Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hearing about the war

In May, we visited the towns of Migdal HaEmek, Nahalal, and Upper Nazereth (Nazeret Illit). We met people who participate in Partnership 2000, a cooperative effort between Jewish Federations in the United States and civic groups in Israel. The particular partnership between Ann Arbor and Israel is in these towns and the surrounding area called the Jezreel valley.

When Hesbollah rocket barrages began in Israel, the Partnership region suffered a number of direct hits on its towns, open spaces, and farms. Residents have suffered both direct harm and serious disruption of their lives. As the war has progressed, several forms of contact between our communities has continued.

Yesterday I attended a lunch at the JCC to inform people here about the current situation in Israel (see photo above). By telephone from his home in Mitzpe Hoshaya, Johnny Alster talked about the impact of the war on his rural town in the Partnership region. Alster expressed gratitude for support from the Michigan Federations. Specifically, some children from the region are safe in Michigan at Camp Tamarak to the relief of their parents. Recently, he said, the general fund of Partnership 2000 contributed $75,000 for upgrading shelters in the region.

Alster explained that the situation in the Jezreel Valley is not as acute as that in the far north, where rockets are falling incessantly: “We don’t feel safe, but we are not spending day in and day out in the shelters. Kids are out on bikes sometimes -- we can’t stop them. However, people don’t want to go to work and leave their families.” In sum, he explained, the situation is highly stressful.

He also described the emotional response of the young people from the area who are in the military forces fighting at the front. “A twenty-year-old girl from here has the job of monitoring radar on the border,” he said. “Her unit lost 8 young men in one mission, all close to her. She had to decide which funerals to attend.”

Alster says: “It seems that Israel -- its people as well as its government -- are united and confident that what is going on in Lebanon is a very clear ‘must’ -- no two ways about it. The simple citizen from Emek Israel, Migdal Haemek or any place else in Israel understands that and is willing to pay the price. Israelis deserves to feel secure. That's what this is all about.”

After Alster’s telephoned message featured speaker Dr. Andy David, Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, spoke about the international politics and decision making process faced by Israel and the Israelis. David made the point that in Lebanon, the army was fighting against men who were hiding and placing their weapons in homes and civilian settings, making inevitable the casualties for which Israel was being criticized. He requested that listeners keep this in mind. He reminded us that the shelling of unarmed Israeli towns preceded the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, and of other Hesbollah actions such as the bombing of Israelis in Buenos Aires in 1994. “We are defending ourselves. Our actions have moral value,” he stated.

I'm writing this up for the local Jewish newspaper. One thing that won't go in the formal article is that an LOL (that's little old lady, bloggers) at the next table took a cell phone call in the middle of the Counsel's presentation! Although everyone started telling her to get off or leave the room, she didn't pay a bit of attention. Blush!

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