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There's one Jewish people

“What we’re feeling are the warm embrace and help pouring in from overseas”

Gila Rockman, interviewed November 10, 2023

By Holly Kemph

Gila Rockman is a Jerusalem activist, higher education professional, and mother of four. She works at Shalem College, where she gives a course on Challenges in Israeli Society, and where she is in charge of extracurricular student life, including such activities as debates and leadership programs. She and many of the college’s students volunteer at the Hamal—the Jerusalem Civilian Command Center (JCCC).

“We were helping at the Hamal from the start,” she relates. “Four days into the first week, we already had a ton of students and other people volunteering. But the question that struck me was, ‘How are we purchasing anything? How are we buying everything that’s needed and how are we raising money?’” This was a fundamental need that she says had yet to be addressed.

How does it work?

Initially, she got her team from Shalem College together to build an emergency campaign. “We opened up avenues for giving, targeted at the US, and then Australia, Canada, England, and so on, and all of Shalem got behind the effort.” Using her own overseas contacts, Gila spread the word, held video meetings, and worked virtually around the clock to promote the campaign and secure funds.

“We helped raise several million shekels in the first few weeks, earmarked for both soldiers and civilian needs. We’re a part of saving lives, directly and indirectly. We acquire needed equipment.” This includes medical equipment meant to help save lives on the front.

On a practical level, the three main areas on which the funds are being spent include: equipment for soldiers, medical equipment, and the needs of war-impacted civilians who have been evacuated in distress. “We’re trying to shift now from delivering boxes of food to securing vouchers for people to use in supermarkets.”

What motivates Gila?

Gila’s birthday falls on October 7 and she recalls: “That terrible day, after the sirens, my husband brought my birthday cake to the bomb shelter.” That was where she and her family learned what was actually happening.

Along with the more general sense of shock and alarm, it became clear that the rapid callup of so many IDF reservists, all at the same time, could end up creating supply bottlenecks. A reserve force of that size needs to be equipped and trained before it can be deployed, but there was no time for a staggered process. Many reservists showed up to where their units met and hurried to the front, even before they got basic items and personal equipment. “Many of them haven’t seen action for ten years or more,” Gila points out, and they just didn’t have a packed bag of gear ready at hand.

There were other concerns, such as seeing all the people from the south coming to Jerusalem, and realizing that others were in danger. Referring to the Supernova music festival held on the Gaza Envelope border, she said, “My daughter's best friend and her brother were at the party. We started calling the police and the hospitals. It hit us on so many levels.”

What does she hope to achieve?

“I’ve never bought so much in my life,” jokes Gila, then notes, “but it’s all going to life-saving causes. It’s also very beautiful, watching the miracle of Israeli society all coming together, all of the different communities that are helping one another.”

She adds, “We have teams in 63 hotels. The evacuees’ socioeconomic level is rather low, especially those coming from the south, so they really need help. They’ve gone through so much trauma so we just want to treat them with dignity.”

“They just need someone to look them in the eyes, to hold them and to hug them. The other night a woman came from one of the hotels. Three buses arrived at once and they needed diapers. So they came to us. We are a human face while the government is overwhelmed. We are an emergency response.” Later, she believes, the government will step in, especially the evacuees’ local governments.

Another achievement that Gila feels is noteworthy is the worldwide response of Jews expressing solidarity.

“Every year, I lead students from our college to California to learn about the Jewish community there. You could feel the tension growing over the years because of what's happening in Israel. Yet now,” she says, “what we’re feeling instead are the warm embrace and the help pouring in from overseas Jewry. We need them and they need us.”

Finally, Gila mentions the launch of a sports and music program named Malachei Ariel, aimed at people coping with trauma. The goal is to offer therapy in various forms.

This emergency, Gila says, cannot be compared to the Covid pandemic and the preventive lockdowns several years ago, when no one could travel anywhere. Then, people were trying to help each other from their own homes. But now that Israel is at war, “everyone wants to hug their best friends.”

Judging by the volume of support and generous giving, Gila feels that the impact of the war transcends Israel’s borders. “There’s one homeland,” she says, “and it doesn’t only belong to the citizens of Israel. Bridges are being mended very quickly between Israelis and Jews overseas.”

Hamas doesn’t care what kind of Jew you are, she argues. “There's one Jewish people. The only way to win is to be united. I honestly believe it. Overseas Jewry is part of the homefront.”

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