"My personal goal on this mission was to meet as many people living in the south as humanly possible,” explained Ekstein. “These people have been living in unimaginable conditions for years now, and I wanted to let them know that we represent a huge community of 200,000 Jewish Torontonians who love them, stand with them, and that we’re all part of the same family."
And, according to Ekstein, his goal was met, as mission participants spent time with Israelis ranging from teachers and students to mayors and business owners. At one point, the visitors received a first-hand, all-too-real look at what life is like for Southern Israelis.
During their time in Be’ersheva, alarms sounded, signaling incoming missiles being fired by Hamas terrorists in nearby Gaza. The Torontonians had thirty seconds to find cover.
“Just as I had settled into our van in Be’ersheva, the code red sounded, and I had thirty seconds to make it to a bomb shelter,” recounted Kushnir. “They teach you what to do in case it happens, but once it actually did, I felt like a deer caught in the headlights. My feet wouldn’t move; my legs felt as though they each weighed a thousand pounds. Finally, we made our way to the bomb shelter, and that was that. But, it made me realize how Israelis live like this every day, often several times a day. I had visited Israeli bomb shelters before on tours, but believe me; the experience is unreal when your life is at stake.”
“One of the most powerful moments of the mission for me was when we met a 39-year-old mother whose home had been hit by a rocket,” said Fox. “She was so shaken, unable to release the grip that the fear had on her. Her anxiety about her children’s safety took a heavy toll on her face. We also spent time in bomb shelters, where children are forced to spend a good deal of their days and nights, and where they are receiving counseling and are offered recreational activities.”
“It was significant that we spent our time meeting with the people affected by the war and not just with government officials,” said Jeff Springer, Chief, Corporate Operations, UJA Federation. “We had a unique opportunity to gain a grassroots understanding, from young and old, of the impact of the rockets.
To donate to UJA’s Southern Israel Relief Fund - which is providing financial assistance through UIA Federations Canada for social welfare projects in southern Israel - visit ujadonations.com/southisrael.