Have You Heard of ISRAaid?

Image: ISRAaid volunteers greet refugees landing on the Greek island of Lesvos. Photo by: IFTAH SAVIT/ ISRAAID

Among the many interesting speakers this past week at PARR, we heard from the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles, David Siegel. I always enjoy the sessions with the Consul General, because not only do we hear from the current holder of that office, we also have a chance to ask questions.

In his address to us, he talked about the fact that the most desperate situation in the Middle East at this moment is Syria and “it is not going away.” Millions of people have been displaced by the complicated civil war there, and millions more are likely to be displaced in the future.

The consul talked about ways that Israelis have been involved in assisting refugeees, and alluded to volunteer opportunities for American Jews, as well. I asked him for more specifics, and here is what I learned:

One way that Israelis have been involved in providing aid to the suffering people of Syria is by staffing refugee operations in Europe through the non-profit, non-governmental organization ISRAaid. From the ISRAaid website: “our teams of professional medics, search & rescue squads, post-trauma experts and community mobilizers, have been first on the front lines of nearly every major humanitarian response in the 21st century” – and that includes the current Syrian refugee crisis.

One way to support ISRAaid is by donation. But if you are a professional (any of the professions mentioned in the paragraph above) you might also consider volunteering with them.

For information about current  ISRAaid projects, you can check out their facebook page. For a sense of what they did in the last year, here’s a video:


Antisemitism, Again.

Image: Antisemitic graffiti. Photo credit: Beny Shlevich.

Antisemitism is alive and well in Europe. The news in the past few weeks has been grim: a shooting and murder outside a synagogue in Copenhagen and the kosher supermarket murders in Paris are the most serious. There has also been a disturbing video of a man being harrassed as he walks around Paris in a kippah.

These things are frightening, no doubt about it. My heart goes out to the Jews of France and Denmark. I am disturbed, though, by something I’m seeing on social media. Jews all over the world are upset, and are talking loudly about being upset, but a lot of the conversation is not constructive. Some thoughts:

1. If we are worried about antisemitism, we should learn more about it. The media are not reliable when it comes to this issue (remember the reporting about Israel last summer?) If you are interested in learning more about the intersection of anti-Zionism and antisemitism, I recommend this article by Eve Garrard, an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Manchester. There are some excellent new books on the subject as well, both antisemitism in the past and the so-called “new” antisemitism. Better yet, organize a study group at your synagogue – not a coffee klatch to worry, but a group that will study and learn.

2. It is true that the gunmen in Paris and Copenhagen have identified as Muslims. However, blaming the current wave of antisemitism in Europe and elsewhere on Islam is far too simplistic. White Americans who identified as Christians bombed synagogues in Sacramento, CA as recently as 1999.  Again, I recommend learning about antisemitism, which has deep roots in history and Western culture.

3. Instead of worrying and ranting, how about doing something? Support the Anti-Defamation League. Send letters or emails of support to synagogues in Paris and Denmark. Many have websites, and you can search for them at the World Union for Progressive Judaism website. Ask your rabbi for more suggestions: maybe there is a local group you can join or support or a class you can take.

I am currently taking a class on the history of antisemitism, and doing the reading connected with it. When I feel ready I’ll post to this blog about some of the things I’m learning.

It is a sad fact that antisemitism has been with us in one form or another for many centuries, since classical times. We need not feel helpless in confronting it. Hysterics won’t help, nor will denial. What will make a difference is educating ourselves and supporting one another.