Aaron and Danit Zerykier
Aaron and Danit Zerykier
Aaron and Danit Zerykier

By Mordechai Kastlebaum

Dateline: Oslo, September 1993. Diplomats from across the globe meet in Oslo, Norway. A historic document is about to be signed. The Oslo Accords were indeed historic, but not for the reasons that its well-meaning proponents had expected. Rather than ushering in a peace that so many politicians had naively promised, it gave license to our enemies to increase their hateful violence against the people of Israel. History will mark that day–September 13, 1993–as the watershed moment that began the period of nearly continuous violence that characterized the following 15 years. It also opened the floodgates for the rise of anti-Semitism, especially in Western Europe, where it had been on the decline for the prior half-century.

Dateline: Judea and Samaria, October 1993. After Oslo, the situation looked bleak in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. From Kedumim in the north to Hevron in the south, from Elon Moreh in the east to Hashmonaim in the west, huge swathes of historic Jewish land were set to be amputated from Israel forever. The faithful residents in these areas had toiled for years to build homes and communities but now it looked as though their very future was going to be swapped for a fantasy of peace. The mood after Oslo was very dismal.

Dateline: Gaza, August, 2005. The Israeli government, bowing to international pressure and compromising its national security interests, completes the Disengagement from the Gaza Strip. The move was applauded by pundits and politicians everywhere. Disengagement, goodwill gestures, unilateral concessions–the newly coined terms were thrown about as if they were addressing a third-grade playground argument. They spoke with Israel’s “best interests” in mind. This was the only path to true peace.

Sadly, the residents of Sderot, Eshkol, and cities as far as Ashkelon and Ashdod are enjoying the new “peace” from the comfort of their bomb shelters. Another air-raid siren pierces the air, another frightening 15-second-maximum dash to the nearest bomb shelter, another day in the life of the residents of southern Israel.

Over 8,000 residents were thrown out of their homes in Gaza and four more communities in northern Shomron, their towns were bulldozed and destroyed, our rightful homeland of thousands of years was willfully handed to our avowed enemies . . . and what does Israel have to show for it?

Not friendly neighbors. Not security or peace of mind. Not better relations with Europe. Not increased support among the public. And certainly not peace. Sadly, Gaza has taught us that capitulation never pays.

Dateline: Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, November 1993. Let’s turn back to 1993. It was in those dire post-Oslo moments that One Israel Fund entered the scene. Led by fierce lovers of Israel, it brought a bold, ambitious, and almost unfathomable mission to counter the grim prospects for Judea and Samaria, and in those days, Gaza. Armed with conviction (and a healthy dose of Israeli chutzpah), these visionaries began a grassroots effort to challenge the recently ratified accords by dramatically transforming the facts on the ground in the cities and villages of YESHA (Judea, Samaria, and Gaza).

Their logic was simple–a town of 50 families is easily dispensable at the negotiating table. Diplomats would barely think twice about offering it to our Arab enemies. A thriving city of 500 families, on the other hand, is a force to be reckoned with and would prove to be much more secure during “negotiations.” And so, they set out to build.

They reached out to caring supporters across North America and urged them to pour money into vulnerable communities of YESHA. They sought to enable them to grow and prosper, to attract young new blood and build vibrant communities, to massively strengthen the Jewish roots that had been there for millennia, and ultimately, to make it impossible for politicians to hand away such burgeoning towns and cities.

To accomplish this, they would need to build infrastructure and reinforce security, offer humanitarian and religious aid, and bolster medical and social services to local residents. It was a massive undertaking, but they were not deterred.

Many people were incredulous in those early days, doubting that anyone would be willing to live in YESHA with its uncertain future. But some understood the far-sightedness of the strategy and joined the movement from day one.

Dateline: Judea and Samaria, May, 2014. Here we are 20 years later. Twenty years of tireless efforts. Twenty years of incredible investment of resources and manpower. Twenty years of remarkable resilience and devotion by tens of thousands of pioneering men and women. Twenty years of efforts have returned enormous growth throughout YESHA. On these 40-square-kilometers of ancient land, cities have grown, families have set up homes, and a glorious Jewish presence permeates the air–everywhere!

One Israel Fund Makes A Difference. The work of One Israel Fund combined with other heroic partners has completely transformed the landscape of Judea and Samaria. A land that consisted of a modest population of 75,000 in 1993 is now the proud home of nearly 400,000 residents. Now that’s growth!

Over $30 million has been invested in preventive security and infrastructure to build and secure over 140 communities in the area. This includes building schools and community centers, installing and maintaining high-tech preventive security systems, training and equipping first responders, purchasing and refitting armored ambulances and security vehicles, building playgrounds and respite centers . . . and the list goes on and on!

It is due to this highly targeted investment that YESHA has become not only viable, but an attractive place for people to set up homes and raise families. Twenty years ago, only a few courageous pioneers would have even dreamed about living under the dangerous conditions that plagued towns like Itamar. Today, this community, and countless others like it, are undergoing continuous growth and new families are building homes there thanks to One Israel Fund’s ongoing investments in security and community development.

The impact has been felt by the former residents of Gaza as well. While so many seemed to turn their back on these forlorn families, One Israel Fund immediately set out to assist them in any way possible. From educational scholarships, career retraining, summer camps, and Chanukah toys for the children, to new synagogues, libraries, community centers, olive groves, and other agricultural grants, One Israel Fund was with them in Gaza and then, following Disengagement, from their tent cities to their new beginnings in areas throughout Israel. One Israel Fund even went into Gaza to dismantle its own playgrounds and had them rebuilt in the new communities. Most have forgotten, but not One Israel Fund.

OIF in the Social Media Age. Though Israel is experiencing a relative calm from violence, let’s not fool ourselves into believing that Oslo’s impact is not still felt today. Today, the weapons of choice have become politics, public opinion, and world perception in addition to the bombs and machine guns of the previous decade, which still continue unabatedly. The latter is certainly deadly, but the former is perhaps even more dangerous due to its deceptive and seemingly innocuous tactics.

Anti-Israel activists are increasingly sophisticated in their efforts to delegitimize Israel and its government and disenfranchise its supporters. This is particularly true on college campuses across the United States. Virtually an entire generation of young people, who would have otherwise formed the nucleus of future supporters of Israel, is being indoctrinated with a distorted worldview that paints Israel as an aggressor and occupier against the innocent, peace-loving Palestinian people.

This is the new intifada–one that has added Facebook and hashtags to its arsenal of Molotov cocktails and grenades. Leading the charge is the BDS movement whose frightening rise in popularity only serves to embolden our enemies as they gleefully watch an Israel that is isolated further and further–all without the blood and gore of the previous Intifada.

To address this, One Israel Fund is leading the way by spreading awareness and truthfulness through its grassroots efforts both here and in Israel. It organizes trips to YESHA, where packed busloads of tourists, rabbis, and politicians learn firsthand about the real facts on the ground and come away as supporters and strong advocates for Israel, YESHA, and its residents.

That is why its mission is even more important today than it was 20 years ago. So much has been accomplished, yet so much more can and must be done. If anything has been learned over the past 20 years, it is that strength, resilience, and truth will prevail. With the strong support of generous donors from abroad, YESHA will continue to grow and prosper for years to come.

Gala Anniversary Dinner. To mark the momentous 20th year since its inception, One Israel Fund will celebrate with a gala anniversary dinner on June 9 at the Tribeca Rooftop in New York City. To headline its banner roster of honorees at the event, the organization will bestow its prestigious Shomer Yisroel Award upon the Honorable Alan Baker, former Israeli Ambassador to Canada, co-author of the Levy Report, and outspoken defender of the Land of Israel.

Mr. Baker’s sterling record of accomplishments during his tenure as ambassador is widely recognized throughout the diplomatic field, while his unshakable support for the Jewish State has led to Canada emerging as one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in the international arena. His legal expertise as one of the three appointees by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for work on the now famous Levy Report proved invaluable in providing the legal basis for Israel’s right to build and live in the areas of Judea and Samaria. Ambassador Baker is one of the leaders in fighting for Israel in this new battlefield arena. It is an honor and a privilege to recognize the work of such an upstanding individual.

Several other important figures will also be honored at the event, including One Israel Fund Board Members Sarita and Ben Greszes of Great Neck and Manhattan; Doreen and Dr. Matt Skolnick of Dix Hills; Danit and Aaron Zerykier of Cedarhurst; and Merissa and Craig Shapiro of Kew Gardens Hills. Their significant contributions on behalf of One Israel Fund will be celebrated at the gala event, but it is also the grassroots support throughout the country that will be on display as One Israel Fund pays tribute to the two decades of success on behalf of our ancestral homeland and its dynamic pioneers who live there.

From the days of Abraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, and Jacob and Rachel and Leah to today’s modern-day chalutzim, the areas of Judea and Samaria have always been our biblical heartland. This is the one evening to come out in support of our ancestral homeland. For information about joining in this momentous occasion, please visit www.oneisraelfund.org/dinner or call 516-239-9202. v


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