Devra Jaffe-Berkowitz, National Young Leadership Cabinet Chair & Stamford Community Member
One of the honors and privileges of serving as co-chair of National Young Leadership for Jewish Federations of North America is participating in the yearly campaign chairs and directors mission. Since being named co-chair I have been looking forward to traveling with local community leaders, promoting NYL and also advising local federations on strengthening their young leadership campaign efforts. When I packed my bags last week and headed for Greece and Israel, there was no way I could have anticipated what was in store for me.
While in Greece, visiting with the wonderful Jewish community there, senior JFNA professionals were giving us frequent updates on the escalating situation in Israel. We boarded the flight from Thessaloniki to Tel Aviv with some trepidation and uncertainty. When two hours later, we landed at Ben Gurion airport, the group spontaneously began to sing "Haveynu Shalom Aleichem" and at that moment the magnitude of what we were embarking on set in and I welled up with tears of pride and live for my people.
The following morning I got a first hand experience of what life has been like here, as sirens blared along the beautiful Tel Aviv beach and we all headed for the hotel's bomb shelter. We sat there for ten minutes in that safe room with approximately twenty strangers, who in truth, were not strangers at all. We were/are one family- all in this together. In that shelter, did it matter who was American and who was Israeli? Who kept kosher and who fasted on Yom Kippur? Who was Orthodox and who was Reform? Who was Ashkenazi and who was Sephardic? The solidarity I have felt over the past few days here is indescribable in its depth and I feel privileged to represent all of you here in Israel at this time.
As you are reading this, we know many of you are asking what you, and we as a collective, can do to help. The needs are great. JFNA has launched a relief campaign "Stop The Sirens" to address the most immediate needs. This includes, but is not limited to: trauma counseling, assistance for families whose homes have been destroyed, giving young children in the South a respite, and providing life saving assistance to those with physical disabilities who cannot get to a shelter as easily or quickly as we could. As American Jews we have a responsibility to stand together with our global family at this time of crisis.
When we were in Thessaloniki, where 60,000 Jews were herded to Auschwitz during the Shoah solely because they were Jewish, our mission participated in an emotional memorial service. Seventy years later, our people are still under attack simply because they are Jews. As our group leaves for Jerusalem today, I look forward to ushering in Shabbat at the Kotel, an experience that will be that much more spiritually powerful given the chaos of life here. As you welcome the Sabbath tonight, bringing light into your homes, please say a special prayer for the 60 thousand murdered in Thessaloniki and our brothers and sisters whose lives are threatened daily in Israel.
May peace come quickly for all of us. Am Yisrael Chai.
With pride and love,