As I write this piece, just minutes after getting the “all clear” following a barrage of rockets from Gaza, the stark reality of what life is like here in Israel’s Gaza Envelope has never been clearer. The residents say life in the region is 99% heaven and 1% hell. Well, today, during our Jewish National Fund-USA Gaza Envelope Task Force mission to the region, we experienced a sobering reality check on the impact that 1% can have. While everyone’s emotions were impacted by the security situation, the one thing that stood out to us was that despite everything going on, the region’s residents continue without pause to build lives and livelihoods for them and their children.
I was here in the Gaza Envelope with JNF-USA in the summer of 2014 during “Operation Protective Edge,” which was very intense. Looking back, that’s where my passion for Israel became “real.” Being in the line of fire during these attacks was just a repeat, and it was upsetting to see how the residents must still face this crisis repeatedly.
I have three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. In that context, it was especially distressing to hear that the parents of children in local schools couldn’t collect their kids when news of the impending attack came through. While I appreciate the security considerations, I can only imagine how awful it must be for the children to be away from their parents, and likewise, for the parents to be away from their children.
I want the residents of the Gaza Envelope and surrounding communities to know how appreciative I am for the concern they showed to our group while we were under fire. It felt like they were more concerned for us than they were for themselves. They took great care to make us as safe as possible.
Earlier in the day, our Gaza Envelope Task Force visited JNF-USA’s GrooveTech Center dedicated in honor of our task force’s chair, Betsy Fischer. This is a (fortified) building like no other that empowers and inspires schoolchildren to learn about robotics, multimedia, computer gaming, media production, vertical farming and more. As we listened to students talk about their startup business ideas, the sense of passion, intelligence and excitement that they exuded was awe-inspiring. While there is darkness in our world that seeks to delegitimize and destroy our Jewish Homeland, the blindingly beautiful light of hope and optimism that these kids showed should give us confidence that our people’s best days are yet to come.
As I begin my journey home, I can truly say that our resolve has only been strengthened. You’d think that my lasting memory from this trip would be the rocket attack. Yet, you’d be wrong. For me, it was playing a piano duet with a young man from the community of Nahal Oz, situated literally on the border with Gaza. As we hit each key, I looked at our hands playing together in synchronicity—a senior citizen and a 15-year-old playing together. It gave me hope and reinforced to me that the philanthropic investments we are making are working. Whether it’s through our resilience centers or the music center we recently completed, we are bringing young and old together as we bolster their sense of community and security.
During times like this, I am proud of the impact our Gaza Envelope Task Force continues to have. As we say, “when the residents of Sderot sneeze, we say Labriyut (‘G-d bless you’).” We are them, and they are us. When they are having a problem, we’re having a problem. When rocket sirens are blaring, we don’t sleep at night. Our loyalty, respect and solidarity with these people remain unending, and we will continue to do whatever is possible to make life here just a little better—and safer.
Phyllis Chancy Solomon is chair of Jewish National Fund-USA’s Central New Jersey Board, Monmouth and Middlesex, and a member of its Gaza Envelope Task Force.
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