Mideast violence resonates here

The Zionist Organization of America staged a Solidarity Rally for Israel at 19th Street and John F. Kennedy Parkway, near the Israeli Consulate, on Friday afternoon.
The Zionist Organization of America staged a Solidarity Rally for Israel at 19th Street and John F. Kennedy Parkway, near the Israeli Consulate, on Friday afternoon. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ /Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 13, 2014

When Eti Cohen's telephone rings these days, it is often her sister calling in tears from Israel, with air-raid sirens wailing in the background.

Cohen, owner of the Center City restaurant Hamifgash, was born in Jerusalem. Her sister Mazi, 47, lives near Tel Aviv.

"This needs to be over," said Cohen, speaking of the Palestinian rockets that have rained on Israel by the hundreds this week, and Israel's numerous air strikes on Gaza. "People are afraid."

Bareeq Albarqawi, 26, of Somerset, N.J., a Palestinian American whose parents are from two villages near Nablus, said the violence affects her, too, because her aunt and extended family live in that West Bank city.

While Gaza has borne the brunt of Israeli counterstrikes, West Bank Palestinians, including Albarqawi's aunt, are fearful as well.

"My dad called her," Albarqawi said. "They don't go out as frequently. They are all very scared."

A new generation of Palestinian rockets, many smuggled into Gaza from Syria and deployed by Hamas militias, can hit virtually all of Israel. Some have landed near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, a new development in a country long accustomed to being on a war footing.

Throughout Israel, some residents are spending days and nights in bomb shelters.

The Israeli Air Force has pounded Hamas redoubts, killing more than 100 Gazans. Although they are not targeted, women and children are among the dead.

The latest attacks follow the recent murders of three Israeli students, as well as that of a Palestinian teen, who was abducted and killed in apparent tit-for-tat violence.

With neither side backing down, people in Philadelphia and the vicinity are reacting and responding.

Among them is Rabbi Arthur Waskow of Mount Airy's Shalom Center, a three-decade-old nonprofit that describes its mission as fostering "a transformative Judaism that can help create a world of peace."

Waskow has called for a multi-faith day of fasting Tuesday as "a hunger strike against violence."

The day, the 17th of Tammuz on the Jewish calendar, is a traditional fast day to commemorate the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple. It falls this year during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

The goal of Waskow's joint fast "is to raise consciousness," he said, and "get Jews and Muslims in the same room together in sorrow rather than in anger."

Also on Tuesday, the Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation, a group that promotes coexistence, will gather for Israeli-Palestinian peace, with a period of silent reflection and short interfaith prayer service, at Al-Aqsa Islamic Center, 1501 Germantown Ave. Participants will be invited to attend the iftar, the traditional breaking of the fast. The gathering begins at 7:30 p.m.

Prominent Jewish organizations across the region are responding, too.

Naomi L. Adler, the new chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, took office in May. In the wee hours Thursday, she arrived in Israel on a solidarity mission.

As her plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport, she said in a telephone interview, she saw the flash of an Israeli "Iron Dome" missile intercepting a Palestinian rocket.

She went to bed at 1:30 a.m., At 7:30 a.m., with an air-raid siren warbling, she said, she hustled to her hotel's bomb shelter.

A few hours later, her organization, which provides routine financial aid for sister-city and other projects in Israel, announced an Israel Emergency Fund to support the country's needs, including trauma counseling for residents under near-constant bombardment. The Philadelphia group is part of a network of Jewish federations.

"Summer camps are canceled in Israel. Vulnerable children that we have supported for years are spending most of the day in shelters," Adler said. "Anyone within 50 kilometers of Gaza has urgent needs."

In Cherry Hill, the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey is participating in an emergency relief campaign called "Stop the Sirens," said board president Betty S. Adler.

She said the national campaign's goal was to raise $10 million in the next two weeks. People interested in donating can go to the websites of the two federations.

In Cherry Hill, which has a large Jewish population, the conflict is followed closely, said Jennifer Dubrow Weiss, chief executive of the South Jersey Federation.

"Everywhere you go," she said, "people are talking about what is going on in Israel."


mmatza@phillynews.com

215-854-2541

@MichaelMatza1

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