The Jewish Agency's Board of Trustees met Sunday in Kibbutz Nahal Oz to reveal the NIS 50 million ($13.2 million) aid package they had raised for Southern communities. The funds are intended to help the embattled area recover from this summer's conflict, Operation Protective Edge.
Over 4,500 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel during the 50-day conflict, causing billions of dollars in damage on both sides.
The aid package - drawn from donations from Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Kayesod-UIA, and other philanthropies - will be directed toward a series of programs designed to strengthen the resilience of southern communities.
1,300 students living within four kilometers (2.5 miles) of the Gaza Strip will receive scholarships amounting to NIS 5,700 ($1,500) apiece, in an effort to encourage young people to settle in the area.
Funds will also be allocated to local small and medium-sized businesses who were affected by the fighting. Businesses located within 40 km (24 miles) of Gaza will be offered loans at favorable rates.
The Jewish Agency has also designated funds toward reconstructing damaged bomb shelters, assisting new immigrants and lone soldiers, and offering grants to the families of residents injured or killed during the operation.
The Jewish Agency's Fund for Victims of Terror will provide assistance to residents whose houses suffered direct hits as well as residents affected by other acts of violence. The fund will provide supplemental assistance to the families of victims so that will be recognized as victims of hostile actions by the authorities.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky addressed the crowd of global Jewish leaders, who had gathered Sunday near Ashkelon for a three-day long conference focusing on providing philanthropic aid for Israel's South.
He praised the donors, "This is the continuation of the Jewish world’s massive outpouring of solidarity with the people of Israel and the residents of the South over the course of the summer."
And also reminded them of southern communities' long histories in the state of Israel. "The Jewish Agency has built communities in the South and has helped pioneers establish communities in this region since the early years of the state."
Sharansky added, "Today we are working in partnership with the Israeli government to ensure the pioneering spirit will continue...This is the Zionist answer to this summer’s events, and it is an expression of our commitment to the residents of southern Israel."
Representatives of the Board of Trustees also met with Southern Commander, Gen. Sami Turgeman, who said: "We are fighting here in our home. The representatives' decision to hold the conference in the South after Operation Protective Edge is a huge show of support for me and my subordinates."