BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Two representatives of the Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) from Birmingham have returned from a two-day mission to Israel. It’s the organization’s first humanitarian mission to the country since the war began.

“We are now dealing with generational trauma that will take decades to heal,” said Danny Cohn, CEO of the Birmingham Jewish Federation.

The two men who just returned from Israel said what’s seen across media platforms does not portray the extent of the devastation happening in the war.

“Having been in a rocket attack while there with live terrorists running on the ground, I can tell you that I truly could not appreciate anything that I saw,” Cohn said. “Now that I’m back, I’m having a hard time making sense of it with everything that is happening now in the United States.

“I mean, we have a war going on in Israel, antisemitism here is on the rise and the correlation is direct. It’s unnerving to say the least; Not only as a Jewish community professional here in Birmingham but just as an American Jew in general.”

Cohn said life in Israel is at a halt while the war against Hamas is ongoing.

“This economy is shut down. The schools are shut down. The Jewish Federations of North America are the single largest philanthropic arm to Israel right now,” Cohn said. “We’ve raised $1.4 million, it’s part of a $500 million campaign nationally. So we are the money right now that Israelis are living off of.”

People from around Jefferson County came together to hear firsthand about the situation in Israel. They said they’re extremely saddened to hear about what’s happening.

“It’s sadness for the human race that human beings can do that to other human beings,” said Bobbie Goldstein, who came to the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s debriefing Monday night. “This was the first time since I converted 45 years ago that I truly have seen the hatred and the antisemitism since World War II.”

Cohn echoed Goldstein’s concerns.

“I wake up every day and I’m worried. This is tenors of 1939 and the Holocaust happening all over again,” Cohn said. “I believe it is safe here in Alabama to be Jewish, but you just saw what happened in Russia; It’s a dynamic situation and we don’t know what’s going to happen from one day to the next.”

Cohn said the Israeli people are broken and want to share their stories but are putting on a strong face for the world.