Bikur Holim

JFNA chief, Jewish Agency board chair hand-deliver grants to victims of Tel Aviv terror attack

The two both happened to be in Israel on trips so they could give checks personally; JFNA had just ‘replenished’ the Fund for Victims of Terror with $400,000

Within two days of any terror attack in Israel, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Fund for Victims of Terror provides the victim or their family with an emergency grant of just over $1,000.

Following a ramming-stabbing attack in Tel Aviv on Tuesday that injured seven people, including a pregnant woman who lost her baby, those emergency funds were given to several of the victims personally by Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Eric Fingerhut and Jewish Agency Board of Governors Chair Mark Wilf, each of whom happened to be in Israel this week, as well as by the head of the fund, former Knesset member Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin.

On Wednesday afternoon, Fingerhut, Wilf and Nahmias-Verbin visited Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital where the victims had been taken. Due to the conditions of some of the victims, the three were only able to speak with a few of them or with members of their family.

Speaking to eJewishPhilanthropy, Wilf and Fingerhut both said that the grants issued by the fund are both a practical form of assistance to people affected by terror and also sends a message to them that the Jewish people are standing with them.

“When we deliver it, we’re able to say we love you and refuah shlema (get well), but also that the Jewish people of the world are thinking of you and are with you and our hearts are with you. So being able to do that today was very, very emotional,” Fingerhut said on Wednesday night, a few hours after his visit to the hospital.

“It’s not so much the financial help – which is of course important – but that we are expressing mutual responsibility from the Jewish people,” Wilf said, noting that anyone of any religion or nationality is eligible for the grant.

“If this occurs in Israel – whatever faith, whatever the background – we are there right away to show our values and show our compassion,” he said.

One of the victims who received a grant on Wednesday was an Ethiopian migrant worker, who had been pregnant but lost the baby due to her injuries.

“We talked with the husband, the wife was not able to talk with us… can you imagine – you come to this country to work and to contribute and and then are victimized in this way,” Fingerhut said.

He also recalled meeting the mother of one of the victims whose other daughter had only recently died from an illness. “She had just lost another daughter a few months ago to illness, and then to be in the hospital with her other daughter – it’s just so painful,” he said.

Wilf, who is in Israel with a delegation from the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, N.J., said the victims and their families were greatly appreciative of the grant and the visit. “It was very powerful to feel the gratitude from the families, from the victims, for yes, the financial [help] but also, as or more importantly, for the sense of connection, that someone is thinking of [them] at a very impactful and emotional time, a traumatic time,” he said.

This was neither Fingerhut’s nor Wilf’s first time distributing emergency grants to victims of terror. Each had met other recipients in years past, though those were people who were injured or whose homes were destroyed in Gaza rocket attacks, they said.

Fingerhut came to Israel last week as part of a work trip full of meetings with Israeli government officials and nonprofit groups, including the Fund for Victims of Terror. In light of the growing need for the Fund for Victims of Terror – both from ongoing payments from rocket attacks from Gaza and from the recent rise in terror attacks from the West Bank – JFNA had just donated an additional $400,000, he said.

“The coincidence was that we actually were working on replenishing the fund. Of course, we didn’t expect to have to use it so quickly. But there you are,” he said.

JFNA’s funding comes from the collective donations of all 146 federations across North America, not from individual donors specifically giving to the fund, Fingerhut said.

“I think that’s part of the power of it. When I handed a check over or when Mark Wilf handed a check over today, we’re able to say this is from the Jewish people of the world and the Jewish people specifically of North America who just want to help and want you to know that we’re there for you and that we’re all one people,” he said.

The Fund for Victims of Terror was established in 2002, in the midst of the Second Intifada. In addition to the immediate grant of NIS 4,000 ($1,080), victims are also eligible for up to NIS 25,000 ($6,750) in payments for up to three years, though this was extended beyond that time limit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 9,000 Israelis have received grants through the fund.

The initial emergency grant is provided to anyone who has been hospitalized or to the families of someone who has been killed, as well as to anyone whose home has been destroyed in an attack.

“You don’t have to write a proposal, you don’t have to apply, you don’t have to produce receipts. Nothing. It’s just, we know you have needs; here’s something to help with those needs,” Fingerhut said.

The additional grants do require a formal request. Nahmias-Verbin said the fund does not provide grants for anything that is already covered by Israel’s National Security (Bituah Leumi) programs for victims of terror.

The fund is made up of donations from both JFNA and Keren Hayesod. According to Nahmias-Verbin, the fund never contains less than $1 million.

“In 2022, we gave $1.2 million in emergency grants,” she said. “In 2023, we’ve already given over NIS 400,000 ($108,000).” 

Wilf singled out Nahmias-Verbin for praise, noting the care and compassion she showed to the victims and their families at the hospital.

“To see how she handled a very delicate situation, soothing people during a very traumatic time – I was so impressed by her, by her way, by her compassion,” Wilf said.

Nahmias-Verbin, who has led the fund for the past three years since she left the Knesset, stressed that the fund is not meant to provide pure financial support to victims but is instead meant for rehabilitation.

“We don’t give economic support. We can’t help economically. That’s not our charter, but it is our charter to help rehabilitate the person,” she said. This can include paying for professional development courses, paying for toys or programs for children with post-traumatic stress, or even rental assistance in certain cases.

In addition to these grants, Nahmias-Verbin, who heads the fund, said the fund and its employees – almost all of them women, she noted – maintain a close relationship with the victims and their families, providing emotional support, as well as help in navigating the bureaucracy of the Israeli government to ensure they get all of the assistance that they are entitled to under law.

Nahmias-Verbin said that these tight, long-lasting ties – which can continue even after the victims are no longer eligible for grants – lead her to consider the victims to be part of the fund’s “family,” quickly adding: “But I am always upset when our family grows.”