Jordan, who had been a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), came to the United States in 1979 and became a general contractor, watched in horror as the Second Lebanon War took its toll on his birthplace. His mother (a Holocaust survivor) and his sister (a cancer survivor) were still living in Nahariya when Katyusha rockets launched by Hezbollah terrorists struck. Along with 90 percent of the city’s population, they were forced to flee, because the bomb shelters were inadequate to sustain them for more than a few hours.
When the siren sounds, people have a limited time to head for shelters. In 2006 the residents of Nahariya were under siege for 34 days.
“Most people in Israel live in apartments built before 1990 and share a communal bomb shelter in times of war,” Jordan explained. “During the war with Iraq, the building code changed to provide for a safety room in the bomb shelters, but the older ones have no ventilation, no bathrooms and no food. Many of the shelters are in disrepair, but the government won’t fix them, and people can’t afford to fix them.”
While Israel has spent a great deal of time and money on defense systems, its enemies now have greater firepower. While people in border cities and towns have been the primary targets of rocket and missile fire, sophisticated weapons can now reach as far as Tel Aviv. People all over the country are in danger.
“There’s an element of denial,” Jordan said. “People don’t want to think about shelters, but the Middle East is like a barrel of gunpowder waiting for a spark to ignite it. It’s not a question of if the war is coming. It’s when.”
Jordan decided to do something about it. With his knowledge of the Hebrew language and culture and his background in construction, he knew he was uniquely qualified to work with Israeli subcontractors to renovate shelters. “I knew I needed to find a way to bypass the bureaucracy and red tape and go to the homeowners’ associations to get the shelters fixed,” he said.
In 2004 Jordan created Tikvat Am Yisrael, Inc., a nonprofit corporation to renovate bomb shelters. In 2007 the organization, whose name means “hope for the people of Israel,” renovated its first shelter. As of this writing, Tikvat Am Yisrael has completed its twelfth shelter. Eleven of them are in Nahariya. The twelfth is in Tzfat.
“The building was sealed for 20 years,” Jordan recalled. “We had to carve out an opening. It looked like a dungeon, like a concrete tomb. Now it’s the best shelter in Tzfat. Chinese Christians paid for it.”
Acting as a conduit, Tikvah Am Yisrael is trying to raise needed funds to renovate bomb shelters, select bomb shelters most in need of repair, hire Israeli subcontractors and involve Israeli residents in the work, minimize expenses by dealing directly with building representatives and material suppliers and maximizing efficiency of funds by personally monitoring each project. In order to do that, the organization is attempting to create awareness of the need by reaching out to synagogues, other Jewish organizations and individuals.
According to Jordan, Tikvat Am Yisrael hopes to raise $2 million to complete the renovation of 100 bomb shelters by the fourth quarter of 2011. He runs the organization along with his wife, Cindy, and Patricia Clark Camacho, Erich Meltvedt, Jerry Sands and Rick Mueller.
The average cost of a shelter renovation is $20,000, including plumbing for a new bathroom, electrical work, reinforced steel doors, air conditioning and ventilation, custom fold-down beds and mattresses, plastering and painting, tile flooring, a generator and emergency food and medical supplies. People can stay in these shelters for 30 days if necessary.
“It’s a real mitzvah, because ‘he who saves one soul, it is as if he saved the whole world,’” Jordan said. “If a congregation or family adopts a shelter, we can protect 40 to 70 people from physical and emotional damage in a coming attack.”
He added, “Donors can see an immediate end result or tachlis, as they say in Yiddish. I’m a very practical person, who believes that rather than sinking into depression or frustration, there is a way to find a practical solution to a tremendous humanitarian need.”
In the process of transferring funds and hiring the appropriate people to make things happen, Jordan is intent on providing complete accountability to donors by means of photographs, videos, interviews with residents and progress reports. “People will be able to see where every penny goes and know exactly how they are making an impact on the lives of the 40 to 70 people who will be using the shelter being built,” he said.
Jordan believes that there is subtle pressure on Israelis all the time, especially with the outcomes of civil strife in neighboring countries not being known. Many people who have been impacted by rocket attacks have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorders.
“Now at least they will have the mental relief to know that there are shelters,” Jordan concluded.
For more information on Tikvat Am Yisrael, contact Rony Jordan at (949) 612-7326, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. To make a tax-deductible donation, make checks payable to Tikvat Am Yisrael, Inc., P.O. Box 1228, Costa Mesa, California 92628.