October 2, 2002 at 5:29 PM EST - Updated July 12 at 4:27 AM
CLEVELAND (AP) - Cleveland's Jewish community is stepping up relief efforts to Israel.
Organizers of Israel Now and Forever -- Cleveland's aid-to-Israel campaign -- have upped their fund-raising goal by 75 percent, from $6 million to $10.5 million.
The money will be used to aid terrorism victims with medical and counseling services, said Joel Fox, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, the main coordinating agency for the region's Jewish organizations.
The Israel Now campaign already has collected $7.2 million, and Louis Malcmacher, a volunteer for JCF, believes the group will have no problem collecting the rest.
Although other cities have raised more money, national Jewish leaders credit Cleveland with leading the way.
"Cleveland ran the most successful campaign, and they finished as others were just organizing," said Stephen Hoffman, president of the United Jewish Communities, the national umbrella organization of Jewish federations. "In this particular period, the singular contribution of Cleveland nationally has been leadership."
The approximately 85,000 Jews in greater Cleveland have supported Israel since the nation's founding in 1948. But it wasn't until 2000, when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat declared an uprising against the Jewish state, that Israel Now was formed.
"Our efforts on behalf of Israel are not new," said Amy Morgenstern, who helped organize Israel Now. "The nature, depth and magnitude of those efforts have increased dramatically."
JCF spokesman Michael Bennett said the Jewish community in the Cleveland area stands out because of its exceptional group of volunteers, from CEOs to homemakers.
"We're raising generations in Cleveland to have a strong identity as Jews," Bennett said.
This year, the JCF also has raised $29 million in its Campaign for Jewish Needs. That's more money per capita than any other Jewish community in America.
In nearby Summit County, members of the Jewish community and the American Red Cross are donating an ambulance to Kiryat Ekron, Akron's sister city in Israel.
Besides fund-raising, the Cleveland-area Jewish community supports Israel by booking families on "solidarity missions" to the homeland.
On Oct. 20, about 200 people will fly to Israel for a seven-day tour of the country. Another 25 Jews from Pepper Pike will travel to Auschwitz to donate torah scrolls to a Jewish cultural center, then will meet up with the Cleveland mission.
Leaders hope to boost the spirits of the Israeli people and link Cleveland Jews to their cultural roots.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)