Jewish Agency chairman, Zeev Bielski (left)at the Noar Ha’oved Ve’halomed summer camp at the Afek Park near Rosh Ha’ayin in the center of Israel where 700 Jewish, Druze and Arab kids from the north are participating. (Photo: Meir Partush/Jewish Agency)It may not have been business as usual, but Israelis in the north of the country – whether in the workplace, at home, or at universities – have displayed enormous fortitude, ingenuity and resolve since the outbreak of war.
A well-known saying characterizing Israel’s three major cities goes that ‘Tel Aviv dances, Jerusalem prays, and Haifa goes to work.’ Despite the events of the past week, the residents of northern Israel and the companies who employ them – particularly in the world of high tech – have lived up to the work ethic they are known for. They may have changed the location or the manner in which they work, but they haven’t stopped working.
When Hizbullah rockets began to fall on Haifa, the staff of 2,400 at Intel’s Haifa research and development facility – where the Centrino chip and other innovations were born – went underground. Their basement workplace had wireless connections to the Internet. In addition, non-essential personnel have been permitted to work from home.
“Those working from home have connections and laptops with wireless, so there is no problem with connectivity,” Kobi Bachar, a spokesman for Intel Israel, told Reuters. “Work is still going on, and we don’t see any impact on output.”
Intel employs a total of 5,000 workers in Israel, including its major chip manufacturing facility in the town of Kiryat Gat with annual exports of between $1 billion and $2 billion. It is now building a second $4 billion chip plant, slated to open in 2008. But the brains of its operation is in Haifa, where other global giants like IBM, Microsoft and Phillips also have R&D facilities. Like Intel, these companies say that they are continuing to remain productive, while taking their employees’ safety into consideration and allowing those who could – and wanted to – to work from home.
Companies bent over backwards to assure customers and partners abroad that they were still open for business. The high tech marketing and management company Trendlines, located in the northern settlement of Shorashim, sent an email to its partners abroad:
“We at Trendlines have some basic rules about how we conduct business. Rule #1: Don’t share non-work-related problems with our clients and associates. Rule #2: Don’t allow those problems to get in the way of providing the service that our clients have come to expect. We are about to break the first rule.”
The company then reassured them that “the Trendlines office is an island of (relative) tranquility. We are open for business. Despite the occasional interruption, we are working, making every effort to meet our deadlines. If you have hesitated to call us because you thought we closed our doors for the duration, please know that we’re here and would be happy to discuss your marketing and business development needs.”
As their country has come under attack by Hizbullah, residents of Israeli cities and towns that were unfamiliar with life in a war footing, have shown remarkable stamina – sometimes surprising even themselves.
“What amazes me is that I’ve totally gotten used to the situation,” said Carmia Cohen, a 24-year-old English teacher who lives in Haifa. “It’s gotten completely normal for me, I don’t go to work, I don’t go outside except for quick grocery trips, but I live my life – and when I hear a noise I go to the shelter.”
She reported that most of her friends have stayed in Haifa. “All of us are online – when there is a siren and missiles fall, we all check via Instant Messenger whether everyone is OK. And through the Internet, we are also connected to the whole world, to friends overseas,” she told ISRAEL21c.
She and a group of young people from Haifa, including her two brothers and several friends, have been sharing their experiences with to the world, though the group blog Kishkushim that they began in March.
The northern residents who preferred to leave the northern region as the conflict continued had no shortage of places to turn. Friends, relatives and strangers living in the center and the south of the country to northern residents who needed to get away from the conflict, and offered moral and material support to those who stayed there. The daily newspapers have been filled with telephone numbers of various municipalities where residents are offering to serve as hosts.
Special summer camps were opened by the Jewish Agency and various other organizations, and backed by corporate contributions.
The Jewish Agency’s ‘Moving our Children to Safety’ campaign relocated children from hard-hit northern communities to summer camp programs at Youth Aliyah Villages in the central of the country. During the sleep-away camp, children will participate in an array of recreational activities including swimming, hiking, sports, arts and crafts and field trips.
Children who came individually to stay with family members in the center of the country were offered free or discounted fees at municipal summer camps, and free entrance to attractions – amusement parks and water parks.
To keep the children who stayed north with their families entertained, a continuing stream of actors, singers and other celebrities made the rounds and visited bomb shelters and bunkers. Children’s television stations, which normally broadcast only during the day, kept cartoons on all night to help little one remain distracted when awakened by a late-night siren.
On other channels, programming resembled an ongoing telethon, as broadcasters allowed residents call in for advice and information, people from around the country offered and pledged help, punctuated by news updates.
Corporations pitched in to offer their help, donating everything from free groceries to free Internet access to those in the shelters.
Academia also stepped in to do their part to help those in the north keep up with their studies. Researchers at the University of Haifa, have found ways to continue their work despite the closure of campus. The Institute of Evolution is hosting a scientist from Kiev, Dr. Surgai Simotnik, who arrived in Haifa to work on research jointly with the Institute and with the Israeli Academy of Science. Simotnik flatly refused to leave Haifa and insisted on continuing his research.
From an original group of 250 students from overseas that arrived at the University of Haifa last week, only 70 have left the country, with the majority choosing to continue their studies despite the situation in Israel.
“The students are solid in their resolve to stay and this warms our hearts” said the director of the Overseas Summer School, Professor Hanan Alexander. Alexander and 140 students are temporary guests of The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
“My parents trust the administration and know that no harm will come to me” said Adam Turnhiem, 21, from Boston. Adam, a graduate of Brandeis, arrived at the University of Haifa in order to participate in the summer Ulpan (intensive Hebrew-language-study program).
“I feel very safe and thankful for the devoted care of the University of Haifa team that is accompanying the Ulpan and takes care of our every need, I am looking forward to returning to Haifa and continuing my studies as planned” said Turnheim.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev President Prof. Rivka Carmi personally phoned the presidents of universities and colleges in the north to offer assistance while their campuses are closed because of the threat of Katyusha missile attacks on the northern border. In the middle of the end-of-semester exam period, she offered the use of the university’s facilities -including the library, computation center and study rooms – to ensure the smooth completion of exams.
“During this difficult time – especially for the residents of the North – we are here to offer our support and help in any way that we can,” said Carmi.
In cooperation with the municipality of Beersheva, the university opened its sports center to the residents of the North who are currently staying in the city. This is in addition to an existing program for families from the Negev community of Sderot, who are currently staying in Beersheva to escape the barrage of Kassam missiles that have been falling in their vicinity.
Some northern residents didn?t have to go south to get a workout. The luckiest residents of the Haifa area were those in a neighborhood of Kiryat Haim, where one of the locations designated a municipal shelter had been turned into a gym during peacetime – the air conditioned basement outfitted with the latest exercise equipment and television sets. The owner of the space, Ya’acov Hilo, decided not to shut down the gym when it was used as a shelter, but let his regular clients keep working out and letting any neighborhood residents seeking shelter slim down as they stayed safe by running on the treadmill or lifting weights as the sirens wailed.
Around the workout machines, mattresses, pillows and chairs were available for those who decided to spend the time in a more relaxed fashion.
Those who live in the north have felt the tremendous support of the entire country. Erika Galili, who lives in Rosh Pina with her husband and two children debated as to where they should be during the tense times.
“It is unbelievable what everyone is doing and what has been organized for us and everyone’s heart is huge. I feel completely supported,” she told ISRAEL21c, admitting ambivalence about accepting the family hospitality that was offered to her children.
“I really wanted to keep them home with me – our house has a shelter built to the highest standards. But in the end, I decided that they shouldn’t be bored and they should live as normal a life as possible, so I sent them to the center of the country to stay with their cousins and go to summer camp.”
She returned north to the web design business she runs with her husband.
“People are still coming to our studio: we are still open for business. We are lucky in the sense that it is easier to keep a computer-related business going in this climate. We have lots of work and long-term projects. The only problem is being able to concentrate with all that is happening around us.”