Although it probably hadn’t been planned that way, the Westchester American Jewish Committee’s fourth annual “Israel…New Perspectives” gala, focusing on Israel’s humanitarian efforts around the world, offered a particularly timely counter-programming message to the fallout from the Gaza flotilla raid.
At the event last month at the Rye Town Hilton, the 300 guests saw and heard images that highlighted Israel’s work in places like the Philippines, China, Afghanistan, Haiti, Kashmir, Nigeria and Chad, among others. The event also honored Westchester’s Charles and Elaine Petschek and their daughter Nancy Petschek-Kohn for their multigenerational commitment to AJC and other causes.
As part of the gala’s mission to “promote a more balanced, positive and authentic image of Israel,” this year’s program kept the focus firmly on ways Israel has helped countries with long-term recovery and rebuilding, as well as with assistance in the immediate aftermath of disasters. These activities include providing food, medical care, post-trauma psychological counseling and education to children and teenagers in relief camps.
Ambassador Haim Divon, deputy director general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head of MASHAV, focused on Israel’s long-term initiatives in medical training and agricultural work in Africa. Benjamin Krasna, deputy consul general of the Consulate General in New York, described the work that Israel had done in Turkey during the 1999 earthquake there. And Mully Dor, a board member of IsraAid, the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, offered a detailed presentation of the many ways that Israeli volunteers offered direct aid during crises around the world.
“We are all volunteers, dedicated to humanitarian aid, “said Mully Dor. “We believe in tikkun olam and long-term sustainable development. Our strategy is to focus on Israel’s knowledge and experience. Everyone in Israel is on 24-hour alert. We know how to act in disaster relief. We are fast, we are flexible, we provide relief in the field.”
Israel’s rapid and effective response had clearly made an impact during the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake.
“Three or four days after the earthquake I heard from my ministers that the Israelis were already in town, on the ground,” said Felix Augustin, the consul general of the Haitian Consulate of New York, who spoke at Dor’s session. “We were so overwhelmed by the work the Israelis were doing. They were among the first. They left Port-au-Prince to go into the countryside.”
Beyond the immediate aid and assistance that Israeli relief workers provide — usually in teams of about 15-20 people — IsraAid also trains local workers in the communities affected by the disaster, as well as partners with agencies like USAID to maximize the impact of their efforts.
“Because we don’t have many people, we concentrate on training local teams, for a sustainable kind of treatment,” said Dor. IsraAid “has strengthened Israel by showing the positive, giving side of Israel, the compassionate side of Israel to the world.”
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