Jewish National Fund - We Only Have ONE ISRAEL

Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

I landed in Israel last Friday evening (July 25th) with a group of six largely elderly and extremely vulnerable Iraqi Jews. I had spent the previous two weeks, at great risk to myself, urging members of this tiny community of 34 that it was time "to come home" to a Jewish nation eagerly awaiting their arrival.

As such, it has come as a tremendous shock to hear of accusations that this operation was simply a "pr ploy." There is no question that some have utilized this moment to gain notoriety, however, the true significance of the operation should not be lost because of a few missteps. These six human beings were living in misery I have never witnessed in our community before.

Now is not the time for recriminations but rather a time to be proud of our Jewish heritage and values - a time to recognize that ours is one of the few communities in the world that take care of our own, regardless of the cost, because human life is more valuable than anything else. It is a time to know that these six Jews are finally in a place where they will be cared for, respected and loved instead of thrust aside, hated, and forgotten.

This story really began in early June during an initial HIAS fact finding trip to Baghdad. While visiting members of the Jewish community it became alarmingly clear that there were a significant number of elderly individuals living in misery and that something needed to be done. Yes, it's true, they had survived these conditions prior to our arrival but that does not justify allowing our brethren to live without dignity or self respect. In my nearly 20 years of service to the Jewish community there has been one underlying objective in all of our efforts to ensure that all Jews, to the best of our capability, live with dignity. I can assure the world that there was no dignity in these people's lives.

The options were limited to changing their conditions in Iraq, a country in the midst of turmoil and war with a long history of hatred for Jews, or bringing as many as we could to Israel, the Jewish homeland. As we saw it, there really was no choice. So, in a momentous decision for these two organizations, HTAS and JAFI agreed to work jointly on this project. The goal was to bring as many of the Jews as we could to Israel and to do it quickly as the situation within Iraq continues to deteriorate daily.

One may ask, "Why only six?" The answer is simple - they are the six courageous enough to trust us and believe we would fulfill our promises. We developed caring relationships with each one of them, all different and all special. When I left them in the hands of relatives and friends in Israel, I cried. Not because I was afraid of what might happen, but because I was leaving behind people I had come to love.

So, I ask that we look past the shortcomings of individuals and organizations hoping to capitalize on this operation and focus our attention on these six people who have "come home" and who are desperately in need of our compassion and support. Maybe then the others will follow and we can all take credit for bringing home the oldest Jewish Diaspora community in the world.

Rachel Zelon
Vice President for Operations
HIAS - Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
333 Seventh Avenue
New York City, 10001


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