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Philanthropy: There’s No Place for Equivocation in Israel’s Time of Need

Date: October 18, 2023

Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu

Executive Vice President, Jewish Funders Network

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“You know, there are moments in this life — and I mean this literally — when the pure, unadulterated evil is unleashed on this world. The people of Israel lived through one such moment this weekend.  The bloody hands of the terrorist organization Hamas — a group whose stated purpose for being is to kill Jews.  This was an act of sheer evil.” – President Biden, Oct. 10, 2023

On Saturday Oct. 7, I woke up to several alerts on my phone. It took only a minute for the horror of the situation to start to sink in. Women raped. Babies murdered in their cribs. Seniors burned alive in their homes. More than one hundred people were kidnapped at gunpoint. Sheer terror.

My organization, the Jewish Funders Network (JFN), connects over 2,500 members who fund through a Jewish lens, even when their funding is both Jewish and secular. We have an office in Israel, eight staff, and close to 500 members there. Our members lead the philanthropic sector in many areas, from Arab-Israeli coexistence to climate change; from education to democracy. They are left and right, religious and secular, Arabs and Jews. Today, they are all united in grief and shock.

I did not have the luxury of sitting in a place of terror and shock. I needed to check on my staff, my friends, JFN members. I soon learned that three members of our Teen Philanthropy Program were dead or missing. That program teaches kids to be compassionate, generous and empathetic. Now they’re being taught the depravity of those who hate them.

Those of us working in philanthropy usually confront tragedy, but it rarely becomes so personal, so raw, so painful.

In my pain, and experiencing the pain of my colleagues, friends, and family in Israel, I could not have imagined that voices would arise laying blame for the attack at Israel’s feet. There is no justification for the murderous onslaught of Hamas. Full stop. And yes, “understanding” is justifying.

So why are we hearing justifications? Why in this case is it acceptable to blame the victim? We know that it isn’t acceptable to ask what a woman was wearing when we hear she was raped by her date. We point out that George Floyd’s prior convictions had no bearing on his murder by police. There is simply no excuse for these violent acts, and the same is true here.

The attacks by Hamas have put world Jewry on alert. Hamas’s international “Day of Rage” on Friday, October 13 led synagogues and Jewish schools in the US to close out of an abundance of caution. My own daughter called me from college to beg my husband and me not to go to synagogue that night and to stay away from vigils and rallies supporting Israel. Antisemitism has been rising on both the right and left of the political spectrum, and the victim blaming we’re seeing in the wake of that rise, even within the philanthropic world, is reaching a new peak after Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israelis.

And, let’s not forget, the attack affected other Arabs, too. At least 50 Bedouins were killed in the attacks on Oct. 7. The murderous mob and indiscriminate rockets launched by Hamas killed, and continue to kill, everyone in their wake regardless of who they are. No one is blaming the Bedouins for their own deaths. Not a single person who was hurt or killed should be blamed for the violence perpetrated against them. Moral equivalence has no place here. At this point, calls to “look at the context” are akin to moral bankruptcy and even complicity because there’s no “context” that justifies the murder of babies.

Instead of casting blame, the philanthropic community should be focused on what we do best: supporting those in need. Our amazing staff at JFN, both those in Israel, all of whom have personally lost someone, and in the U.S. have been working around the clock to identify needs in Israel and connect philanthropists to those needs. You can see a list of vetted organizations that are working to repair Israeli society on our website. We have been communicating daily updates about how best to help anyone impacted by the terrorists.

We are keenly aware that this is only the beginning of this war, and needs are growing each day. Those who evacuated left behind everything. They need housing, food, computers, phones, and even identification papers. Hospitals and first responders need supplies. And everyone is suffering from psychological anxiety and trauma. In every Zoom meeting I have been on this week, my Israeli colleagues have had to stop and run to a bomb shelter. Imagine for a moment hearing sirens go off and having to run immediately. The terror is unrelenting.

We ask you, the philanthropic community, to work with us. The trauma in Israel is inconceivable; consider a grant to NATAL, the world leading Israeli trauma organization that flies to assist victims of natural disasters everywhere. Support IsraAID, who were working with Afghan, Syrian, and Ukrainian refugees, and now have redirected efforts to assist the evacuees from southern Israel. There are many ways to help and many ways to show compassion and empathy.

The need is not just in Israel. Here in the U.S., take some time to monitor both traditional and social media. Note the stories shared, the assumptions made, the angles taken. Past violence in the Middle East has led to a spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the US. You can help prevent this. Inaction is complicity. Use your philanthropic platform to fight Jew hatred.

The fear of Jews in the US is real. Friends are asking if they should still wear Jewish star necklaces, send their kids to universities that tolerate people who celebrate Hamas’s attack. Many even fear attending religious services. No one in this country should be afraid to attend their house of worship. The geo-political situation in the Middle East is complicated. Peace will be difficult to attain. But false moral equivocation and victim-blaming will not get us there. We can each show our own compassion and humanity by supporting the victims of this attack and the Jewish community worldwide.

Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu is the executive vice president of Jewish Funders Network

Editor’s Note: CEP publishes a range of perspectives. The views expressed here are those of the authors, not necessarily those of CEP.

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