AN EYEWITNESS REPORT: THE DIRECTOR OF THE OU’S ISRAEL CENTER IN JERUSALEM EXPLAINS HOW HIS CREW IS BRINGING HELP TO PEOPLE IN BOMB SHELTERS — ‘WE WILL ALWAYS BE THERE FOR THEM,’ RABBI BERMAN DECLARES
Three days after Rabbi Avi Berman arrived in Jerusalem from Vancouver, Canada, to become the Director of the OU’s Seymour J. Abrams OU Jerusalem World Center (the Israel Center), Hezbollah attacked Israel and war broke out.
In the words of OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb (who is now in Israel leading a mission of OU leadership), Rabbi Berman quickly organized “a massive and coordinated relief effort, concentrating upon several communities which have been affected. Through the efforts of hundreds of volunteers and through the use of our own personnel on the ground, we have been able to bring food, entertainment and encouragement to scores of miklatim, or bomb shelters, where many hundreds of individuals are confined. Our efforts are especially appreciated by the very young children who are in this difficult confinement.”
The OU’s efforts, Rabbi Weinreb explained, are supported by the Israel Emergency Fund, which was established by the OU to provide the resources for Rabbi Berman and his staff and volunteers to do their work.
Taking a pause from his round-the clock activities, Rabbi Berman sums up his work:
“There are two types of people in Israel – those going through the day-to-day horror and those trying to identify with the people going through the horror. For someone living in Jerusalem, where it’s secure, trying through newspapers, or television or the Internet to grasp what’s happening up North is very difficult. You see people from the North, and you try to share with them what they are going through – they are out of their homes, they are out of work, they are in financial difficulties.”
“For the first type of people, a major problem is that those in the bomb shelters are suffering on a moment-to-moment basis. It’s bringing tension between different families trying to share the same limited space, and tension within families, between parents and their children. The lack of respect and tolerance for one another is horrifying. We at the OU, the second type of people, help by going from bomb shelter to bomb shelter up north, bringing simcha (happiness) to the children, playing games and doing arts and crafts with them. We have over 700 volunteers mobilized to do this. They are putting their lives in danger, and are brave, idealistic and true leaders.”
“We had two employees working up north when the fighting started. One of them, Meir Schwartz, called me and he was crying because of the scenes he saw. ‘We’ve got to do something,’ he said. ‘The OU as the leader of the Jewish people must take a stand and make something out of it.’ And so we did.”
“As long as this crisis goes on, not only will the OU be there for these people, but we are building infrastructure for the day after. They will need help to recuperate and to get their lives together. We will always be there for them.”