Issues

The Israeli NGO that is bringing relief to America’s disaster areas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — For 17 years, the Israeli NGO IsraAID has been performing search and rescue, purifying water, providing emergency medical assistance and walking victims of trauma back to psychological health in dozens of disaster-hit countries.

But no season has been busier than this past summer and fall, its co-CEO Yotam Polizer said in an interview — and nowhere more than in the United States.

“The last few months have been unbelievable,” he said, listing a succession of disasters that occupied local staff and volunteers since August: Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and then the wildfires in northern California.

Polizer recalls that he was wrapping up a visit to IsraAID’s new American headquarters in Palo Alto on October 8 and was on his way to a flight to Mexico to oversee operations after a devastating earthquake there when he got word of the wildfires. “I literally had to do a U-turn,” he said this week in an interview at the Israeli embassy in Washington.

Polizer spoke with the exhilaration of an executive whose team has come through a daunting challenge. “We’re the people who stay past the ‘aid festival,’” he said, grinning, describing the month after a disaster when media attention and donations are at their highest; both tend to disappear after that period.

He anticipated his teams would stay in Houston for another three months and in Puerto Rico for another year. An IsraAID team remains in Haiti eight years after a devastating earthquake hit that country.

The assistance IsraAID administered in the United States over the last two months is emblematic of the added Israeli value it brings to disaster relief across the globe:

–In Houston and in nearby Beaumont, Texas, its team supervised and participated in cleaning debris and strategic house demolition, a skill derived from the clean-up Israeli authorities administer after wartime attacks on Israeli communities;

–In Puerto Rico, the teams administered emergency medical care honed in post-attack scenarios, as well as training in water filtration cultivated in a country where fresh water is scarce;

–In Santa Rosa, California, a social worker with the team led post-trauma care — a hard-won specialty in Israel — for families who lost their homes in the fires.

Read More: Times of Israel