Tell American Jews about a disaster anywhere in the world and they rush to respond. Whether it was the tsunami in Southeast Asia last year, or the war in Kosovo, or the plight of the Vietnamese boat people, the Jewish community has always contributed resources way out of proportion to its numbers.
Lori Lowenthal MarcusLori Lowenthal Marcus is a journalist and recovered lawyer.
Last month, the American Jewish people were presented with yet another horrific disaster. The response? Silence.
While Jews are falling over themselves in the rush to run collection drives for the victims of Hurricane Katrina - and rightly so - I have not yet heard of a single Jewish day school or synagogue raising money for our Israeli Jewish "disengagement" refugees. It is as if these Jewish victims wear a big red A and are being shunned as were adulterers in Colonial America. Why?
Are American Jews silent because they favored the "disengagement", believing it a step towards peace? Suppose it is (though I strongly doubt it): the fact is that the step was taken and it plunged thousands of Jews into abject chaos. The homes, workplaces, houses of worship and, for some, the graves of their loved ones, of more than 9,000 people were destroyed. These Jews have been thrust into substandard housing, most of them are suddenly unemployed, few children have this year's school supplies and very few have received any of the promised compensation.
Some say, "Those people deserved it," as if the Jews from the evacuated communities moved there without the support of Labor and Likud governments alike. The fact is that those towns were all planned and planted by Labor party prime ministers, supported by their country.
And for American Jews who think government compensation and our help are rightly withheld from those who didn't sign on to the plan immediately, how about those who did? Perhaps you didn't realize that all who were expelled paid to have their own electricity, water and gas turned off; perhaps you didn't know that all had to pay their own moving expenses; perhaps you were unaware that all have to pay to have their belongings placed in storage while they await permanent housing - perhaps, the Israeli government has already told them, for as long as two years. And just maybe you haven't heard that almost no one who is entitled to compensation has yet received a shekel of what they were promised.
Possibly, many thought the Israeli government was covering the costs of relocating and helping to re-establish the lives of those who were being removed. Perhaps that was the intention. The calculation was based on the $2.2 billion Israel counted on receiving from the United States government, a strong backer of the plan.
But the US government has informed Israel that, in the wake of Katrina, Israel shouldn't even ask Congress for the $2.2 billion it was counting on to help cover the enormous costs of the "disengagement". Your tax dollars that were earmarked to help the Israeli government bear the costs of moving your brothers and sisters have already been diverted, appropriately, to help Americans in desperate need. Ironically, the Jewish community has already donated more than $1 billion to the Katrina funds. How many of the Jews who gave to Katrina gave to the Jews of Gush Katif?
The US government's sole responsibility is to the American people. Still, this administration recognized the need to assist Israel in its efforts to reconstruct lives and livelihoods for the Israeli Jewish refugees. No doubt our government would have provided that financial assistance if Mother Nature had not intervened; the US may still do what it promised to do, but in the future, long after the time when our Israeli refugees have the greatest need.
If the governments of both the US and Israel planned to assist the "disengagement" refugees, even those who resisted the plan right up to the last minute, why not American Jews? And if the promises and plans have fallen by the wayside, why shouldn't American Jews (the wealthiest Jewish community in the world and in the history of the world) step in to the breach?
Continue sending relief to the Katrina victims. It's the right thing, the Jewish thing, to do - to help a stranger in need. But stop shunning the Israeli disaster victims who are your own mishpocha. That's just plain wrong.
[For information on how to assist the Israeli disaster victims email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.]