Generosity during Crisis: Many Donors Rally Behind Chimes Israel’s Wartime Emergency Fund


At the start of the war while Israel’s Homefront Command ordered our centers closed, we reached out to the staff and families of all 25 centers and programs to see what could be done to help.

Our most vulnerable populations were in Ashkelon, shut in their homes and air raid shelters as thousands of rockets flew toward them from Gaza.  Many had been hiding in their shelters day and night because their disabilities prevented them from making that 30 second escape to safety. They needed food, diapers, and medicine, but local stores were closed and even if they were open, most could not leave their children alone to get these essentials.

The war was also putting our families and employees into dire financial straits. Several families were living hand-to-mouth due to their low paying per diem jobs. With our centers closed, their children home, and their spouses called up to the army, they had to stay home to care for their disabled children and could not earn for the family.

As time passed and the war continued, we realized we had to find innovative ways to provide our services to these families that had never been more in need. We understood from previous conflicts that the lack of daily physical therapy has devastating effects on people with disabilities, especially young children, since the earlier the intervention, the better the trajectory. After the last war, which was only 11 days, many preschool children came back to the centers having lost months of progress because they could not continue therapy at home.

Due to this, we established the wartime emergency fund. We asked donors to help and the appeal brought us major donations from over 50 donors across North America. Due to this generosity, we were able to revamp our services to provide to our Ashkelon beneficiaries much-needed wartime support.

We took physical therapy equipment from our centers and brought it to the homes. We purchased and distributed additional equipment to homes, making an “equipment lending library” for emergency situations. We bought iPads with assistive and communication application for the children use the educational software and stay in touch with their teachers and classmates. We purchased laptops for the employees to be able to work from home and lead Zoom meetings with their classes.

In addition to the food baskets that we brought to the neediest families in the beginning, we gave all Ashkelon families and staff, supermarket gift card vouchers to help them feed their families. Both evacuated and sheltering families told us that expenses were high, and the vouchers were not only a huge help but as one parent put it, “the voucher was like a hug from abroad.” Another employee said, “it was if someone from afar thinks about me, cares about me, wants to help.”

Each beneficiary also received a weekly home visit. There, our staff discovered very frightened children, due the threatening noises and reverberations of the sirens, Hamas rockets, and IDF bombs from nearby Gaza. To be able to provide emotional support to these clients, the employees received a four hour resilience training session from the Ashkelon Resilience Center via zoom, which they told us what helpful but not enough.

In mid-December, the children began to come back to the centers in small groups, since the safe rooms were too small to host everyone. They were sent home before naptime, since if a siren occurred, they would not have been able to move all of them there within 30 seconds. As of January, we reopened all of centers full-time.

With a recognition that we need to get through the trauma and be more prepared for other emergencies, with the help of JUF Chicago we are now launching organization-wide staff Resilience Training led by NATAL (National Trauma Victims) professionals.

With the resilience training, we hope to see our employees improve interpersonal communication, engage in better techniques for coping with stress, and better manage security vulnerabilities and crises. As this project is still underfunded, we are seeking additional donations to the Emergency Fund to support it.

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