Avi Kay, his wife Devorah and their daughter immigrated to Israel from South Africa in December 2020. Their three sons had already made aliyah.
Just shy of a year later, the Kay family celebrated a simcha when the eldest son married. Two weeks later, the middle son was dead.
Eli Kay, a 26-year-old tour guide at the Western Wall, was killed by a Hamas terrorist in Jerusalem’s Old City. He had immigrated to Israel in 2019 as part of the Jewish Agency’s Masa Israel Journey program and served in the Israel Defense Forces as a lone soldier.
“I think it’s no exaggeration to say that we had no idea what was going on. We were new to the country, having just settled in,” Avi Kay told JNS. “We didn’t know people. We didn’t know the systems. We didn’t know what was going on. But more than that, we had no idea where to go and what to do.”
Yaakov Hagoel, then interim head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, visited during the shiva period and presented Kay with a monetary gift.
“I still wasn’t quite sure who he was, how the situation worked, what it was all about. And I was quite reluctant to take it simply because I’m not used to being on the receiving end of things like this,” Kay told JNS.
“Days and weeks and months ran into each other. And then we got a call from a lady at the same organization to say that there is a fund that’s available that’s for you to use for anything that you feel that you could benefit from that will help with recovery,” he added.
Established in 2002, the Jewish Agency’s Fund for Victims of Terror is often the first responder in the recovery process of families and individuals, who have been impacted by acts of terror and violence, according to the Jewish Agency. The funds, raised through the Jewish Federations of North America’s emergency campaign, facilitates victim rehabilitation, both physical and emotional.
“We view the fund as a pillar of our ability to respond to emergencies in Israel. It’s part of our evergreen response effort,” Rebecca Caspi, director general of JFNA’s Israel office and senior vice president of Israel and global Jewry, told JNS.
She noted that the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago has particularly been an early and consistent direct supporter of the victims of terror fund.
Grants without bureaucracy
The fund’s mission is to enable victims of terror to resume normal activities and rebuild their lives, to ensure that families impacted by terror and violence continue their adjustment in the long-term and to help youth recover from the rocket fire and balloon attacks from Gaza that have long left the Gaza envelope in a state of chaos.
“When there’s someone who’s deceased or when someone is hospitalized, we reach out to them or their family, and we make sure that the one thing they get without any bureaucracy is an emergency grant,” Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, the fund’s chair, told JNS.
To date, the fund has supported some 9,000 families affected by terror attacks and rocket fire, with grants totaling $20 million. That includes funding to both Israeli Arabs and non-Israeli citizens, who have been impacted by acts of terror in both Israel proper and Judea and Samaria.
“This is not economic support. This is rehabilitation support,” Nahmias-Verbin told JNS. “This is not a regular crisis. People are realizing now a bit more with what is happening in Ukraine that resilience is something that is very volatile.”
Kay said the cash injection shortly after his son’s death “just allowed us to sort of not worry about some basics for a couple of weeks.”
“It just allowed us to spend time as a family, regroup and try to pick up all the shattered pieces,” he told JNS.
As time went by and routine returned—to the extent possible—Kay received a call about additional funding.
“We have spent a lot of time speaking to other victims of terror, some of whom have not left their home, who haven’t gone out to watch a movie, who still get visitors from their late child’s army unit 20 years later,” Kay said.
He and his family felt blessed that the terror victim’s fund allowed him to go back to working out in a gym three-four times a week, which he said is relatively expensive in Israel compared with South Africa, improving his physical and mental well-being. He also purchased a pair of prescription sports sunglasses for running and cycling.
Devorah, who wanted to keep up with Israeli technology, visited the Apple store, which she otherwise would have foregone.
“My wife always points out that we come from a country where death is a reality. Murder is a reality—for your cell phone, for a housebreaking, for ridiculous things. And there is no compensation for that, not that a life can be compensated,” Kay said. “But what Israel does and what people who support Israel around the world do is they’ve allowed us to reintegrate into society in a very subtle, very meaningful way.”
Reaching individuals in their darkest moments
Caspi told JNS the fund is an “extraordinary example of how a system as large as Jewish Federations of North America actually has the capacity to reach a single person at their darkest moment.”
The organization takes pride and “derives such strength from knowing that whenever there’s a Jew in need, we can reach her or him wherever they may be,” she said.
That extends to summer camps dedicated for the youth of the Gaza periphery and young terror victims from all over Israel.
“Having the experience of a summer camp with children who have gone through the same experience is something very, very unique,” Nahmias-Verbin said.
The camp includes haredim, Bedouin and secular Jews, who come from all over Israeli society.
“We feel very privileged that the Diaspora Jewish communities are able to give such support,” she added.
Essentially, the only items for which the terror victims fund does not allow are memorials. The city of Jerusalem took care of that for Eli Kay, erecting a plaque in his memory near the place where he was killed.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, chief rabbi of the Western Wall, both attended the unveiling ceremony.
“We’ve gone to speak around the world and people come to us to say ‘I want you that I thought about you.’ And our standard answer is, ‘We know. We felt it,’” Kay said. “But there’s been a slew of terror attacks after that, and I just hope that everybody receives the love and support that we did from people across the spectrum of society.”