In a rural farming community in Israel, there is a small bomb shelter painted with a beautiful motif of chocolate and donated in memory of one of Boston’s most dedicated Jewish communal leaders. Today, the shelter stands empty. Not because peace has come but because the town has lost all of its people, with residents evacuated and scattered across Israel.
The town, Mefalsim, located less than two miles from the border with Gaza, needs shelters like this one because of the rocket fire it has endured for decades from Hamas. Following the Oct. 7 massacre, its 1,000 or so residents have been evacuated to other towns on the other side of the Negev Desert. They don’t know if or when they’ll be able to return home and reunite as a community.
Boston philanthropists Risa and Steve Aronson donated the bomb shelter along with Steve’s sister, Bunny Aronson, and friends and family members in memory of Steve’s mother, Lee Aronson, who died in August 2022 and was the longest-living board member for Jewish National Fund-USA. She was a proud Sapphire-level member of the organization’s Women for Israel division. Risa and Steve felt that a safe, beautiful space for the communities that she worked so tirelessly to support would be a fitting tribute to a woman who lit the path for many in her community.
As part of a mission to Israel in mid-October this year, the Aronsons were scheduled to visit and dedicate the shelter. Unfortunately, after the events of Oct. 7, the trip was canceled. Risa shared their anguish over the experiences that the region has been through, saying, “The Israelis who live there are peace-loving amazing people who work to make the desert bloom. We pray for peace and security for all. We are grateful for all that Jewish National Fund-USA is doing through this horrific time, and we hope to be part of their work in rebuilding soon.”
The Aronsons also see this shelter as a sign of the importance of solidarity. Steve shared, “These attacks on the Israeli people have only reinforced the need for us to support our brethren.” Risa and Steve hope that the town’s population will soon be able to return home and enjoy a new reality where the shelter is no longer needed.
As for the theme of the shelter, Risa and Steve both emphasized that Lee was known for her love of chocolate. Sara Hefez, Jewish National Fund-USA executive director of New England and the Capital Region, added, “We hope that the shelter will serve as a symbol of peace and connection between Boston and the people of Mefalsim. Even scattered, we hope that knowing that their far-off brothers and sisters have their backs brings them some sweetness.”
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