Montreal synagogues are rallying to support Israeli farms near Gaza that have been damaged by incendiary kites coming from the other side of border.
In less than a month, Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem (TBDJ) has raised enough money to purchase a 750-litre firefighting trailer for the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council.
Judah Aspler, the synagogue’s past president, said the unit enables farmers to extinguish blazes on their properties immediately, rather than having to wait until the fire department arrives on the scene.
Since the end of March, Palestinians have been launching kites and balloons bearing flammable materials on an almost daily basis, which have caused multiple fires throughout southern Israel. Thousands of acres have been burned, destroying wheat and other crops, as well as forests and nature reserves.
Firefighters are having difficulty keeping up with the number of fires being ignited over the large area. On June 8 alone, a record 45 fires broke out.
Sha’ar HaNegev is just one of at least three regions trying to contain the arson attacks. Several kibbutzim are located in the area.
Congregations Shaar Hashomayim, Beth Israel Beth Aaron, Shaare Zion, Beth Tikva and Adath Israel have joined TBDJ in the fundraising campaign. Federation CJA is supporting the initiative through its Israel Emergency Fund, which is sending the money and issuing tax receipts.
Aspler encouraged other synagogues and community institutions to join the effort.
The trailers, which are attached to tractors, cost $11,000. Funds will also go toward the purchase of firefighting suits, which are $1,400 each.
Without such equipment, farmers can do little more that plough a ditch around the flames to limit their spread.
The project partners have set up a Facebook page to provide up-to-date information on the fires and the emergency campaign.
TBDJ has taken the lead in this project because Aspler and Rabbi Yechezkel Freundlich, the synagogue’s spiritual leader, happened to be in Israel several weeks ago, when the arson attacks were intensifying.
“I immediately called the regional council and expressed our support and asked what we could do,” Aspler said. He was put in touch with Oded Platt, the general manager of the regional council.
“Oded was very thankful for the call and said it was heart-warming to know that people far away have them in mind and want to assist,” said Rabbi Freundlich.
In late May, TBDJ member Izzie Steckler toured the Shaar HaNegev region, to get a sense of the destruction and speak to those affected by it. He personally experienced a barrage of missiles while he was there.
The campaign was launched on May 10 and a couple of weeks ago, the congregation reached out to other synagogues, which immediately “jumped at the opportunity,” said Aspler.
The latest news from the Sha’ar HaNegev is that the first trailer unit has been ordered and should be deployed within days.
“It’s an added bonus for us that the extinguisher trailer is not only being purchased from an Israeli company, but is also made in Israel,” said Aspler.