Southern Israel Comes Back to Life Thanks to the Jewish People

Children from southern Israel participate in a special summer camp run by The Jewish Agency for Israel's Fund for Victims of Terror. Photo credit: Sarah Bronson for The Jewish Agency for Israel.
Children from southern Israel participate in a special summer camp run by The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Fund for Victims of Terror. Photo credit: Sarah Bronson for The Jewish Agency for Israel.

By Rany Trainin

At the conclusion of Simchat Torah, I had the opportunity to experience a truly moving event. More than one thousand people spanning four generations, all of them members and residents of Kibbutz Nahal Oz in the past and the present, gathered to celebrate the end of the kibbutz’s sixtieth birthday year. As residents of the Gaza border region, the kibbutz members also took the opportunity to mark a return to normalcy after a turbulent and difficult summer. As Deputy Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel and a longtime resident of the region, I was overcome with emotion upon being asked to greet the gathering on behalf of the Jewish world.

The event took place thanks to the support of The Jewish Agency and the entire Jewish people, whose contributions made the emotional and festive evening possible. Throughout the Jewish holiday season, The Jewish Agency helped every community near the border with Gaza hold a festive gathering. Every single community celebrated the end of this summer’s hostilities in some way.

The event in Nahal Oz was an expression of determination in the kibbutz’s continued existence, and a personal statement by many who had experienced the pain of the past summer: “We’re here, and here we’ll stay – flourishing and growing despite the difficulties and the suffering.” Personally, having served as a senior IDF officer in Gaza and later as a regional council head in the area, I experienced an evening of immense pride.

Kibbutz Nahal Oz is the Israeli community closest to the border with Gaza and experienced some of the most difficult moments during Operation Protective Edge. The death of four-year-old Daniel Tragerman, killed by a mortar shell outside his kibbutz home; the sheer number of rockets and mortars that exploded on the kibbutz grounds; and the tunnel-based terror attack that targeted an IDF post adjacent to the kibbutz transformed Nahal Oz into a symbol for many Israelis.

During the summer’s hostilities, the Jewish world embraced the residents of Nahal Oz and of the other communities in the area. 75,000 children and adults enjoyed Jewish Agency respite activities outside the line of fire. Families affected by terror attacks and residents whose homes sustained damage due to rocket fire received immediate financial assistance thanks to The Jewish Agency’s Fund for Victims of Terror. Our Amigour sheltered housing subsidiary, which has built thousands of fortified rooms in homes near Gaza, took on the task of repairing damaged apartments and houses throughout the region. Staff members at our immigrant absorption centers in the area were available around the clock to address new immigrants’ needs. And none of it would have been possible without the support of our partners at the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod-UIA. The personal expressions of gratitude, the hugs, and the warm handshakes I received were meant for the entire Jewish people.

The Jewish Agency, as a representative of the Jewish people, helped establish Nahal Oz in the 1950s and accompanied its development for thirty years. The kibbutz took on near-mythical proportions in the Israeli consciousness during the state’s early years. David Ben-Gurion spoke often about Nahal Oz, holding it up as an example of the Jewish people’s rebirth in its homeland. Moshe Dayan compared the kibbutz’s residents to the Jewish people’s greatest warriors throughout history. I, too, was raised on the myth of Nahal Oz, as were many of my friends. For so many, the people of this kibbutz were a source of strength and inspiration for the Jewish people in Israel and around the world.

Today, the Jewish people is mobilizing to help the residents of Nahal Oz and all of southern Israel rebuild. The Jewish Agency and its partners in the Jewish Federations of North America will be awarding academic scholarships to students who live and/or study in the area, recognizing – as we do – that they are the vanguard of the region’s development. In addition, The Jewish Agency will be partnering with the government of Israel to strengthen the region and its residents in a variety of ways, from offering loans to local businesses to helping area children cope with the aftermath of a terrible summer. There is no better or more Jewish response to those who threaten us and wish us ill than redoubling our efforts to support those of our brothers and sisters who live on the frontlines.

In the coming days, The Jewish Agency Board of Governors, comprised of Jewish leaders from around the world, will convene in southern Israel. The meetings had been set to take place in Mexico, but the Board leadership decided to bring them to Israel’s south in order to show the Jewish people’s solidarity with the residents of the region. Fittingly, the gathering will open at Kibbutz Nahal Oz, a proud expression of support for a place that has become a symbol of rebirth for the people of Israel and for the entire Jewish world.

Rany Trainin is the Deputy Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel.