Sitting here in Israel, it's clear to me just how concerned and compassionate Israel and its citizens are towards the people devastated by the recent tsunamis in South East Asia.
Immediately following the tsunami, Israeli relief and humanitarian organizations, its citizens and government offices made enormous efforts to play a significant role in helping people affected by the murderous waters that has left 150,000 people dead and millions homeless. A national Israeli campaign to aid victims in South East Asia, spearheaded by IsraAID: The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, was established on December 29th at an emergency meeting in Tel Aviv in order to coordinate a meaningful, and effective global Jewish - Israeli humanitarian response directly in the field. "The Israel Campaign for South East Asia Disaster Relief" now includes dozens of Israeli organizations as well as various Jewish groups from North America and around the world.
In Israel, Koach Latet opened dozens of donation drop-off warehouses all across the country in order to receive donations from dozens of schools collecting relief items. Israeli companies donated time and money to help send more supplies which filled planes and ships destined to almost each country affected.
Yet, it is unclear to many people in the Diaspora, how and why such a small country with so many problems offers its assistance to those countries in need, even though some of them have no formal relations with Israel, as is the case with Indonesia.
Many people have turned to me from all over the world asking why Israel is now helping the people in Sri Lanka even though their government asked Israel not to send an IDF delegation of 150 medical personnel, just a few weeks ago. The same can be said of Thailand, a country that asked Israel not to send any more relief doctors.
I would like to clarify that both governments did not specifically reject Israel; rather, they rejected many generous aid offers because of all the chaos on the ground at the time. Now, as the needs are becoming clearer, both governments have specifically asked Israel for various relief specialists.
'The Israel Campaign for South East Asia Disaster Relief' just sent a team of medical and logistical personnel was sent to Sri Lanka following a request by Sri Lanka's Ministry of Health. The team, made up of a variety of member groups, such as Magen David Adom and the Humanitarian Arm of the Kibbutz Movement, is establishing a field clinic which will offer medical assistance with an emphasis on pediatrics and infectious diseases. Along side the clinic, a Jewish Emergency Feeding Station will be erected with three large kitchens serving nutritious meals to thousands of people left homeless. The group traveled with relief items including pharmaceuticals, kitchen supplies and tents and is laying the groundwork for a series of future emergency medical, feeding and children's projects.
Members of Zaka, the group of religious forensic workers who identify body parts after innumerable terrorist attacks in Israel, traveled to a resort area in southern Thailand, together with Israeli dental, fingerprint and DNA experts. Not many are aware of the fact that this group received the enormous responsibility from Thai officials of supervising a 'Disaster Victim Identification Station' to help identify hundreds of dead foreigners.
These are a few of the examples of Israeli's role in alleviating the pain of thousands of East Asians whose lives were turned upside down in a moment. Hundreds of hours have been put into strategizing and implementing plans to determine that each operation is well thought out, with backups, contingencies and support 'on the ground' - producing quality results on shoe-string budgets.
LIGHT UNTO NATIONS
Clearly, years of responding to the prospects and reality of war have turned the Israeli people into a well-honed Tikkun Olam [fixing the world] team. It is clear from the Israeli response to the tsunami that the people of Israel have developed an acute sense of ingenuity, creativity and deep caring, and most of all the professional ability to make things happen quickly and successfully.
The Jewish world should take great nachas - pride - in the knowledge that our people have stepped up to the 'disaster' plate, quietly and with the humility of Jewish heroes of old. Whether it's the Israeli search and rescue teams working in the bombed out embassies in Kenya or crawling through the rubble of buildings in Ducze, Turkey following the country's earthquake, we are indeed a 'light unto the nations', never slowed by inter-denominational or religious differences, compelled only by our belief in the brotherhood of man and the Jewish values of tzedakah (justice through charity), and chesed (kindness).
Since Israel's shaky birth in 1948, it has been forced to fight for its survival. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, the leaders and citizens of the State have always expressed concern for the suffering of others around the world and responded with grace, bravery, ingenuity and generosity.
I encourage you to show your support for Israeli and Jewish hands-on humanitarian activities in the field, in order to ensure that the Israeli flag that represents the Jewish people is recognized as a symbol of humanity and compassion among other nations.
I want to personally thank Avrum Rosensweig, the director of Ve'ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian & Relief committee for his help in composing this piece.