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January 7, 2016 3:41 pm

Israeli Aid Workers Hailed as Heroes for Helping UK Flood Victims


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

IsraAID volunteers provide flood relief in the UK. The delegation of Israeli volunteers are being hailed as heroes. Photo: IsraAID via Facebook.

IsraAID volunteers provide flood relief in the UK. The delegation of Israeli volunteers are being hailed as heroes. Photo: IsraAID via Facebook.

A delegation from the Israeli humanitarian agency IsraAID is being hailed as heroic for assisting victims of the massive flood that hit the United Kingdom last week, The Jewish Chronicle reported on Wednesday.

UK residents pointed at the group of four IsraAID volunteers as they walked through the street; many approached them to shake their hands and thank them for their help, while some flood victims exchanged contact information with the Israeli delegation, hoping to stay in touch after their return to Israel.

The IsraAID volunteers hail from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip. They arrived in the UK on Monday and are working to repair the homes of and distribute blankets and food to residents in the flood-affected areas of Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Kirkgate in Leeds.

Twenty-five flood warnings remain in effect for the north-east of England, The Guardian reported on Wednesday. The UK’s Environment Secretary of State, Liz Truss, said about 16,000 houses in England were flooded, when storms Desmond and Eva hit the area.

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Navonel Glick, leader of the IsraAID delegation, said “people were shocked” when they discovered the volunteers are from Israel.

“It was hard for them to process, because although other people had traveled from neighboring towns to offer help, when the victims realized we had actually traveled from Israel they couldn’t believe it,” he told The Jewish Chronicle. “Suddenly they started to grin from ear to ear and then the reaction was, ‘Wow! Really? From Israel. You truly came to help us from Israel?’”

Glick said that the damage caused by the flood was worse than the organization had anticipated. Around Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, many homes were completely destroyed, while the water line in others reached the ceiling.

“We are proud to play our part and to help people to return to some sort of normality,” he said. “It was heartbreaking when people told us they had no insurance, for them it was a total loss.”

This is the first time IsraAID has responded to a disaster in the UK. The organization, which usually steps up to assist disaster-torn developing countries, said it is not uncommon for them to assist in the aftermath of a flood on the scale that hit parts of the UK recently. Shachar Zahavi, IsraAID founding director, said the charity has responded to 10 floods and tornado disasters in the US, but what has happened in the UK “looked worse than ever before.”

“We got in touch with Jewish communities around the north of England and they told us about the independent NGOs working on the ground. We contacted them and local councils and arranged to send our team to help,” he explained. “We have another team waiting to be sent from Israel. We just have to assess where they are most needed and the best things we can do to help.”

The group of Israeli volunteers will remain in the UK until the middle of January, but, Glick said, “We are flexible. If we are needed longer, then we’ll stay.”

Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Judith Chapman, said it is “heartwarming” to see volunteers from Israel willing to leave their lives behind to travel the distance and help those affected by the flood. He said, “When we hear about the dreadfully disturbing events taking place worldwide, then this humanitarian act puts everything into perspective and restores one’s faith in mankind.”

Simon Jackson, president of the Leeds Jewish Representative Council, called it “quite amazing” that the humanitarian efforts of IsraelAID stretches all the way to the flood that hit regions of the UK.

“We here in Leeds have done our little bit to support the four Israelis, who without being asked, came to West Yorkshire to help this beleaguered community,” he said.

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