By Erin Garry
For the Mitzpeh
IsraAID Co-CEO Yotam Polizer spoke to students about how disaster creates opportunity at an event co-sponsored by the Israeli Embassy at Hillel on Monday.
IsraAID is a non-profit, non-governmental organization headquartered at Tel Aviv University that focuses on providing not only physical support, but also psychological, social and emotional support to victims of disaster all around the world. Founded in 2001, IsraAID also works to provide long-term support to these areas.
Polizer emphasized how IsraAID’s response to disasters is building bridges between the Jewish community and communities around the world. He shared a story in which he and his team saved a two-year-old Syrian refugee off a boat in Lesbos, Greece.
“For 30 minutes, her father stood there in shock,” Polizer said, “But when he finally opened his mouth he said, ‘My worst enemy just became my biggest supporter.’”
Polizer has been Co-CEO for the past eight months, but has been involved for many years, starting as IsraAID’s country director for Japan. He has been a first responder to disasters all around the globe, including the 2011 tsunami and earthquake in Japan, the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, and the 2015 Nepal earthquake.
“My dream was to have a private jet, but I don’t have enough money so I keep going to places that people are running from,” he joked.
IsraAID has had a large presence in North America the past few months, as crews were sent to and are still aiding areas such as Puerto Rico, Mexico, Houston, and Florida in response to recent hurricanes. Just two weeks ago, Polizer was in Napa helping those affected by wildfires.
“It’s really overwhelming and the question always is where do we start?” said Polizer, “You look for the survivor. That is the very first step.”
In addition to Polizer, two students at this university spoke about the IsraAID summer fellowship program and encouraged others to get involved. Both senior government and politics major Jake Shapiro and junior government and politics and economics major Moshe Klein were especially amazed by the impact of the art-theater therapy they saw on their fellowships.
Klein, who spent his time in the Philippines, recalled how the art therapist was able to tell a young girl was being abused based on a picture she drew when she was asked to depict “home.” She drew a house with no windows in the corner of the paper with herself in the middle of the page, indicating that she was kept outside the house.
“I never thought you could get something like that so simply from a picture,” Klein said.
In Nepal, Shapiro had a similar experience in theater therapy in which in IsraAID group worked to start conversations about domestic abuse and taught the community how to respond and take action.
“A man in the play put his hand up to abuse his wife and a man in the community would step in to stop it,” said Shapiro. “ [Work like this is] what makes me most proud about being Israeli and being Jewish.”
Sophomore business major Micaela Franks said, “I’m really interested in non-profits. I was expecting them to talk about the fellowship more, but I liked hearing stories about how they have helped people around the world.”
Polizer touched on the growing recognition IsraAID is beginning to receive in the media, especially due to a recent New York Times article. Public figures around the world such as Prince William of England and Pope Francis have shown their support by attending IsraAID events. As promised due to IsraAID’s work, First Lady of Sierra Leone Sia Koroma visited Israel right after Ebola was cured.
IsraAID is opening applications for its second summer of fellowships in early December. Fellowships are fully funded and go to people of various backgrounds.
To learn how to get involved, visit http://www.israaid.co.il/.