For more than 120 years, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has worked to support the right of the Jewish people to a safe and secure homeland in their ancestral state of Israel. Among the leading pro-Israel organizations in the world today, the ZOA has lent its voice to ongoing efforts to defend Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, and to call public attention to the numerous untruths about Israel disseminated by the country’s hostile Arab neighbors and anti-Semitic enemies around the world.
Elevating Israeli Competence and Caring
The ZOA also amplifies the work of other pro-Israel organizations, as well as that of Israeli groups engaged in important work securing the nation and assisting humanitarian efforts on the global stage. The Israel-based humanitarian assistance group IsraAID is among the groups whose work ZOA leadership has recently highlighted in social media posts.
IsraAID stands out, both for the quality and dedication of its own projects, and for the positive example it provides of the Israeli people’s resiliency, innovative expertise, and depth of humanity.
IsraAID, a 20-year-old nonprofit coalition of several disaster relief and aid organizations, has developed into the largest group of its kind in the country. It has helped out in times of earthquakes and other natural disasters, epidemics, and forced displacement of populations in places that include Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Mozambique, and now Afghanistan.
Spirited Away to Safety
As reported by CNN and other media outlets, IsraAID conducted two daring, secret rescue missions in September and October 2021. These operations saved a total of 167 Afghans in peril after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
After the United States removed all its military personnel from the country in August, the ensuing chaos included the Taliban assuming full control of the capital city of Kabul and most of the rest of the country. The militant Islamist group had ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when American troops invaded and drove its leaders from power for 20 years.
The Taliban, as is typical of organizations driven by extremist ideologies, is known for targeting members of the intelligentsia for persecution or murder. In the case of the Taliban, its oppression in the territories where it gains power extends in particular to the maltreatment of female professionals, educators, and intellectuals.
In mid-October 2021, IsraAID operatives conducted 125 designated Afghans out of the country to safety, traveling through Albania. The group of evacuees included scientists, journalists, judges, human rights activists, athletes, and entertainers, among others. The September rescue operation helped 42 Afghan women and girls to safety in the United Arab Emirates. The September refugees were initially transferred to Tajikistan, then flown to Abu Dhabi in the UAE.
IsraAID and its supporters coordinated the two complex rescue missions with the governments of Albania and the UAE in a project that took weeks to set up. The rescuers continually recalibrated plans as they received new information critical to the operation. The UAE and Albania are planned as waystations on the journey to permanent resettlement for the refugees in countries such as Switzerland, Canada, the U.S., and France.
The IsraAID rescues received broad and enthusiastic support that in itself demonstrates the diversity of Israeli society and the determination of Israelis to reach out to help other people in trouble, whatever their backgrounds might be.
Living tikkun olam
Canadian-Israeli businessman Sylvan Adams is a case in point. Adams was instrumental in bringing the Giro d’Italia cycling event to Israel, given his name to a major velodrome in Tel Aviv, and entered his “Israel Start-Up Nation” cycling team into the Tour de France.
Adams was also a driving force behind IsraAID’s rescue of the Afghan nationals. He learned of their desperate plight in August 2021. A journalist got in touch with Israel Start-Up Nation to ask for help on behalf of a group of Afghan cyclists hiding out in Kabul in fear for their safety. Adams organized a group of diplomats, Union Cycliste Internationale president David Lappartient, concerned individuals and groups, and numerous IsraAID volunteers and supporters.
Other prominent philanthropists among the organizers of the two IsraAID missions include aviation expert and entrepreneur Aaron G. Frenkel, head of the Loyd’s Group of civil aviation, aerospace, and real estate companies. He also serves as chairman of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. In the 1980s, Frenkel led an intense effort to airlift persecuted Jews out of the former Soviet Union and its satellites to Israel.
He put his expertise to work, alongside Adams and other philanthropists, in assisting IsraAID with the extraction of the Afghans. “We have an obligation to act as leaders” any time human rights are threatened, Frenkel said in a statement.
IsraAID has also coordinated the provision of necessary supplies to the refugees newly arrived in Albania and the UAE, as well as to some 1,000 other Afghans already in Albania. The group is committed to helping the refugees until they can fully acclimate to their new environments and establish new lives.
For Adams and the other members of the collaborative effort, it was all in a day’s work, and in the spirit of the ancient Jewish maxim commanding us to act with the goal of tikkun olam, the repair of the world. After the first Afghan group—which included many cyclists—arrived in Albania, Adams went to meet them in the capital of Tirana. The meeting, of course, ended with a bike ride.