Jewish families fear for relatives in Israel caught up in Gaza conflict

Families across the Jewish community in north London have endured a week of fear as relatives in Israel faced a new surge of rocket fire from Gaza.

Tensions between Israel and Gaza have grown since Israeli forces launched a new offensive last week, killing Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari in a bid to end rocket fire from Gaza.

The rise in tensions has triggered a wave of anxiety for members of the Jewish community with family living in Israel.

Judith Elkan, of Coleridge Walk, Hampstead Garden Suburb, is co-founder of UK Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum with friend Chani Smith, a group campaigning for peace between Gaza and Israel.

She said: “I have a great nephew and great niece who are in the Israeli army. I do worry about them, they are actually serving on the frontline.

“I have family in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. If long-range missiles continue to be fired, one of these missiles is going to land in a populous area.”

Former Hampstead schoolgirl Sarah Manuel, 18, flew out to Israel in August to spend a year studying in Jerusalem.

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Since arriving, the teenager from Golders Green has had to go into an emergency bomb shelter on numerous occasions as rocket fire from Gaza intensified.

Jeremy Manuel, 55, Sarah’s father, said: “It’s certainly uncomfortable to know that your daughter is a witness to sirens and has to go into a bomb shelter, because that’s certainly not something she would have experienced here as a student of South Hampstead High School.

“It’s a concern when a child is in a vulnerable situation, where there are rockets being fired by people who want to kill them and the friends they are staying with.”

Despite the escalation of violence, Mr Manuel insists his daughter does not want to leave.

He added: “Sarah is not feeling that she wants to come back. She feels she has an understanding of the real pressure that the population are put under.”

Atira Winchester, 34, of Lewis Gardens, East Finchley, has a mother and sister living in Jerusalem.

She said: “My sister is very heavily pregnant and this is the first time that people in Jerusalem have been forced down into bomb shelters in decades. It’s a very difficult situation to be in.”

Bnei Akiva, an organisation in the Suburb’s Hallswelle Road, sent 45 teenagers out to Jerusalem in August and September for special gap year programmes.

Jonathan Sherman, the group’s national director, said: “In light of the current situation, and with advice from the security authorities, we have implemented certain changes to the programme, and restricted some free time.”