newsIsrael at War

Jewish Agency project to strengthen Gaza border towns

Nir Am’s rapid-response squad managed to repel Hamas terrorists and avoid casualties.

Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Knesset member Danny Danon visit Kibbutz Nir Oz near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on May 27, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.
Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Knesset member Danny Danon visit Kibbutz Nir Oz near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on May 27, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

Kibbutz Nir Am, situated approximately two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the northeastern Gaza Strip, is a pastoral haven set against the dramatic landscape of the Negev Desert. It has two main economic branches, agriculture and a factory that produces cutlery, pots and kitchen utensils.

On Oct. 7, as Hamas-led terrorists invaded the communities near Gaza, Nir Am was one of the few that avoided casualties. The kibbutz’s rapid-response squad managed to repel the terrorists. The story is nothing less than extraordinary.

“It was because of the rapid-response squad and pure luck that we did not suffer destruction and casualties,” Noam Rodman, a member of the squad, told JNS.

To date, Nir Am remains a closed military zone, but 30 members who do not have children have been allowed back to work in the kibbutz’s agricultural fields.

Responding to the needs of these communities, the Jewish Agency for Israel launched Communities2Gether, which aims to pair 25 Israeli communities with communities around the world.

Jewish Agency CEO Amira Ahronoviz said, “We will work to strengthen Gaza border communities and ensure that no town, kibbutz or moshav will be left alone. Communities2Gether is the tangible expression of the fact that today the Jewish people stand behind the State of Israel and its citizens, while Israel is committed to the well-being of the Jewish people, wherever they may be.”

The project will pair impacted Israeli towns or kibbutzim with a Jewish community abroad that is committed to offering sustained support for at least three years. This will work through funding, sharing resources and personal connections.

It is hoped that these partnerships will help rebuild infrastructure, mend social bonds and foster long-lasting connections. The Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod—United Israel Appeal support Communities2Gether.

Long-term needs

“We initiated Communities2Gether only days following October 7—a response empowered by the relationships and infrastructure we’ve developed over the past 30 years,” said Lori Klinghoffer, partnerships chair on the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors. 

“I am proud to say we are uniquely positioned to meet the unprecedented needs of our beloved communities in the western Negev who suffered extensive damage during the war.”

Each pairing will have a team composed of two representatives from the Israeli community, the Diaspora community and the Jewish Agency to help determine each community’s needs. The idea of these joint teams, beyond solidarity, is to encourage the Israeli communities who are still in survival mode to plan ahead.

While their immediate needs are understandably urgent, this three-year partnership will help these communities devise a road map to recovery so that their long-term needs will be supported as well. It is assumed that the needs of these communities will grow once they can return home.

The Jewish Agency is providing the infrastructure for Communities2Gether and is working with the Tekuma Authority as well as local municipalities to ensure there are no duplicate efforts and to coordinate rebuilding.

(The state’s recently-created Tekuma (“Revival”) Authority has been tasked with rehabilitating and developing the Gaza Strip-adjacent “Tekuma” region and its population.)

Noam Rodman, like all parents, wants to feel that his children will be safe again, that the horrific images seared into their minds when they left their homes can start to heal and the sound of their laughter rings through the fields and the kibbutz. Communities2Gether is a strong step towards that healing.

“The rockets started at about 6:30 a.m. My wife and I rushed our children and our big dog into the shelter. I put my kids in a closet in the shelter, my wife held the door and I left to go and defend the kibbutz at the fence,” Rodman related.

“We fought until about 10 p.m. Much later, we found the bodies of Hamas terrorists with maps on them. Over 300 had planned to enter Nir Am, almost double the amount that attacked Be’eri.”

Nir Am is much closer to Gaza than Kibbutz Be’eri, which experienced some of the worst carnage on that black Sabbath.

In the days and weeks that followed, Rodman and others from the kibbutzim would check the horrific images and footage on Telegram to see if they recognized anyone murdered or taken hostage.

Those who survived the massacres remain evacuated from their kibbutzim. The most pressing issue for them is feeling safe enough to return to their homes.

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