We vacation, but not our tzedakah

This morning brought the good news of additional Yemenite Jews being rescued by the Jewish Agency to the freedom and safety in Israel. The last such operation, in August 2013, prompted a similar reaction to that experienced today:

First published August 16, 2013 in JUF News (Chicago)

Across America it’s the middle of the week separating the end of many summer camps and the start of schools. The predominant email response is “out of office.” Otherwise, our inboxes idle.

On the community calendar, we are months past the height of our Federation’s fundraising events and the allocation process that engages 300 volunteers in the distribution of precious charitable resources.

These dog days of August are for family vacations; not epic moments in Jewish history.Thankfully, neither the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) – the largest single recipient of our Federation’s funds – nor the endangered Jews of Yemen, got that memo.

Because when the rare, brief opportunity arises to perform the mitzvah of redeeming Jewish captives (pidyon shvuyim), the urgency of the moment is indifferent to our personal or communal calendars. And so it was earlier this week as JAFI orchestrated the clandestine airlifting of 17 Yemenite Jews to Israel – on direct flights and via third countries from multiple continents.

Growing concern for the safety of the 100 or so Yemenite Jews who remain cooped up within a guarded compound in the capital of Sa’ana prompted the complex operation. Amidst political turmoil and Al-Qaeda terrorism, anti-Semitic violence – including murder – has spiked. This most recent airlift to Israel reunites the 17 with the 28 others brought earlier this year and the 134 others since 2009.

Yemenite Jews reunite with family in Israel's Ben Gurion Airport after a two-year wait. Photo: The Jewish Agency for Israel
Yemenite Jews reunite with family in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport after a two-year wait.
Photo: The Jewish Agency for Israel

Those numbers pale in comparison to the one million Jews from the former Soviet Union and the 100,000 from Ethiopia who, also through JAFI, have found refuge in Israel the past two decades. But if we still believe in – and want to act upon – the Talmudic teaching that to save a single life is akin to saving an entire world, then each of us, via our annual Federation gits, did just that this week.

The contributions we have made over the years established and expanded JAFI’s global infrastructure. Thus, JAFI had what it needed, where it needed it (even in Sa’ana, Yemen), and when it needed it to save the world for these 17 Yemenite Jews and their hundreds of family members.

JAFI did that for them. For us. Because of us.

And they did it months after all those Federation synagogue brunches, trade dinners, women’s luncheons and country club events ended. Months after the dollars were allocated across our Jewish community and Jewish world. And tomorrow, because of what we have done already and faith in what we will continue to do, JAFI begins – for us as well as for them – the absorption process for 17 of Israel’s newest citizens.

And so begins another dramatic chapter in the life of our Jewish people – even if we are still in the dog days of August and “out of the office.”

About the Author
Jay Tcath is Executive Vice President of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
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