From balcony concerts and food distribution apps, to Israeli homecomings, UJFT-supported JAFI programs deliver a shot in the arm during COVID-19

February 18, 2021

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The Jewish Agency for Israel, JAFI, is a global platform that founded and built the state of Israel. Now in its 90th year, its mission to overcome challenges facing Jews around the world expands its reach while responding to the hurtling impact of COVID-19.

JAFI exists to bring Jews to Israel—and Israel to Jews around the world, in three distinct areas of impact: Aliyah, Connect, and Israeli Society. The agency’s outreach is tailored to simultaneously meet modern challenges and offer relevant benefits such as transformative and immersive Israeli experiences in favor of virtual online college classes; mentoring and counseling for youth-at-risk; and increased staffing to focus on the physical health and mental wellness of Holocaust survivors and vulnerable people. In the last year, hospital-grade hygiene protocols were established to prevent disease, while hundreds of balcony concerts were held to combat the deadly effects of sheltering in place for extended periods of time.

JReady, “the Jewish Emergency Network,” is an initiative designed to assist Jewish communities in dealing with the challenging consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. As part of this program, a first-of-its-kind digital platform was developed to enable Jewish communities to use and share knowledge in crisis and emergency situations. The multi-disciplinary toolbox includes a chat forum and access to advanced research and technologies, such as the ‘Haggai App’ an Israeli app for food distribution to those in need, and a Belgian methodology to alleviate loneliness among the elderly.

November 2020 marked the beginning of Operation Zur Israel. Despite a global pandemic, the agency anticipates reuniting 2000 Ethiopian Jews with their families in Israel by Passover 2021. More than 20,000 people from more than 70 countries made Aliyah in 2020.

Nir Buchler, JAFI regional director, Southeast, is grateful for the partnership with the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater. “Thanks to the unrestricted dollars, we were able to pivot and meet unprecedented needs. It’s particularly moving to see that when the world closed its borders to immigrants, Israel continued to welcome tens of thousands of Jews from around the world.”

One couple from Argentina and their two teenage children were scheduled to make Aliyah before the pandemic hit. They received a call to postpone Aliyah one week before their scheduled departure. They had already quit jobs, left schools, and informed their landlord. As the pandemic worsened, so did the process of making Aliyah.

To meet travel restrictions, they signed a formal sworn statement agreeing to comply to a 14-day quarantine period upon their arrival, and 72 hours before boarding the plane, they were at The Jewish Agency’s office signing papers and arranging for Israelis to deliver food to their doorstep throughout their quarantine.

The family stayed at an apartment for new olim (immigrants) in Kfar Saba, subsidized by JAFI. They initially planned to live there for just one month, but were able to extend their stay due to the pandemic. The entire experience made them want to help other olim get settled in Israel.

“As the grandson of Holocaust survivors who made Aliyah, I am touched to see how we enabled Jews from all over the world to be rescued despite lockdowns and flight restrictions, in particular the recent flights from Ethiopia that continue to run despite the airport closing,” says Buchler. “It speaks to the commitment of not just our organizations, but the Jewish people and our mutual responsibility for each other.”

This is part of a series of articles spotlighting local and overseas partner agencies that are beneficiaries of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s annual Community Campaign.

- Lisa Richmon

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