Sounds of Sirens

When I was just 6 years old, I clearly remember running to the shelter down the street during the Yom Kippur war. I couldn’t find my sandals and ran barefoot to the shelter. Today, 41 years after, still in the village where I grew up, sirens are sounding and I had to run with my mom and girls to the shelter and pray the rockets will fall in open fields. I am trying to stay calm for my girls – one is keeping her cool and the other is having a hard time –​ but I have to say it is not easy. When will this ever end? Will it ever end?

– A note from my children’s former Jewish Day School teacher currently visiting Israel

Here we are enjoying a beautiful summer in Portland. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Israel.

Many have said over the past few days, “Here we go again…” Some of us may almost be immune to the barrage of rockets directed at our brethren in Israel and the Israel Defense Forces’ response, as if this is a scene played out so many times that we have protected ourselves against the pain.

Let’s not put up that emotional shield – in fact, we should be wary of it. Pain is pain is pain. This is our international heartache as a Jewish people. When Israel hurts, we hurt.

In Israel right now we have many Portlanders. These include people who have made aliyah (I have been in contact with former Federation Executive Director, Charlie Schiffman), participants on Birthright Israel and teen Israel programs, and those just visiting family and friends. It is a difficult time to be there.

One individual from Portland, Elie Bulka, is there for a summer trip, yet he also is visiting, videotaping and photographing many of the programs the Jewish Federation funds in Israel. He sent me the following:

On Wednesday, while shooting an interview at the rape crisis center in Tel Aviv the sirens went off and we all rushed into the fortified basement.  Here is a video of that event.

When I personally first saw the video I was amazed by the calm of the people, but just think how lives are being interrupted when rockets are flying seemingly every ten minutes?

In addition, Elie shared that a long range missile fell on the southern entry to the city of Hadera two days after he was there visiting our longstanding partner, Neve Michael Children’s Village. 

Several years ago our Jewish community raised $30,000 in emergency funds to transform what was a dilapidated bomb shelter into a 2000 square-foot underground emergency control center in the Hof Ashkelon Region, which is the rural area around Ashkelon (not far from Gaza – and one of the City of Portland’s “sister cities”). That center is currently operating 24 hours a day, with all regional activities being coordinated from there. In fact, other municipalities have sent people to the center to learn more about their operations, especially now with longer-range missiles attacking Israel.

As a Jewish community it is important that we stand together at times like this. Here is a joint statement from the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, the JFGP Community Relations Committee, Oregon Area Jewish Committee, and Oregon Board of Rabbis sent to the media and our public officials:

The Portland and Southwest Washington Jewish communities stand in solidarity with Israel in defending itself against Hamas terror attacks from Gaza.

Despite Israel’s complete withdrawal from every inch of Gaza in 2005, and ever since Hamas’ hostile takeover there in June 2007, the population centers of southern Israel have been terrorized by thousands of mortars and missiles fired from the coastal strip.  Over forty percent of Israel’s population (3.5 million Jews and Arabs) is under daily threat of rocket fire from Gaza.  An untenable situation to begin with, Hamas’ most recent escalation constitutes an act of war.

Every nation has a fundamental right to self-defense; indeed, no country would tolerate the continuous violent attacks against its citizens from across its border by a terrorist group bent upon its destruction. We therefore unequivocally support Israel’s right to defend itself and we hope, for the good of all – Israelis and Palestinians – that Hamas ceases its attacks and its exploitation of Gazan civilians as human shields in schools, mosques, hospitals, and homes.

Even as it tries to protect its innocent civilians, Israel is taking steps to provide advance warning (via leaflets and calls to cell phones) to Palestinian families in Gaza to evacuate target sites. In the past week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet have exercised substantial restraint in the face of Hamas’ actions. Sadly, that restraint has been met by Hamas deliberately escalating and provoking.

We are grateful for the United States’ role in funding the Iron Dome system and for American statements of support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks that no sovereign state anywhere would tolerate. And while we yearn for an enduring peace and an end to this violence, we also urge international diplomats to continuously remind the world that there is no moral equivalence between Hamas’ deliberate targeting of civilians and Israel’s military response in self-defense. The only solution to this crisis is for Hamas and the other radical groups to stop the rocket attacks. Now.

We pray for the peace and security and continue to yearn for the day when Israel will enjoy that peace and security amongst all her neighbors.  In the meantime, we stand with her and our Israeli brothers and sisters.

For daily updates, please visit the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s website –

At times like these, I am constantly reminded that we are indeed Am Echad – one people.  Whether we are expressing sympathy or mobilizing into action, we are our strongest when we speak with one voice. I pray that the coming days don’t require either.

Shabbat shalom. And next week I hope to have more positive news to share about our local community.



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