It was an emotional and beautiful morning as Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA) brought three Israelis to Park East Synagogue to put their voices to the headlines and share their personal stories of living along the Gaza border, a region where hundreds of incendiary kites, balloons, and rockets have steadily rained down on them for months. The trio, a mother, a young pioneer, and a farmer, are residents of Gaza border communities. They shared their personal stories of living under attack.
“The strength of Israel’s southern communities is being tested once again by the ideological terror of Hamas,” said Consul General of Israel in New York, Ambassador Dani Dayan. “They will never achieve their aims, but this event marks an important effort to highlight to the world the unacceptable risk that over a million Israelis live with while Hamas rules in Gaza.”
Since March 2018, terrorists from Gaza have traumatized the people living in neighboring communities along the border with the Gaza Strip, forcing young children and families to seek safety in shelters. These four months have threantened both their mental well-being and their livelihood. Nearly 10,000 acres of farmland have been scorched, decimating the region’s agricultural economy, and there has been a massive increase in the number of individuals experiencing and being treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The program included remarks from a local psychologist, Dr. Jessica Weiss, who spoke of the devastating impact the incessant attacks have on the lives of people living in communities along the Gaza border.
The Israelis who spoke of their personal experiences included Michal Uziyahu. The mother of three is director of community centers for the Eshkol Region, which shares some 30 miles of border with Gaza. She has witnessed firsthand the effects of trauma stemming from rocket fire and terrorism on young children. After speaking about the balloons and playing the horrifying sound of the red alert that sounds when rockets are dispatched from Gaza towards Israel, Uziyahu spoke of hope and gratitude.
“It’s with the generous support of Jewish National Fund that PTSD services are available,” said Uziyahu. “The JNF Sderot Indoor Recreation Center, which is a huge playground and bomb shelter, has been open extra hours for us to use. JNF has delivered new firefighting wagons, special activities for our children, and so much more. There is a brand new resilience center in Eshkol that Jewish National Fund recently funded and two more are being built in the area.”
Sarit Khanoukaev was the second Israeli to take the stage. She is a 21-year-old student from Sderot, a city located less than a mile from Gaza. Khanoukaev grew up in Sderot experiencing trauma and suffering from PTSD as a child. Today she today works with MAKOM, an organization that helps grow communities throughout Israel. Through MAKOM she is involved with at-risk youth and young children impacted by PTSD.
Jewish National Fund’s incoming Greater New York Board President Deborah Riegel spoke about the work JNF-USA is doing on the ground amid the current situation. “Over the past two weeks alone we took 1,050 kids out of the region to visit historical sites, zoos, and concerts for fun days of respite activities. We are doing all this to put smiles on the faces of those who have lost so much. We are there. Yesterday. Today. And, let the world know we will be there tomorrow!”
Yedidya Harush is a farmer and represents the Halutza communities and the entire Gaza Envelope region. He was born and raised in the community of Atzmona in Gush Katif. His family relocated to Halutza after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. While sharing a story about his farmer friend who lost everything he had during the recent attacks, Harush also took the time to focus on the positive. He expressed how fortunate he and his family see themselves to be living in a beautiful community with friends from Jewish National Fund who always have their backs and support them in good times and in bad.