“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” I Chronicles 29:14 (The Israel Bible™)
When brush fires swept Israel last week, Donna Jollay knew she had to act. As a religious Christian with a long history of supporting Israel and Israeli charities, she says the sight of Israelis losing their homes and possessions meant she had to move, and move quickly.
“For many years, I’ve run my own ‘BDS’ program – I spend time here every year, and I donate as much as I can to Israeli organizations. I boycott, divest and sanction anyone and everything that opposes Israel,” the 57-year-old American told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “So this was an opportunity to help people in need and also to connect with some of the very people who personify my beliefs. In that way, it was a win-win situation, for everyone involved.”
As the fires destroyed nearly 2000 homes in Haifa, Nataf, Beit Meir and Neve Tzuf, and drove people from their homes in several more locales, Jollay instinctively reached out to several of the organizations she’s long supported, and encouraged friends to do the same. On Wednesday, she took part in a shopping spree to help families who lost homes and property begin the process of rebuilding their lives.
The effort, spearheaded by the Bet Shemesh-based Israel365 organization, raised $40,000 in donations in just three days from 450 individual Christian donors.
Rabbi Tuly Weisz, co-founder of Israel365, a website and project that serves as a platform connecting Jewish and Christians in their common religious affiliation to the Land of Israel, said the response went far beyond anything the organizers expected.
“When we contemplated the extent of the forest fire decimation on properties, the severe drought, and the environmental destruction, we immediately reached out to our leaders, and we received a tremendously encouraging response,” Weisz told TPS.
“The donations surpassed our expectations and constituted a greater contribution than ever in the past, which we attempted to distribute quickly and most effectively,” he said.
Weisz told TPS that once the fires had abated at this beginning of this week, he began visiting affected communities, starting with Beit Meir, a short drive from his office in Beit Shemesh, in order to assess the needs. There, he realized that while the damage to the community was extensive, he was not helpless.
“Of course, we did not have enough to replace their houses, but I wanted to make sure that the money we’d raised was spent on things that real people needed and would brighten their days. Many families literally had no clothing left,” he said.
Predictably, the shopping spree had immediate impact. One 13-year-old, Hodaya Halperin, had been distraught about losing a dress in the fire one she had received two months ago for the Rosh Hashana holiday. At the mall she found exactly the same dress.
Tuly Weisz said his organization will repeat the shopping spree several more times, both in Beit Shemesh and again next week in Haifa. To Donna Jollay, the experience of accompanying fire victims is both a confirmation of her Christian faith and a lesson in the resilience of Israel.
“On one hand, it’s really simple: I read the Bible, I believe in God, I believe in His word, and I believe He gave this land to His beloved people, Israel. That’s all.
“But I think that for me, an even more emotional experience was to meet so many incredible people and to hear their stories. I couldn’t believe it when we met them – some people had lost everything, but there weren’t any tears, their voices were strong, joyful, hopeful.
“I feel so blessed to have the chance to encourage them, tell them God gave you this land, and that the fires won’t drive you out,” Jollay said.
Additional reporting by Ilana Messika