under the tension caused by the missiles. They have also organized outings for them to places in Israel out of range of the missiles. Many of the social workers are dealing with serious problems connected with the security situation. A family had to cancel the Bar Mitzveh of their son. He was so agitated and disappointed that he threatened suicide. Others are trying to respond to the fears of children not wanting to be separated from their parents and not willing to go outside of their homes.

The Ethiopian Absorption Service of the town translated the government's instructions into Amharic and it 4 staff members and additional volunteers have visited every Ethiopian family in KM and explained in Amharic to the Ethiopian population the situation and how to cope with the emergency situation and how to deal with their anxieties.

Some of the town's after school programs, especially those that were supported by the Mother to Another program, are located in bomb shelters and starting next week programs and activities will be held in them during the day for this population since schools and preschools have all been cancelled. The partnership supported Youth Council and Art City production team will all be volunteering their talents in helping run the activities.

Anxiety is ever present amongst the town's residents and a list of needs to help alleviate the tension has been drawn up: rental of buses to take vulnerable populations to towns in the north and center of the country; programs and activities for children and youth to keep them busy, occupied, and safe while school is no longer in session; a replacement for the security vehicle originally provided by the Phoenix Jewish Federation that patrols schools and other public institutions; 10 walkie talkie systems; 8 intercom systems; 2 LCD TVs for bomb shelters; and most importantly according to the municipality for today are 8 computers and 2 laptops for the emergency command center.

Any help that the communities can provide in any of these areas would be of tremendous use and would be gratefully acknowledged in these tense times.

I would add one more need and that is to show the residents here that people in the partnership communities are thinking about them. A decision was made this week to place the six Otzma volunteers in Arad instead of Kiryat Malachi. A group of social work students in a master's program in Jewish communal work in Yeshiva University were scheduled to spend a day in KM examining how the city, the schools, the voluntary agencies, and the Ethiopian leadership handle new olim. The program was excellent if I must say so myself and of course has been cancelled. I hope that the upcoming partnership meeting will not be cancelled. There is a risk to life but the risk is small while the fear is great. Having a group of American leadership who are willing to come and stay with their partners in Kiryat Malachi would send a powerful message to the Israelis.

Those who want to contact children and youth in Hof Ashkelon can contact Hila Hamami. In Kiryat Malachi, Hila Kordova and Liat.

Ira Kerem

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Closures for the time being


On Tuesday, Dec. 30, Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared a "special security situation" in all Israeli towns and cities located within a 30-kilometer radius of the Gaza Strip.
Under that order, schools will remain closed in all towns located within the 30 km. radius, including Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Ofakim, Sderot and Kiryat Malachi. The army has also asked that all commercial centers remain closed except for vital services, including medical centers and grocery stores.

The Beersheba Theater has temporarily closed down due to the rocket attacks hitting the city from Gaza, as have the city's movie theaters. All planned events at the theater were canceled, from December 31 through Tuesday, January 6. The cinemas in Ashdod and Ashkelon were shut down by the Home Front Command, too, but the Globus theaters in the rest of the country are offering "soldier discounts" to Israelis who live in Kiryat Malachi and south with an ID card showing where they live. The discounts will remain in effect until the movie theaters in the south are reopened.

Residents of towns located within 20 to 30 km. radius, including Ashdod, Kiryat-Gat, Kiryat-Malachi, Ofakim, Rahat and the surrounding areas, are instructed to take cover in protected spaces within 45 seconds of hearing the Code red alert. Only shopping area with "hardened structures" are open.