For me, this current war, ‘Operation Swords of Iron’, is like no other.
As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, I have, over time, come to realise that Israel is my refuge. Israel is my place of safety, a havven, a homeland. As I watch the explosion of antisemitic episodes take place all over, for the first time in my life I can glean a sense of the anguish my grandparents (whom I never met) must have experienced from 1939 – “There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.” Had Israel existed, perhaps the outcome would have been hugely different.
So, over the past 20 years, after my family, I have committed my time and efforts to WIZO.
Why do I, like hundreds and thousands of women devote themselves to WIZO? For me, the answer is simple. WIZO looks after people. All people. WIZO promotes an equal society for all. WIZO helps Jews, Arabs, Druze, Bedouins.
As soon as this war broke out, when everything was closed, WIZO stepped up to the plate. It canvassed the government and was granted permission to open 11 emergency day care centres in Israeli hospitals so doctors, nurses and affiliated staff did not have the additional burden of having to find somewhere safe for their children to be cared for. These day care centres are still functioning and are a component of the 180 day care centres which operate all around the country.
Staffed by volunteers, WIZO runs 55 second hand shops, bigudiot. As at the end of October, 42 of these shops had reopened and are now actively engaged in boxing up food and clothing items for distribution to not only soldiers, but also to all those families and individuals who have been displaced from their homes.
A new campaign was launched called “With WIZO – You Are Never Alone.” This program offers a wide range of support services, provided by WIZO volunteers, to women whose spouses have been called to military service.
Another WIZO initiative has been expanded, with increased hours and staff to cope with the heavy demand which has intensified due to the war – the WIZO hotlines.
Established in 2013 and the first of its kind in Israel, WIZO operates a men’s hotline, dedicated to combating domestic violence. Tragically, according to The Times of Israel, in the last 10 weeks calls placed to the hotlines have risen by 45 per cent.
Another WIZO hotline is the parents’ hotline – a free service which parents can ring to receive help and counselling on parenting issues. Due to the war, this hotline has been swamped with calls.
WIZO operates five youth villages, which are boarding schools and home to over 5000 students. The Na’aleh program runs within these schools, which allows Jewish students from all over the world to come to Israel to complete their secondary education. Last year, many came as refugees from Ukraine. Having already experienced immense trauma fleeing their own war-torn country and being alone without family, many are now experiencing a second wave of distress. In one of the youth villages, Nachlat Yehuda, the dining area has been turned into a regional centre for packing and distributing care packages. This has given the students a much-needed sense of gratification, knowing they are able to contribute to the war effort.
Another of the youth villages, Gan Vanof, is hosting displaced Israelis from the north and the south. According to World WIZO chairperson Anita Friedman, “The WIZO staff have gone out of their way to help them, including much-needed emotional and psychological support.”
As so many farm workers have been called up into the IDF, or have returned to their home countries, many teens from the WIZO youth villages have volunteered to assist with crop harvesting.
Among all the WIZO facilities, mention must be made of the parents’ home; an aged care facility which houses 110 residents between the ages of 75 and 105, including 35 Holocaust survivors.
WIZO operates many more services around the country, largely geared for those most at risk: from babies, to children, to teens, to adults and the elderly, at every stage of life and in every economic and social situation.
While this war continues to take a huge toll of all of us and in so many ways, for me it has been an eye-opener. Some people have commented to me that they are glad that their parents/grandparents are no longer alive to see the toll this war has taken – lives lost, the barbarism, the antisemitism, the hate. But I have to differ. My grandparents lived and died when Israel did not exist. Consequently, we must do everything we can to ensure that Israel continues to not just exist, but to flourish, thrive and blossom.
Am Yisrael Chai!
Sylvia Green is a past president of WIZO Victoria.
Donate to WIZO: mycause.com.au/page/324237/emergency-appeal