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‘Very much a family thing’: US Jewish summer camps mourn Israeli alumni killed in Hamas war

(JTA) — As news broke of Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, David Weinstein shared the grief and fear of many in the American Jewish community. But as the director of Camp Tel Yehudah, a Jewish summer camp in New York, the violence soon hit very close to home.

“Like everybody else, we were horrified and worried and scared and concerned about our people in Israel,” Weinstein told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “But it became very personal very quickly.”

Weinstein received a call that first morning that a former staff member, Gili Adar, was missing. He would later learn that Adar, 24, who worked at Tel Yehudah in 2019 and 2022 as part of its Israeli scouts program, was one of the more than 250 people killed at the Tribe of Nova music festival.

The devastating news didn’t end there. Three other Tel Yehudah community members were also killed: Yuval Halivni, who was a member of the camp’s Israeli scout delegation in 2012; Reem Betito, a camper in 2018 who served in the Israel Defense Forces’ elite Golani unit; and Laor Abromov, 20, who was a camper in 2019 and was also killed at the music festival.

“Much of that week, again, while keeping an eye on all of the bigger situation, and our concern for everybody, was really, really about the loss of part of our family,” Weinstein said.

Located in Barryville, New York, Tel Yehudah is the teen leadership camp of the Young Judaea network, a group of camps and youth programs specially designed to build connections between young Jews and Israel — including by having Israeli staff and campers at camp each summer.

As more details began to trickle out about the extent of the violence and loss in Israel, the wider Tel Yehudah community gathered, in person and online, to grieve and process together.

A Young Judaea virtual Havdalah service on Oct. 14 attracted around 700 people, Weinstein said, with breakout rooms that lasted for hours afterward. Staff and alumni also came together for a 20s and 30s Shabbat in New York City, as well as other informal gatherings.

“We have so many people over the years who went to Tel Yehudah who have moved to Israel, and are involved in so many important organizations and movements in Israel that people are very much in touch with,” Weinstein said. “Part of the Tel Yehudah family lives in Israel, and part of the Tel Yehudah family lives here. So it’s very much a family thing.”

Tel Yehudah was far from the only American Jewish summer camp to experience the deaths of past campers or staff on Oct. 7 in Israel, though it appears to have been the hardest hit. They may even have been especially vulnerable to loss because of their unique role as supercharged sites of interchange between U.S. and Israeli young adults.

“Israelis coming to camp has been a part of the American Jewish camping enterprise since the founding of the state,” said Sandra Fox, author of “The Jews of Summer: Summer Camp and Jewish Culture in Postwar America” and herself a Tel Yehudah alum.

Love for Israel is part of the program at Camp Tel Yehudah and other U.S. Jewish summer camps. (Courtesy Tel Yehudah)

Fox said the number of Israelis working at American Jewish camps increased after World War II and particularly in the 1960s and 70s, when air travel became more accessible and affordable. Fox said Tel Yehudah had Israeli staff as early as 1949.

While many synagogues and Jewish communities have Israeli emissaries — “shlichim” in Hebrew — through the Jewish Agency for Israel, Fox said the camp experience can be unique because it’s often younger Israelis, some who work at camp before their army service.

“This is an opportunity to meet more Israelis and create connections, with both campers and staff depending on which camp, and younger ones, so they can connect to people that are closer to their age,” Fox said. “The shlichim that come to the communities are usually young families. But a counselor could be pre-army or post-army, and if you’re a preteen or teenage camper, they’re a lot more relatable. So I think that that has a strong impact on the degree of connection they can make.”

A number of other Jewish camps around the United States are also mourning the loss of former staff and campers. The Ramah camping network has a page devoted to Israel on its website that lists two alumni who are among the more than 200 hostages being held by Hamas — Hersh Goldberg-Polin, who has also participated in programming with Camp Tel Noar in New Hampshire, and Omer Neutra, who also attended Young Judaea’s Sprout Lake camp before moving to Israel after high school.

The page also lists two family members of Ramah alumni who have been killed in the violence: Israeli swimmer Eden Nimri, 22, whose sister Hadar worked at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires in 2016 and 2017, and Adi Vital Kaploun, 33, whose mother is an alum of Camp Ramah in Canada.

Pinemere Camp in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, shared on Oct. 10 that 2022 staff member Ilay Nachman was killed. “His infectious laugh, caring nature, and love of Israel made him a pleasure to be around, and the type of role model both campers and staff could look up to,” the camp wrote in a Facebook post.

Herzl Camp in Webster, Wisconsin, shared that alum Netta Epstein, 21, was killed by Hamas in his home. Epstein attended Herzl from 2014 to 2016 and 2018, and his sister Rona also spent three summers there.

Yannai Kaminka, 20, who was reportedly among the first Israeli Defense Force soldiers killed in the attacks, had attended the Union for Reform Judaism’s Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 2016 as part of a program with the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism that brought Israeli teens to American Jewish summer camps.

Ruben Arquilevich, who oversees the URJ’s 14 camps, said the movement has around 350 Israeli staff across its camps each summer, adding that the relationships Israelis build with campers are long-lasting and “transformational.”

According to the Foundation for Jewish Camp, some camps have launched initiatives to support Israeli community members, including through letter-writing campaigns, sending care packages and offering virtual programming for children in Israel.

Weinstein also noted that Young Judaea’s gap year program currently has 75 teens, many of them Tel Yehudah alumni, living at Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israeli, which Young Judaea established in 1973 in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. The participants are supporting Israelis in the south who have been displaced by the current war.

“Now we’ve got these new kids, the same age as the kids who established the kibbutz 50 years ago, who are down on the kibbutz, and helping once again after a war to rebuild,” Weinstein said.


The post ‘Very much a family thing’: US Jewish summer camps mourn Israeli alumni killed in Hamas war appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Victims of Oct. 7 Massacre Sue UNRWA for Funding Hamas, Giving Terrorists a ‘Safe Haven’ in Its Gaza Facilities

The bloodied aftermath of a kindergarten in Kibbutz Be’eri attacked by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. Photo: Reuters/Amir Cohen

More than 100 Israeli victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in southern Israel filed a lawsuit on Monday against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) for allegedly “aiding and abetting” the Palestinian terrorist organization and helping it carry out the massacre last year that killed more than 1,200 people.

The lawsuit claims that the UN organization dedicated solely to Palestinian refugees and their descendants has spent years “sending over one billion dollars from UNRWA’s New York bank account in Manhattan that defendants then caused to be delivered to Gaza in cash US dollars to benefit Hamas.” UNRWA allegedly laundered billions in donor cash to Hamas, “greatly reducing humanitarian aid provided to Gaza residents and playing a key role in the Oct. 7 attack.” MM~LAW LLC filed the lawsuit against UNRWA in US federal court in the Southern District of New York on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Both the Israeli government and watchdog groups have unveiled evidence purportedly showing that many UNRWA employees actively participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, assisted in kidnapping Israelis that day, tortured and hid Israeli hostages in their homes, aided in the transfer of Hamas weapons and trucks, and had other close ties to Hamas.

The UN has been probing the allegations in an ongoing investigation. In April, a UN spokesperson said that one case of an employee helping Hamas and its Oct. 7 onslaught had been closed and four others suspended, citing a lack of evidence.

Israel discovered that Hamas used UNRWA facilities in Gaza, including its schools, to run operations and attacks against Israel and to store weapons, both in and under UNRWA institutions. The Israeli military recently revealed that in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Hamas terrorists were found in UNRWA’s central logistics compound alongside UN vehicles. A group of 3,000 teachers working in Gaza for UNRWA even praised the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. UNRWA operates 183 schools in Gaza that are staffed by over 9,400 employees, according to the lawsuit

UNRWA schools have previously been accused of inciting antisemitism, terrorism, and hatred of Israel in the textbooks it distributes to Palestinians students.

The Israeli victims of Oct. 7 claim in their lawsuit that UNRWA “knowingly and intentionally” employed Hamas members and “knowingly provided material support to Hamas in Gaza,” including providing them access to UNRWA facilities and offering “safe havens for terrorists and their materiel.”

They accuse UNRWA of facilitating “construction of Hamas command and control centers, attack tunnels and underground bunkers under UNRWA headquarters, UNRWA schools, medical clinics, and offices.” The UN agency is also accused of turning its facilities into “prison cells to hold hostages,” as well as “military storage and deployment bases, including the storage and guarding over weapons, ammunition, explosives, and other military supplies, to be used by terrorists.”

UNRWA “collectively spent over a decade prior to the Oct.7 attack helping Hamas build up the terror infrastructure and personnel that were necessary to carry out the Oct. 7 attack, including by knowingly providing Hamas with the US dollars in cash that it needed to pay smugglers for weapons, explosives, and other terror materiel,” the lawsuit charges.

The UN organization also allegedly “permitted installation of rocket launching platforms and terrorist firing positions within and/or adjacent to UNRWA schools, medical clinics and offices, in violation of international humanitarian law.”

The case includes accusations about UNRWA implementing a tactic to further fund Hamas by paying its Gaza staff in US dollars rather than local currency, which is the Israeli shekel. The lawsuit states that although other large, local employers in Gaza pay their employees in shekels, UNRWA instead pays its local staff in US dollars and in cash. As a result, UNRWA personnel are required “to turn to Hamas-affiliated moneychangers” to exchange their cash dollars for shekels needed to buy things like groceries and other necessities.

“Hamas runs the majority of the Gaza moneychangers, and those are that are not actually run by Hamas are required by Hamas to pay Hamas a share of the fees they earn (often ranging from 10 percent up to 25 percent) for such exchange transactions, thus ensuring that a predictable percentage of UNRWA’s payroll went to Hamas,” the lawsuit explained. “Hamas uses the moneychangers to finance its military activities, and there are multiple examples in recent years of Hamas using currency exchange facilities in Gaza to finance its military activities.”

The lawsuit continued, “Hamas desperately needed the US currency itself. US dollars in cash form are vital to Hamas for purposes such as obtaining weapons on the international black market to be smuggled into Gaza and used for terrorist purposes, including the Oct. 7 attack.”

The plaintiffs said that because UNRWA’s actions in aiding Hamas “occurred in significant part” in New York — like trips taken by UNRWA personnel to the United Nations in New York City to secure funding from donor countries — the federal court in New York in which they filed their lawsuit has jurisdiction to making a ruling in the case.

Plaintiffs include not only victims of the attack but also families and representatives of those murdered by Hamas on Oct. 7. They demand a trial by jury and are seeking damages “in an amount to be proven at trial.”

The post Victims of Oct. 7 Massacre Sue UNRWA for Funding Hamas, Giving Terrorists a ‘Safe Haven’ in Its Gaza Facilities first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Hundreds of Israelis have been moving to Canada since Oct. 7—and a Hebrew website has been here to help

When Michal Harel and her family moved to Canada from Israel in April of 2019, they had a hard time getting settled. Between learning English, finding a home, acquiring work permits, and of course navigating the more restrained social norms in Canada, Harel and her husband, Avital Epstein, struggled to get their new life in […]

The post Hundreds of Israelis have been moving to Canada since Oct. 7—and a Hebrew website has been here to help appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Here’s What Has Happened on the Ground in Gaza Over the Past Month

Trucks stand at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, Egypt, April 25, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The Israeli offensive in the Rafah area gradually took all the ground adjacent to the border between Gaza and Egypt. Over the past few days, there have been reports of Israeli forces now conducting attacks from the area taken northwards, both in the relatively open area between the city of Rafah and the coast and inside Rafah itself.

Many civilians in Gaza have moved to the safe havens allotted by the IDF. The resistance by the US government to the Rafah operation was based on the premise this would not happen. Just as in the previous IDF offensives in northern Gaza and the Khan Yunis area, the rate of evacuation is one of the factors determining the rate of advance of the IDF units.

During the clearing operations in each area taken, IDF units have uncovered hundreds of tunnels, including dozens crossing the border into Egypt. These tunnels were used for smuggling weapons from Egypt into Gaza, as well as civilian traffic — both people and goods. Officially the Egyptians destroy all tunnels they discover on their side of the border, but apparently, over the past few years, they have reduced this effort considerably — these tunnels all have large openings on the Egyptian side of the border, they are not small or camouflaged, and the traffic through them was not a trickle.

Rocket launchers and stocks of rockets were also found adjacent to the Egyptian border. Additionally, more evidence has been found in Rafah of Hamas’ use of UN sites and mosques.

The IDF has also continued to conduct raids into northern Gaza and Khan Yunis whenever concentrations of returning Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists are discovered, as well as raids into the Nuseyrat area, between Gaza and Nuseyrat. The Nuseyrat area is the only one in which the IDF has not yet conducted a major offensive operation.

In a much publicized raid on June 8, which was conducted by a Police Force special unit supported by the IDF, four hostages held in two separate private homes (one belonging to a news photographer who had published in Al-Jazeera) were rescued. An Israeli officer was killed in this raid, and a few others were wounded. The Palestinians, as usual, claimed enormous casualties to civilians living in the area of the raid. Again as usual, there is no evidence that the published number was anywhere near the truth.

Given similar events in the past — when numbers claimed by the Palestinians of hundreds of civilians killed by the IDF were later found to be grossly exaggerated, to have included many terrorists, and to have included Palestinians killed or wounded by Palestinian fire — the reliability of these numbers must be regarded as suspect.

Also found over the past few weeks were the bodies of a number of hostages killed on October 7 whose bodies were taken to Gaza, as well as a few who were kidnapped alive and then killed while being held. One more body was discovered inside Israel.

After spending an estimated $320 million on building a floating pier to provide humanitarian supplies, it seems the US will permanently dismantle it. It was incapable of withstanding the buffeting of waves, and broke apart once. The pieces were then towed to an Israeli port for repair and to await a calming of the sea. Afterwards it was returned to the Gaza coast, but when the sea conditions worsened again, the Americans pulled it out again. Because the IDF captured the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing, Egypt refused to continue sending humanitarian supplies through it. However, supplies increased through the other crossings between Israel and Gaza, thereby bypassing Hamas tax-collectors. According to posts published by Gazans on social media, this lowered the prices of commodities in Gaza.

On June 9, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNHCA) published a report stating that the claim that there is a famine in Gaza is not based on supporting evidence:

The FRC does not find the FEWS NET analysis plausible given the uncertainty and lack of convergence of the supporting evidence employed in the analysis. Therefore, the FRC is unable to make a determination as to whether or not famine thresholds have been passed during April.

They qualify that statement by claiming they are physically incapable of acquiring sufficient reliable evidence. However, photographs posted on social media by Gazans show that the real problem is less a matter of lack of foodstuffs and more an issue of inefficient distribution. The IDF spokesperson has reported that much of the supplies are simply being stored inside Gaza and awaiting distribution because the organizations in charge of distribution are incapable of meeting the rate of supplies flowing into Gaza. Furthermore, Gazans are complaining openly that Hamas is deliberately taking much of the supplies and hoarding them to sell at high prices to raise funds for its operations. They also complain of theft of supplies by criminal organizations for the same purpose.

Lebanon

In a speech given on June 19 by Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah, he claimed that:

Hezbollah has 100,000 troops all told and has therefore turned down requests by other organizations of the Iranian-led Shiite alliance to send contingents to Lebanon.

Hezbollah has the full panoply of weapons to conduct ground, air and sea combat, it manufactures weapons at home, and it is receiving weapons from Iran despite Israel’s attempts to prevent this.

He also claimed that Hezbollah has information that Cyprus has agreed to allow Israel to use its airports if Israeli airports are damaged by Hezbollah fire. He threatened that if Cyprus does this, it too will become a target of Hezbollah’s firepower.

This is not the first time Nasrallah has mentioned the 100,000 troops figure. This is considerably more than all previous reports, which ranged from a low of 45,000 to a high of 60,000. The previous occasion was in October 2021 when internal tensions in Lebanon threatened to boil over into a possible civil war. If he is speaking the truth, then Hezbollah has more men than the official Lebanese army (85,000). The Hezbollah forces are certainly better trained on average than the Lebanese army, and they are also better equipped in some areas.

The exchange of fire on the Israel-Lebanon border continues at a varying but fairly low intensity. Over the past few weeks Israeli attacks have escalated in the choice of targets, which are now no longer only near the border but also include Hezbollah installations in central and northern Lebanon. Hezbollah has responded by increasing the size of its rocket and exploding drone salvos into Israel. There are reports that to reduce casualties Hezbollah has withdrawn many of its personnel several kilometers north of the border and is conducting almost all its fire from a distance.

Hezbollah has admitted that so far 349 of its personnel have been killed (another 50 since my last report). This does not include non-Shiite members of Hezbollah who probably add at least a few dozen to the list.

In addition to the numerical increase in Hezbollah casualties, there has also been an increase in their ranks and importance. The commander and some senior staff members of one of Hezbollah’s three divisions in south Lebanon were killed, as were some senior staff members of another division.

Israeli casualties

The total number of Israelis confirmed killed on and since October 7, 2023, is now 1,609, with another approximately 16,500 wounded.

There are still approximately 116 kidnapped Israelis and non-Israelis in Gaza. How many are alive and how many dead is not known. In the negotiations with Hamas, Israel demanded a list of those alive and those dead, but Hamas refused. Furthermore, Hamas claims not to know the whereabouts of more than a few dozen of the hostages. Some are in the hands of other groups or even “private” clans who joined the assault on Israel in the third wave of the Hamas attack on 7 October. Thus, for example, the four Israelis rescued since my last report were all held in the private homes of “civilians.”

In addition, 19 Israeli civilians have been killed in Hamas rocket attacks and seven by Hezbollah.

As of last month, a total of 662 IDF soldiers have been killed (42 more than my previous report) on all fronts since and including October 7.

Palestinian casualties

The Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas in its role as the government of Gaza, claims that approximately 37,500 Gazans have been killed so far, and approximately 85,000 wounded. They do not differentiate between personnel of Hamas and other terrorist organizations and civilians, but according to the IDF, at least 15,000 Hamas and other terrorists have been killed. The IDF has also captured many terrorists, though the exact number has not been divulged. From anecdotal information it can be estimated at 3,000-3,500 (there have been no reports of major surrenders over the past month).

Given that Hamas and the other groups had 40,000-50,000 personnel between them (different sources provide different numbers, and there is a problem counting part-timers as opposed to regulars or official “reserves”), these numbers represent a sizeable chunk of their manpower. However, we have no information on the recruitment rate of new personnel, who are perhaps less trained but still add to the numbers. Hamas youth movements (equivalent to Boys Scout movements) conduct basic firearms training from an early age, so they have a recruitment pool of teenagers available to join the fighting.

Until early May, the UN claimed (quoting Hamas numbers) that of the nearly 35,000 Gazans killed in the war till then, 9,500 were women and 14,500 were children; i.e., approximately 68.5% of the killed. Suddenly, two days later, the UN approximately halved the numbers to nearly 5,000 women and 7,800 children; i.e., approximately 36.5% of the killed.

It should be noted that Israel has been consistently claiming its combatant/non-combatant ratio is one of the best and perhaps the best ever achieved by any army fighting in urban areas. These new numbers prove it. In fact, given that the term “children” includes anyone under 18 and that Hamas and the other organizations employ teenagers younger than that as combatants (15-18 year-olds), the ratio is in fact even better than these numbers show. Any civilian deaths are regrettable, but they are unfortunately inevitable whenever combat occurs where civilians are present. When one side deliberately uses them as human shields, this of course happens even more.

Dr. Eado Hecht, a senior research fellow at the BESA Center, is a military analyst focusing mainly on the relationship between military theory, military doctrine, and military practice. He teaches courses on military theory and military history at Bar-Ilan University, Haifa University, and Reichman University and in a variety of courses in the Israel Defense Forces. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

The post Here’s What Has Happened on the Ground in Gaza Over the Past Month first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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