What is essential?

Tears have been flowing from all of our eyes. Tears of gratitude when we see soldiers and hostages returning home. Tears of despair for the lives lost. Tears of absolute horror hearing about what transpired on Oct. 7. 

The funds have been flowing as well — to ensure that our soldiers have protective gear and food to eat; to make sure that everyone has a roof over their heads; and to assist those in mourning after the brutal murder of their loved ones and/or waiting for news of family members who remain in hellacious captivity. 

Oct. 7 changed the face of Israel, and it also changed the Jewish philanthropic landscape. We have seen a groundswell of incredibly heartening generosity. 

And yet, as the director of strategic development and a board member of Magen for Jewish Communities — an organization that helps victims of sexual abuse advocate, speak up and pursue justice while supporting their healing journey — we’ve also taken note of some concerning trends in the post-Oct. 7 philanthropic world. 

It has been incredible to witness the outpouring of financial support since Oct. 7. Major foundations and individual funders have cumulatively donated over $700 million towards “essential needs”: causes supporting those directly affected by the war with immediate physical needs to address. It is true that people were forced to flee their homes with only the clothes on their backs; but the emotional baggage of the experiences of survivors and evacuees is a heavy burden that is not being adequately addressed to meet the massive post-Oct. 7 demand. 

Our crisis hotline is responding to calls from new survivors needing support and with calls from triggered survivors needing support. In one of the calls, a survivor shared: “When I heard about the families stuck in their safe rooms for 48 hours before the IDF reached them, I was transported back to being a little girl when I was abused and then abandoned by my community, and no one heard my cry.”

Silhouette of a woman from the shoulders up, standing in a field.
Photo by StockSnap from Pixabay

Additionally, abusers never miss an opportunity to take advantage of the vulnerable. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people have been evacuated, and many vulnerable children are isolated at home. Women and children are being hosted in strangers’ homes and hotels. Children are going to new friends’ homes and immersing themselves in new foreign environments. In late October, Magen was contacted by a woman who runs an organization that provides food for evacuees. She had just come from an event hall in Bnei Brak that turned into a center for housing families from Netivot. She said the situation is absolute chaos and the dangers are obvious and extreme. She told them that she would bring her organization into the center and would only be involved if they agreed to bring in Magen to implement safety programs for the parents and children. 

First and foremost, we are working to protect our children, and specifically evacuees in temporary situations, where the high stress of their families and transient environment is a perfect storm for abuse to grow. We spent three full days holding workshops for parents, children and staff, building safety and reporting protocols. One mother shared with us that this was the first time she had ever spoken with her child about these issues. We hope to reach all of the centers hosting evacuees from the Haredi community. 

There has been an uproar from the Israeli and Jewish communities about the lack of condemnation of the brutal sexual violence perpetrated on Oct. 7. We have mobilized to condemn and proclaim the blatant antisemitism of women’s organizations for failing to value all women equally with the #MeTooUnlessUrAJew campaign. Still, while the community has been vocal, the giving trends have not followed suit. 

In the aftermath of the worst Jewish calamity in most of our lifetimes, where rape and sexual violence were used as weapons of war, we are all asking the world to believe us and to stand up for our victims and survivors. As we look to the difficult and uncertain times ahead, we must hear the cry of all those who need us. We must not turn a blind eye to the sexual violence in our midst. Mental health support, supporting survivors, and protecting our children from abuse is an essential need, even and especially in times like this. 

Naava Shafner is Magen’s director of strategic development. Sharon Weiss-Greenberg is a board member of Magen.