Touching Base

With the escalation of violence in the Middle East, many within Los Angeles’ Jewish community are turning to the local chapters of organizations that raise money or garner support for Israel to gather information, lend their support or as a way of voicing their opinions.

“It will come as no surprise that there are many questions,” says David Moses, Los Angeles regional director of the New Israel Fund. “The comments I have received in the last week or so have included expressions of concern. People are distraught.”

Many organizations say that since the violence began some two weeks ago, phone calls have been flooding their offices.

“The volume of phone calls from rabbis of synagogues, from members, from others; the amount of unsolicited donations is unprecedented,” says Miri Nash, director of the western region of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Most organizations say they are keeping members abreast of the situation in the Middle East through e-mail updates.

Along with the loss of life, Israel’s infrastructure and the country’s ability to save lives have been affected over the past two weeks. Some 23 ambulances have been destroyed since the violence began, according to Howard Parmet, executive director of American Red Magen David for Israel Pacific South West Region.
“It is a significant loss,” says Parmet, who estimates the damage at more than $1 million. “These are ambulances that save lives.”

Magen David Adom is the only ambulance service in Israel, according to Parmet, and is responsible for 97 percent of blood needs of the civilian and army population.

“Our role becomes more critical when Israel finds itself in a state of hostility,” says Parmet. “There is grave concern from our members. They are pained to see any loss of life or destruction on either side. People are calling to ask, ‘What can I do [that’s] constructive?’ They are asking what is needed.”

More than 1 million trees have also been torched by arsons during the past few weeks, according to Sam Perchik, zone director of the Jewish National Fund.

“People would like to partake in the reforestation,” says Perchik. “They are upset because the arsons are burning a symbol of Zionism; a symbol of the connection of the Diaspora to the Land of Israel.”
Some people have expressed a willingness to fly to Israel to assist the beleaguered nation.

“There have been calls from members who want to volunteer, who seem motivated by what is happening,” says Lou Goldowitz, Southern California representative of Volunteers for Israel. “They want to know how they can help.”

There will be no special mission to Israel, he says.

Others are interested in what they can do locally.

Goldowitz says that Volunteers for Israel is encouraging members to participate in pro-Israel rallies and to write letters to President Clinton and the State Department voicing support for Israel.

Nash’s office has received phone calls and substantial donations from first-time donors. “We are also getting phone calls from younger people, people in their 20’s,” she says.

Many concerned Southern Californians are calling to gather information about the future of the peace process.

“We’ve been receiving all kinds of phone calls,” says David Pine, West Coast Regional Director of Americans for Peace Now. “People are very upset. In a way they feel betrayed. They are wondering how and when we can move forward on the peace process. We felt we were so close to an agreement and it blew up in our face.”

Yet, according to Pine, some members are already looking towards the future. “People are still hopeful. We don’t know how soon. Work has to be done. But there is still hope that Israel and the Palestinians will get back on track. They are not willing to give up,” he says. “We have to be hopeful because we know the inevitability that Jews and Arabs live together [in the Middle East]. If they do not live in peace, then there is war.”