In Northern Israel 80,000 residents are still displaced

Sarah Mali, director. general of Jewish Federation of Canada, with JFED CEO Stacey Leavitt-Wright, Eli Cohen director general of Tel-Hai College and Michal Raikin, board chair of Tel-Hai College. They were in Edmonton recently providing an update on the situation in Northern Israel.

By Regan Treewater

(AJNews) – “It’s the most beautiful area in Israel, not because it’s my home, but because it is the most beautiful,” commented guest speaker Michal Raikin at a recent presentation hosted by the Jewish Federation of Edmonton and held at the Jewish Senior Citizens’s Centre.  As the board chair of Tel-Hai College in Northern Israel, she delivered poignant words of love and hope for Eretz Israel.

“We succeeded in the last eight years to bring economic growth to our region. After October 7 this economy has moved to the South. Now we are all worried that there is a possibility that it won’t come back. Eight months later we are still uncertain.”

What the mainstream media is not reporting on is the upheaval and displacement being endured by those who, up till October 7, were living in the North of Israel. There has been an onslaught of rockets and artillery fired in the area from the Lebanese Iran backed Hezbollah and it continues to be unsafe for the residents in Northern Israel to stay at home. “We still don’t know if we can return to schools on September 1,” she noted.  In fact, at present, over 80,000 people, who previously called the North their home, are living in hotel rooms scattered around the country.  Their lives have been turned upside-down, and they have only uncertainty as they wonder if they will be able to return home for the High Holidays.

One thing that will revitalize the region is the May 22 announcement that ratified the University of Kiryat Shmona in the Galilee. With the support of Yoav Kisch, Minister of Education, and an astronomical amount of work by local community leaders, the college that once served the postsecondary needs of Northern Israel, gained the official recognition of their status as a university. “The university is the only light for our region in these days. I cannot explain how much hope it has brought.”  With these touching sentiments, Michal introduced her colleague Eli Cohen, Director General of Tel Hai College, now renamed University of the Galilee.

“I’m a bureaucrat,” he began, with a jovial tone. “Even though I’m a bureaucrat I’m coming from the optimistic side of the picture. The situation now is very tough. We had challenges before the war, but we can see the light. We don’t know when it will end, but we will get back stronger.”

Eli is a resident of Metullah who is now displaced from his home and his community. He has worked very hard to get Tel Hai its new status as the University of the North. His optimism is supported by the potential for revitalization that the new university will bring.  The institution’s website announcement states: “Tel-Hai College together with the MIGAL Galilee Research Institute are the foundations upon which the University of Kiryat Shmona in the Galilee is being established. The University, similar to other universities in peripheral locations around the world, will be a catalyst for the economic, social and demographic growth of Kiryat Shmona, the Galilee and the Golan – attracting quality human capital, establishing innovation and research centers, developing a variety of employment opportunities and reducing gaps between the center and the north.”

After the devastation inflected upon local residents, first by the heinous October 7 terror campaign, and then by their subsequent displacement, people need the hope for rebirth that a university brings with it. The institution hopes to attract students, international researchers, and industry, reinvigorating the devastated economy of the north.

“We decided many years ago that we want to be the engine behind growth for the economy and society in the Galilee. After almost a year of review it has been decided that we will have university status. Universities do research and bring modern employment, good people and knowledge,” Eli continued optimistically.  The institution’s influence has already reached Edmonton, with two past graduates living in the local Jewish community. “There is no industry in the Galilee that the University doesn’t support.”  With these word of hope, Cohen introduced his colleague Sarah Mali, director general of Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA.

Sarah shed light on the impact of Canadian donations and shared some very personal stories about how we in Jewish Alberta are making a difference in Israel.

“It takes a leap of the imagination, especially if you haven’t been to Israel, to feel Israel even when you’re here in Canada, and to appreciate the joy of Israel, and to be in pain with Israel when Israel is hurting. You are present with us. It is a wonderful thing to know that you are with us,” she began. “I want to talk about strength.  I am going to start with a big number, and I want you to know that you are a part of this big number, and that this big number is growing: 114 million CAD.  The Canadian Jewish community has given 114 million CAD to Israel since October 7.  I cannot overstate how significant this is,” she paused meaningfully.  “It is the largest allocation to Israel in the whole world. Your community is at the forefront of philanthropy, but I think this is an expression of love,” she told the Edmontonians in attendance. “You have shown that you are by far the most loving community in the world.”

Sarah emphasized this point by recounting the story of a small child from Vancouver Island who upon hearing about the devastation and violence of October 7 emptied her piggie bank. She carefully counted out 23 dollars and 17 cents. Taking this painstakingly accumulated sum to her parents, she announced that she wanted her life savings of $23.17 to go to the children of Israel.  A month after the attacks, Sarah received a letter from this little girl, along with the lovingly donated funds. “These defiant deeds that show hope, and connection and, love are what will fortify us for the future.”

“80,000 people don’t know when they’re going to go back home. They don’t even know how they’re going to go back, or what will await them,” Sarah explained painfully.  She described watching her own son preparing for his final high school examinations at home in Jerusalem.  The rooms that entire families are taking refuge in are unimaginably small, and yet they do all they can to support their children. “I can’t imagine what it is like for students to try to study for their exams in such conditions. They don’t know when they can return to their classrooms.”

“From despair to hope, alone to being together: Tel-Hai gives some certainty for when residents go back. It stands to show that there is a vibrant community.  There’s going to be a university, along with all the good things that a university brings,” she declared with conviction.

What better declaration of ‘Am Israel Chai’ than to create spaces for scholarship and knowledge in the face of destruction and hate.

Regan Treewater is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.

Be the first to comment on "In Northern Israel 80,000 residents are still displaced"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.