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Partnership2Gether stands with Israel’s Western Galilee

By Andrew Adler - Jewish Federation of Louisville, Community Editor


 

This past October 19, a video was posted on the Facebook page of Israel’s Galilee Medical Center. It showed physician and CEO Masad Barhoum, wearing a ballistic protective vest, telling how his hospital was serving a nation at war.  


“Shalom, friends,” Barhoum began. “Israel is at wartime. As the closest hospital to any Israeli border – only six miles from Lebanon – Galilee Medical Center is on the highest alert and phase of emergency preparedness. We have taken steps to protect our patients and staff, such as moving critical care units to the protective underground emergency complex and readied all bomb shelters and security rooms. We maintain close contact with the Israeli Defense Forces and the Ministry of Health and are ready to treat our armed forces and civilians which, literally, guard us.  


“This is a very difficult time for the country – maybe the worst scenario that has ever been,” Barhoum continued. “Our hospital stood strong in previous wars and emergencies, and we will stand strong in the hard days ahead. Your support to Galilee Medical Center has always been a vital part of our strength. Our hearts and solidarity (are) with all of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces, and emergency forces. We are ready.”  


Gaza and Hamas may be the southward flashpoint of Israeli anguish, but to the north there is no shortage of collective anxiety. Hezbollah, like Hamas an Iranian terrorist proxy, for years has periodically lobbed rockets over the Lebanese border into Israel. The two sides have been trading skirmishes, while the world waits to see if Hezbollah – emboldened by Hamas’s murderous attacks on Oct. 7 – will open up a large-scale second front.  


Such a potential escalation, too, is a prime concern of Partnership2Gether, a longtime cooperative initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Louisville is one of 16 American cities – along with Budapest, Hungary – that partner with the Israeli coastal city of Akko and the regional municipality of Matte Asher.  


Akko is just north of Haifa, Israel’s third largest city and its principal port. Nearby lives Dan Ravitch, whose father, Dave, is a past U.S. P2G chair. Dan Ravitch made aliyah in 2011, served in the Israel Defense Forces with an Iron Dome mobile air defense unit and met his Israeli wife, Shirlee Greenwald. Currently he divides his time between Israel and the U.S., where he grew up in Benton Harbor, Michigan.  


For the time being, anyway, “I feel safe,” Ravitch said recently via Zoom from his Israel home. “We’re far from the (Gaza) front. We know where our shelter is – right next door, which we’ve visited – both voluntarily and involuntarily – a few times over the last week.”  


Of course, in times like these, safety is a relative concept. “I think the best way of understanding is from my wife. She said that when she was younger, the Intifada made public spaces no longer safe. It took a long time for people to feel comfortable again going outside. And when the rocket firings started in the early 2000s, homes felt unsafe. But this is different.”  


The sheer scope of Hamas’s incursion – some 1,400 Israelis murdered, others wounded or raped, more than 200 taken hostage – was not only a shock, but it was also an unprecedented shock.  

“I served in the Iron Dome during Operation Protective Edge (the 2014 Gaza War), and we had a lot of rockets,” Ravitch recalled. “We had discussions about where it was going to get worse. We were talking about Iran; we were talking about (North) Korea – there was (North) Korean missile testing constantly during the operation, and we felt it must be related. But we didn’t have the same kind of fear” as now.  


“We used to say, ‘We’ll get into the shelter’; ‘I have good insurance’ – it’s not the same anymore.”  

On Oct. 7 Ravitch was visiting in the U.S. while his wife was in Israel to celebrate her father’s birthday the preceding Friday. He awoke early Shabbat morning to find that hours before, she’d texted him that 6,000 miles away from where he was at that moment, something terrible was unfolding.  


At first Ravitch assumed it was an enhanced rocket attack. He thought, “‘Okay, there’s a lot of rockets – we’re going to hit them back.’ It made no sense to me what I read after that. I couldn’t do anything to try to understand. It still doesn’t make sense how such a thing can happen here.”  

A flurry of WhatsApp messages was exchanged among Ravitch and a small group of IDF reservist buddies. For whatever reason they were being called up, but he wasn’t. “It drove me nuts because it would have made my decision much easier” – to stay in the U.S. or return immediately to Israel.  

Formerly director of the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley’s Camp Ideal, and having just finished a stint working for that Federation, which is located in South Bend, Indiana, Ravitch also found himself without full-time employment. “I was taking time off for the holidays before I started something new, doing some side jobs. But nothing felt important – like, how can I cut the grass when all this stuff is happening?”  


In Israel, males who are physically fit customarily serve in the reserves until they are 40 – for officers of a certain rank, 45. About to turn 31, Ravitch would ordinarily qualify, but because he’d spent numerous extended periods the U.S., he’d lost his status as a permanent Israeli resident. So maybe he’ll be called up, and maybe he won’t.  


Ravitch’s connections to Israel are long and deep. He made his first trip to Israel when he was 15 as part of a P2G teen group, visiting the Galilee region while staying with area families. “It was influential for me because that was right after the rocket attacks from the Second Lebanese War, so we were visiting homes and learning about it. That was in 2007, learning all about what it’s like to live with rockets falling in your home.  


That was before Iron Dome, and it was only a few years later that I decided to make Aliyah – mostly my town helped me do it through my youth group. So I came here for a year, and my father in the meantime had gotten very involved with Partnership. When I was in the army, my father would come over with a delegation. Most recently I worked for the Federation in South Bend – my wife was the liaison (in Israel) for the Partnership connection. But as a couple we’ve volunteered and worked with them for the last three years.”  


Ravitch has spoken to various U.S. Federations about his experiences in Israel – Federations in Louisville and Nashville, for example. “The (Galilee) Medical Center, of course, is in the middle of everything,” he said. “Having Hezbollah as a neighbor is no fun. I’ve dealt with rockets from Hezbollah during my military time. We know they have the ability to get anything they want over the (Lebanese) border. In Gaza, whatever they’re getting is only over the Egyptian border or snuck in. But Lebanon has the capacity to do a lot more damage.  


“The threat from Hezbollah has been intensifying,” Ravitch observed. “They are shooting anti-tank missiles into towns or military bases, and those aren’t something that can be intercepted quickly. They’re not like a rocket that’s got time to go up and come down – they’re just straight across. Those are scary. The other day we had drones over our homes, so we all were in shelters – we heard the boom! as they were intercepted. So our partnership region is right there.”  


In the Western Galilee these days, the uncertainty alone is debilitating. “Everybody’s on edge,” said Alan Engel, a veteran Jewish Federation of Louisville leader. 


“They’ve mobilized the underground facility (which was the first of its kind in Israel), including its neo-natal unit. And they have a couple of major priorities,” such as “the maxillofacial department, for reconstruction of war injuries. The second is their trauma center – getting all the machinery they need to deal with patients.”  


“Meanwhile, Jewish Federations of North America’s $500 million emergency campaign to aid Israel, as of Oct. 19, has already sent $450,000 directly to the hospital to purchase much-needed medical equipment.” 


Because “God forbid there’s an outbreak in the North,” Engel said, “they’re going to be right in the middle of it.” 


With each passing day the situation in Northern Israel is growing more fraught, more perilous. 

“Our friends in the Western Galilee are now experiencing constant bombing,” said Amy Fouts,

Partnership2Gether Community Liaison at the Jewish Federation of Louisville. She recounted a recent Zoom call with Heidi Benish – the incoming director of P2G for the Western Galilee – and outgoing director Iris Posklinsky, both of whom were logging in from that endangered region. 


“Heidi took the call from her safe room and Iris was driving, hurrying to pick up her son and bring him home,” Fouts said. “It was frightening to think that something might happen to her while she was on the road. But their dedication, to keep working and have these calls with us when under attack, while their kids of age are serving in the army, is awe inspiring.  I gain my strength from them.” 


Amid all the turmoil in Israel, living in the U.S. can feel even more distant than usual. 

“Being here, while my friends are there, I feel so helpless,” Fouts admitted. So she took action. “Inspired by the Empty Shabbat Table  installations that appeared in Tel Aviv and Rome, I wanted to create something for myself to understand what 200 lives held hostage means,” she said. 


Fouts’s weekend response took the form of what she calls “trauma crafting” in the form of an in-process piece titled What is 200? 


“I looked at the news to understand who was being held hostage and to honor them in some way.,” she explained. “On a canvas, I punched 200 holes and threaded 200 pieces of yarn: different colors representing different demographics or countries. At the far left are 30 light blue strings for the children. At the far right are the elderly (dark blue with sparkl.e) and the deceased (black).    


Israeli citizens are represented, in the center, by white yarn.    


“Other countries included are US, Britain, Thailand, Portugal, Germany, France, Argentina, Spain, and Netherlands,” Fouts added. “The strings that are flipped up are for hostages that have been released. This piece is unfinished. It will be complete when all are returned home.” 

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