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A mother and humanitarian leader reflects on the situation in Israel today

Yael Eckstein
(Courtesy of Yael Eckstein)

For days now we’ve been living with endless rocket attacks in Israel.

For me, this has meant days of identifying the nearest bomb shelter any time I leave my home. Days of putting my four children to sleep, reminding them that if they hear a siren in the middle of the night they need to run quickly to the bomb shelter, and that I will be holding their youngest brother so they need to make it there on their own. Days of nightmares – both while asleep, and while awake.

Do you know what it is like to be scared to take a shower because a “code red” siren might go off, leaving you with 30 seconds to seek shelter? Have you ever been scared to drive to work for fear of a rocket siren going off when you are driving? Can you imagine staying home from a much-needed trip to the grocery store because there might not be a shelter at the store, and the risk is just too high?

Over half of the people of Israel have been facing this reality all week.

I spoke to a friend in the U.S. who downloaded an app on her phone that alerts her each time a terrorist rocket is launched at Israel. “I had to turn it to silent,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep because it kept going off all night.”

I too barely slept for two nights straight, and it was not just the rocket barrages and worrying about my family that kept me up. Though I’m not a paramedic, police officer, or soldier, I feel an enormous responsibility to protect the people of Israel in situations like this. 

The organization I lead, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship), is the largest provider of emergency basic needs in Israel. We have donated equipment to help fight the fires caused by incendiary terror balloons, trauma centers to treat terror victims, protective gear for our heroic first responders, and specially outfitted ambulances to treat the wounded. In the past 15 years, The Fellowship has built more than 2,800 bomb shelters on Israel’s borders, and implemented programs to secure all of Israel’s residents – Jews, Muslims, Bedouins, and Druze. 

But what keeps me up at night is the knowledge that despite all the tremendous work we’ve done that is saving lives at this very moment, it’s not enough. 

My phone has lit up with endless notifications, and it’s not just the code red alerts coming through. It’s messages from hospitals, social workers, single mothers, and soup kitchens begging The Fellowship for help. 

We’re doing all we can to fill those needs. This week, The Fellowship placed three mobile bomb shelters at Barzilai Hospital, the largest hospital in southern Israel, which treats all casualties in the region.

Two days ago, we witnessed a terrifying scene: dozens of mothers at a crowded park running to a shelter with their children, as a code red siren sounded. This week, The Fellowship placed 13 bomb shelters across the rocket-torn city of Ashkelon, including at local parks. 

In the past two days The Fellowship’s amazing staff hasn’t left the war zone; we have taken action to help now. We have been going house to house, visiting the elderly who are alone and terrified. We have gone from bomb shelter to bomb shelter delivering food and water, packed our trunks with first responders gear and distributed it to the heroes in the field, placed bomb shelters at the most vulnerable locations, and paid for hotels and basic needs for families whose homes were destroyed by rockets. 

I am of the generation who was raised on Mr. Rogers. I clearly remember him giving wise advice to children in scary situations. “Whenever you’re scared,” he said, “just look for the helpers. They’re always there.” 

I feel blessed to be leading an organization of helpers in this time of conflict and war. 

Yael Eckstein is the president of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews. As President of The Fellowship, she also holds the rare distinction of being a woman leading one of the world’s largest, religious not-for-profit organizations, having raised $1.8 billion — mostly from Christians — to assist Israel and the Jewish people. She is the author of the newly released “Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to our Children.

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