By Gail Goldner Green
For the last 20 years, Ashkelon, Israel, has been the partner city of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. I have had the privilege of being involved with the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership for 10 years and co-chair for the last two.
The partnership was created to forge personal relationships between the people of Ashkelon and the people of Baltimore. Over the past 20 years, hundreds of Baltimoreans have visited Ashkelon and, likewise, many Ashkelon citizens have visited Baltimore.
Both cities have connected to each other over the years through various programs supported by the partnership and have always been there for each other in times of joy and pain. The real power and the beauty, though, have always been in the relationships.
Last June, a group of Baltimoreans who participated in The Associated’s Kesher program — a program designed to bring together adults in both cities — had an opportunity to visit this beautiful city. They got to know their Ashkelon peers, stayed in their homes and toured and visited the wall and fence on the border with Gaza, which is only 8 miles from Ashkelon. I’ll never forget walking that wall, which was breached less than two weeks ago by Hamas terrorists.
When you see the images on CNN of what is taking place, walking those fences makes you appreciate the challenges that are faced by the people who live in a heightened state of terror every day.
The people in Ashkelon are my friends. In many ways, they are like family. I sit at home feeling fear, anger and helplessness that I cannot physically do anything to help. What I do know is that our partners are so appreciative of the warm words of support coming from our community in places like the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership Facebook page. We share videos, stories and blessings, as well as words of encouragement, sorrow and grief.
Given the gravity of what transpired, it was clear that our community had to act quickly and in a meaningful way. A fundraising campaign was launched through The Associated, and our community responded in force.
This emergency campaign is supporting and aiding our partners in Israel, including our partners in Ashkelon, who have been severely impacted.
Already, 100% of funds are being transferred to provide lifesaving humanitarian aid, trauma relief and other emerging needs. This includes generators for areas of Ashkelon that have lost power, cell phone chargers, handheld lights and mattresses for those in public shelters. We are also providing support for emergency medical personnel and volunteers through the Emergency Volunteers Project, as well as a local resiliency center in Ashkelon to attend to trauma and emerging mental health needs for frontline workers.
The Associated has also sent funds to support the urgent work of the Jewish Agency for Israel. JAFI’s Fund for Victims of Terror provides immediate emergency aid for families who have lost life and/or property. JAFI has also spearheaded an evacuation effort of both absorption centers in Ashkelon and some of the older adult housing units as well. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is another recipient of The Associated’s emergency funding to assist them in their critical work of providing aid to people with disabilities.
The people of Ashkelon, the people of Israel, are resilient. Stories are beginning to emerge about people helping one another — teens volunteering to organize games for children in the shelters and organizing food for distribution to elderly residents.
They are strong. We are with them now and always. Am Yisrael chai.
Gail Goldner Green is co-chair of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership.