Kol Israel Arevim Zeh L’Zeh. All Jews are responsible for one another.
I believe…that this value of the Jewish Federation, adopted from the Talmud, has been our north star, our compass at this time. As articulated by Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute Sapir podcast: “Maybe we retrieved something that was deep that we had felt was that many of us have felt was lost…which was the intrinsic sense of solidarity between Jews in different parts of the world when other Jews are suffering. That’s the baseline. The lowest level of what peoplehood solidarity means when you’re suffering. I grieve with you.”
Despite the cold, about 300 people gathered at the Legislature grounds Wednesday evening. They showed their solidarity with the global call for the release of now 224 confirmed hostages in Gaza. We had elected officials stand with us, including city councillors, MLAs, and Mayor Amarjeet Sohi. (MPs were sitting in the House of Commons in Ottawa). Our rabbis brought us comfort, and community leaders and volunteers read out the name and age of each hostage. In my remarks, I said that we refuse to see each as a statistic. Each person has a story, and the humanity of each person must continue to be recognized. We must continue to demand “Let my people go”, and advocate for our politicians to continue to exert pressure.
Locally, we continue to take care of one another, because despite the worrisome news that we see taking place across North America, we know that the Jewish people will prevail. That ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ means “the Jewish People Live” and that leaning into our community is not only comforting, but also empowering. We are sponsoring Monday's Challah Bake and have partnered with Talmud Torah for drop-in times for young families on Sunday mornings with Shalom Baby. We have also enhanced PJ Library activities. Jewish Family Services is launching new workshops and additional counselling hours.
In our office, we continue to support Hillel and students on campus navigating through issues and speaking with administration. We met with Edmonton Public School officials where we discussed students’ experiences and talked about areas of concern, furthering our relationship and open communication channels. We hope that this will cause better consultation with one another as we navigate this time. Edmonton Police Service, in multiple departments, is continually updated and they are ensuring the safety of our community. This work is essential and made possible through your United Jewish Appeal (UJA) donations. You still have time to donate to this year's campaign.
Many of you have engaged with our partnership region in Israel over the last 20 years. Along with the coast-to-coast CEOs, I spoke with Jewish Federations of Canada Director General Sarah Mali and our Partnership Director Meytal Novidomsky this week. They have been working around the clock to assist in logistics and assessing needs for our allocations. Meytal has two young kids of her own, and left Metula thinking it would be a few days before she returned. It is now three weeks, and the government has said that the evacuated communities will continue until December 31. Metula has 60 people left behind. Kiryat Shmona has evacuated 22,000 residents. Kibbutzim and Moshavim that populate the region are evacuated. With over 200,000 displaced residents across the country, the needs for mental health support, food, clothing, respite, and some facsimilia of schooling are staggering.
As a Jewish Federation, we show solidarity by raising funds to support immediate urgent needs while ensuring that in the medium and longer term we will continue to help the people of Israel in recovery. Jewish Federations of Canada have raised over $100 million in the last two weeks and have already released $27 million. We have always said that there is no other gift that touches more lives, the impact of the collective on full display right now.
With professional staff who are representing us on the ground in Israel, they are taking requests from bonified and trusted Israeli organizations and with our guidance, allocating emergency funds across the country. Things like food and basic needs for older adults and those in the zone of fire, emergency operational capacity for first responders, clinics and hospitals, evacuation, housing, respite and support to evacuated communities, tailor-made solutions to special needs populations, trauma relief, and psychosocial care. Funds are being allocated to the Jewish Agency for Israel victims of terror fund, which support families affected by the initial events. Organizations who are doing the work, include but are not limited to Israel Trauma Coalition, Magen David Adom, the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Zaka, Israel Association of Emergency Centers, regional councils in Yesud Hamala, Galil Elion, Kiryat Shmona Stress Prevention Centre, Sderot Development Fund. This is only the tip of the iceberg.
To be clear—we have established networks and a seat at the bigger tables—to determine where the greatest needs are, without duplication, and that the monies being raised are used to support communities in their greatest need and in the future.
While we continue with our local UJA campaign to ensure that our community continues to thrive, we appreciate those of you who have and continue to dig deep to join in the Israel emergency fund. You can donate to both via our website or call our office. Please share with your network of friends and colleagues. It has been heartening—and humbling—to hear from many non-Jewish friends who are choosing our fund for their philanthropy to support Israel.
I have lit an additional Shabbat candle for the hostages, and this week will also say a prayer for our dear friend Tal Toubiana, who was interviewed by The Hub about why he returned to serve at this time.