By Yael Raz
When a watershed moment on terrorism arrives, it is unmistakable. For Americans, it was the 9/11 attacks. For Jews in the U.S. and worldwide, it was this past year’s synagogue attacks in Pittsburgh, Poway, and Halle.
In Israel, the watershed moment came two decades ago, but provides an important blueprint for the power of philanthropy and interagency cooperation during contemporary times of emergency.
In the area of aid to terror victims, philanthropy’s flexibility is a crucial asset. With proper cooperation based on trust, philanthropy can provide meaningful aid that not only helps victims in concrete ways, but also demonstrates solidarity and mutual responsibility.
Beginning in 2000, the number of Israeli civilians suffering physical and mental-health injuries in Israel rose significantly during the five-year wave of terrorist attacks known as the Second Intifada. The intifada prompted The Jewish Agency for Israel, together with leaders of overseas Jewish communities, to create a new way to express their solidarity with Israel: the Fund for Victims of Terror.
Launched in 2002 in partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), Keren Hayesod and Israeli government agencies including the National Insurance Institute, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the fund was established with the dual understanding that the responsibility for supporting victims lies first and foremost with the government, but that philanthropy from nongovernmental and international sources provides an avenue toward swift action to benefit the injured and their families.
During the past year, the influence of the fund’s unique model has been evidenced by replication overseas. The Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh faced a daunting challenge following the deadly massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue building in October 2018. One of the community’s first responses was to establish a terror victims fund which is similar to the model the community knew so well from its partnership with The Jewish Agency.
From its earliest days, the Fund for Victims of Terror has assisted any civilian who is injured in an event of hostility in Israel, including citizens, legal residents, migrant workers, tourists, permit-bearing Palestinian workers, and more. The fund disburses grants of up to 25,000 NIS ($7,500) per household, for an eligibility period of as long as three years from the date of injury. These grants cover a wide variety of rehabilitative needs, including supplementary therapies, assistance with studies or employment retraining, medical equipment, assistance for children’s tutoring and after-school activities, and other forms of assistance that help an injured person or their family to return to a normal routine after injury. Since its inception, the fund has already assisted over 7,000 families.
Rocket attacks as a model for rapid response
As the needs of the Israeli people evolved, so did the initiatives of the Fund for Victims of Terror. In 2007, the fund sought a way to address the ongoing attacks on the towns surrounding Gaza. This led to the establishment of the Emergency Fund, which provides immediate assistance to the injured. Initially, the Emergency Fund focused on providing 4,000 NIS ($1,145) to civilians in southern Israel whose homes had been directly hit by rocket fire; its purpose was defined as initial post-attack needs.
Later, it became clear that a fast and direct act of Jewish philanthropy – meeting with the injured person and the family; making a connection with the Jewish world – can assist victims with processing their trauma. If nothing else, simply knowing that a person representing an organization that is not obligated to visit them and is nevertheless doing so leads to uplifting conversations among the victims amid difficult times.
During the latest surge of rockets attacks on Israel from Gaza in November, the Emergency Fund distributed immediate aid to Israeli families living near the Gaza border whose homes incurred direct hits by rocket fire. The second phase of the emergency fund now assists individuals who are physically injured, while also providing support for grieving families across Israel.
The Jewish Agency’s emergency operations also provided assistance to 6,500 new immigrants in absorption centers, 5,000 seniors (mostly Holocaust survivors) in our assisted living facilities and looked after 7,700 young Jews visiting on Israel Experience programs.
Where philanthropy meets cooperation
Much like the broader Fund for Victims of Terror, its Emergency Fund is based on a model of cooperation between agencies. In order to reach victims in a short timeframe, The Jewish Agency operates with a network of partners including hospital social services, municipal social welfare agencies, and rehabilitation staff at the National Insurance Institute. The fund’s team constantly monitors for terrorist events in the media; once they become aware of an attack, they engage the partner network. The Jewish Agency receives the victim’s contact information and a green light to provide a grant; the check is generated; and the check by hand to the injured person or the family, usually within a day of the incident.
We hope that this successful model will be replicated in other areas, beyond addressing the needs of terror victims. Cooperation is essential in times of emergency and tranquility alike.
Yael Raz is Director of the Emergency Response Division and the Fund for the Victims of Terror at The Jewish Agency for Israel.