JNF Brings Israelis From Gaza Border to Raise Awareness

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Audience members listen as JNF presenters from the Gaza border share their stories. (Provided)

About 50 people gathered on Monday afternoon to hear first-hand accounts of life on the Gaza border, with specific attention paid to the recent spate of fire attacks that have ravaged the area’s agricultural resources. Sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, the event was held in the Community Room at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC. In spite of the subject matter, the presenters emphasized their resolve and their gratitude for American Jewish support.

“We choose life, and we move on,” said Michal Uziyahu, a JNF liaison and a resident of the Eshkol region. “And you wonderful American Jews send us dolls for our children to hug at night, and we move on.”

Uziyahu, a mother of two, was joined by Sarit Khanoukaev and Yedidya Harush. Khanoukaev counsels at-risk youth and children impacted by PTSD, and will begin studying public policy in September; Harush, a former paratrooper, is the Halutza region liaison for the JNF. The speakers were introduced by Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, and Orly Shalem, the Baltimore and Delaware regional president of the JNF.

This event was just one on a long tour for the speakers. The JNF, in response to the recent attacks, has taken them across the U.S. to speak in Jewish communities from Phoenix to Philadelphia. This was the seventh of 12 scheduled events over two weeks.

Each of the speakers relayed their experience living on the border, describing the hardships that come with the rocket attacks from Palestinian-controlled Gaza and the heart-pounding terror of a rocket siren. Uziyahu sang the nursery rhyme that her children sing as they scramble to the closest bomb shelter at school; Harush described the pain of telling his daughter not to disturb the flowers of a nearby nature reserve, only to see them burned up in a recent fire sparked by flaming balloons and kites sent from Gaza. “It’s hard for us to look at these fires,” he said.

Uziyahu spoke about the hope of her parents that she would not have to serve in the army, hope that, she says, she does not have for her children. However, Uziyahu said, she feels “privileged to live in Israel in such times.”

“We are not victims. Don’t feel sorry for us,” she said.

Khanoukaev gave a brief few minutes of remarks. She told the audience that it was her first time in the United States. “As you can see, I didn’t come for vacation, but I came to tell you a little about our life,” she said.

She described a harrowing run to a bomb shelter as a child, when she fell and broke all of her front teeth. But throughout it all, she said, “I chose to stay in Sderot. I see it as my responsibility to be in Sderot and support student life there.”

A short Q&A followed the remarks, in which audience members shared their support for the JNF’s mission and asked for the speakers’ political opinions. The JNF often stresses that it is not a political organization, and so did the speakers, declining to support specific policies.

Stuart Diamant-Cohen, JNF’s executive director of Mid-Atlantic region, stressed the importance of not straying from that format. “Today, we concentrated on the personal testimonies and stories of the daily trauma that these people are facing, which is not covered by the media. JNF is a not a political organization, per se,” he said.

Martha Landau, an attendee, found the event interesting. “Every Israeli I’ve ever met basically is very impressive,” she said.

jbernstein@midatlanticmedia.com

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