Nefesh B'Nefesh Reaches Out to Immigrants Living in Southern Israel

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With the escalation mounting along the Gaza border, immigrant assistance organization Nefesh B'Nefesh on Thursday held an emergency meeting to coordinate a massive outreach effort aimed at personally contacting each and every Anglo living in the south or serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

It is the largest such emergency outreach program conducted by Nefesh B'Nefesh since the Second Lebanon War, according to public relations coordinator Tani Kramer.

"Instead of waiting for them to call us, we have divided our southern olim [immigrants] among all staff members, whether it's their primary duty or not. Each has received a list of at least 12-15 olim and we're all calling them and becoming point people for them," Kramer said.

Nefesh B'Nefesh has about 80 staff members in Israel, according to Kramer. He could not state precisely how many Anglos Nefesh B'Nefesh has on file in the southern region, but David London, executive director of the 35,000-member strong Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, said his organization alone has about 3,000-4,000 members currently living in the south.

Nefesh B'Nefesh plans to contact every Anglo on record as living or having lived in southern Israel, according to Kramer, "making sure they're okay, offering our services and providing them with information."

Staff plans in addition to reach out personally to the 700-900 active soldiers who have immigrated with the help of Nefesh B'Nefesh, he said.

Among the services being offered is an around-the-clock emergency hotline for English-speakers. The Nefesh B'Nefesh hotline number is 054-734-1459.

Information about a separate hotline manned by Natal, Israel's Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War, will be provided over the phone as well, Kramer said.

According to Melanie Wolfson, a Natal spokeswoman, the hotline has recorded a 300 percent rise in calls over the past few days. Sigal Haimov, the hotline director, notes that the majority of Natal's 40 telephone volunteers speak English, though she says she has not seen a significant increase in calls from those seeking assistance in English.

Natal can be reached at 073-236-3304/5/10.

Nefesh B'Nefesh is also directing Anglos to the Israel Center for the Treatment of PsychoTrauma, as well as Israel's Home Front Command, which publishes emergency response guidelines in English as well as Hebrew. The Home Front Command's guidelines for "Correct Behavior During Missile and Rocket Fire" can be found in English online at http://www.oref.org.il/International/308-en/PAKAR.aspx.

In addition to crisis counseling, Nefesh B'Nefesh will be offering Anglos living in southern Israel "assistance getting out," Kramer said. This includes arranging host families for Shabbat in other areas of the country, and even paying cab fare for those immigrants who can't afford to leave on their own.

Hearing more from recent arrivals

Meanwhile, local groups for English-speakers are offering their services as well. The English-Speakers of Ashkelon on Thursday sent an emergency email update to some 400 families in the southern city, warning them to stay close to home, if possible, or to be near safe rooms and shelters.

About 27 of those 400 families have recently arrived in Israel, according to June Narunsky, the association's chairwoman, and are likely to have never experienced rocket fire such as this before.

"These are people who made aliyah [immigrated to Israel] not so long ago, so their Hebrew's not so good," Narunsky explained. "So we try to keep them as informed as we possibly can. ... Whenever we can help them we certainly will, or we will look for the correct service for them."

To date, the majority of the calls to the Ashkelon non-profit have been from new immigrants "who haven't been through this before and they want to know where they should be, what they should do," Narunsky said. "One women had to go to the doctor and she wasn't sure if she should go or not. ... Another woman called, very stressed out, and we suggested she take a comfortable chair and sleep in her [shelter]."

Rebecca Peretz, a native of Melbourne, Australia, who moved to Ashkelon just 10 weeks ago after marrying an Israeli, said the best advice she received from the organization is to remain calm.

"My son, he's 11, and he's on Skype talking to his friends [during the rocket fire]. When a siren goes off, he runs out with his computer to show his friends in Australia," she said. "It's part of life, isn't it?" she said, adding, after a moment, "Part of life in Israel."

Miriam Green, the southern branch counselor for AACI, said that although she's unable to get into her office, as the center where she works is closed, she is nevertheless personally contacting individuals she knows are by themselves, "just to make sure they are OK."

In and around Be'er Sheva, where Green is based, several student groups from abroad are being temporarily relocated to areas such as Sde Boker and Jerusalem, and Green said she's heard of residents sleeping outside of public bomb shelters because their homes are not protected.

While violent rocket fire such as this can be especially jarring emotionally for immigrants--"What's unique about the Anglo experience," Green notes, "is that we've all chosen to be here"--it nevertheless becomes almost routine for those who've been here a while, she said.

"At this stage there's nothing out of the ordinary," agrees Natie Shevel, regional director of UJIA in Israel. "Depending on what your definition of normal is."

Tami Shadadi surveying the damage to her house in the southern town of Sderot November 12, 2012, after it was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza on Sunday. Credit: Reuters

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