It’s Time For Us to Say Heneni! Here I Am!
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Daniel N. Zelman | SPECIAL TO THE CJN
On Oct. 9, two days after the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust, I stood on a stage in front of more than 2,000 grieving members of our Cleveland community who came together to demonstrate our steadfast support for Israel and the Israeli people – and our deep commitment to each other as one people. The faces looking back at me were filled with sorrow, fear, anger and resolve. Business and civic leaders were standing resolutely shoulder to shoulder with Jewish leaders, and Jewish community members alongside others from all backgrounds and beliefs.
As I introduced myself as the chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s board of trustees, I had never felt more humbled nor more motivated by the enormity of a moment. We were just beginning to glimpse the depths of the horrors and the continuously rising tally of murder, torture, mutilation, kidnapping and untold terror. It is impossible to overstate the scale of this war launched by the terrorist organization Hamas or its threat not only to Israel but to Jews everywhere.
This is deeply personal. Nearly everyone in Jewish Cleveland has a connection to Israel – whether directly or through neighbors, classmates, colleagues, friends, or family. And even for those who do not have immediate family there, it still feels like this is happening to our closest family. Because it is happening to our Jewish family.
That is why the Jewish Federation of Cleveland immediately sent $1.2 million from our endowment and made the decision to launch our community’s Israel Emergency Campaign to complement our annual Campaign for Jewish Needs.
Through our annual campaign, we raise the critical funds needed to ensure essential programs and services continue without interruption for our Jewish community in Cleveland, Israel, Ukraine and around the world. These dollars power aliyah and absorption, enable Holocaust survivors to live with comfort and dignity, support at-risk youth and other vulnerable populations, help protect us in the face of surging antisemitism, and so much more.
Year upon year, Jewish Cleveland’s collective giving ensures we can build the programs, relationships, experience and expertise needed to mobilize and scale critical services in times of crisis. Our annual campaign is why the humanitarian resources of our international partners were ready when the war began. But, as the horrors of the Hamas terrorists’ barbaric attack on Israeli civilians became more apparent, we knew our Israeli brothers and sisters needed a massive mobilization of support right away.
Through our Israel Emergency Campaign, we are helping deliver direct humanitarian aid to victims of terror and their families who are in desperate need of emergency services such as medical care, evacuation, transport, housing, financial assistance, trauma relief and psychological support. One hundred percent of every gift is making a real-time impact on Israelis’ lives.
People want to take action right now, and they are being inundated with requests from organizations responding to the crisis. It is amazing to see how many ways we can help, but it can also be overwhelming. By creating our local community campaign in partnership with Jewish Federations of North America to collectively respond to this emergency, we are giving people the opportunity to make one gift with the confidence that their dollars are making a difference on multiple levels right away for those who are most in need.
So far, more than 45 organizations and counting have received Israel Emergency Campaign dollars, including The Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC, World ORT, Israel Trauma Coalition, United Hatzalah, Magen David Adom, ZAKA, Chabad and over a dozen Israeli hospitals and medical organizations.
The generosity and velocity of giving has been astonishing. Inspired by a $15 million grant from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation that is matching each gift dollar for dollar, more than 1,800 gifts (and counting) have come in from donors of all faiths and backgrounds across our Cleveland community. Each and every gift, no matter the amount, sends a strong and clear message to Israelis that they are not alone in this, and that the people of Cleveland stand with them.
I have no idea what the world will look like in between the time I am writing these words and when you will read them. What I know is that we cannot give into despair or fear. We must live our Jewish lives, reach out to support each other, volunteer our time, ask for help when needed, combat propaganda and misinformation, contact our elected representatives and speak up online and in person to advocate for our people.
I know Jewish Cleveland will do what we always do – and that’s say “Heneni! Here I am!” – and help provide the support needed to comfort those suffering from the trauma of terrorism while building a joyous Jewish life for generations to come.
Daniel N. Zelman is the board chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland in Beachwood.