|JNF CEO Russell Robinson with a Sderot resident whose car is riddled with holes. |As I'm packing to go to Israel to meet with five different Jewish National Fund-USA missions consisting of over 200 participants, my phone's tzevah-adom (red alert) app suddenly starts blaring "Red Alert! Red Alert!" Immediately, I check to see if it's one missile or more. It's more. I watch as one missile after another is launched from Gaza into the Israeli communities surrounding the border. Our Israeli friends who live in the GazaEnvelope describe life there as 99 percent heaven and 1 percent hell. The 1 percent hell was beginning again, as it has from the day Israel withdrew from 100 percent of the territory in Gaza. It's Friday evening in Israel. For everyone else in the world observing Shabbat, this Friday evening is filled with people lighting candles and covering their eyes, celebrating the end of the week and the beginning of a new Shabbat -- a time of peace, rest, and rejuvenation. In the Diaspora, you raise your glasses, sing the Kiddush over the wine and do the prayer over your children for their health and safety. These are the prayers that link their existence to our Jewish family. Yet today, those are not the sounds of hope and prayer the people living in the Gaza Envelope got to hear. They heard "Red Alert! Red Alert! Red Alert!" as they ran to bomb shelters trying to save their lives. I arrived in Israel on Sunday and immediately headed down south to be with the people of the Gaza Envelope -- people Jewish National Fund-USA has stood with yesterday and today -- and will stick with tomorrow and forever. When I arrived in Sderot, I met with the mayor in the special security room where he goes to watch over his citizens during a crisis and make sure that even if somebody calls and needs something as minor as help closing a window in their home, he can find someone to assist.
In Sderot, as we walked through the neighborhood, we visited one of the homes hit by a Kassam rocket from Gaza. A family of six showed me their safe room, which barely had enough room for three people, let alone six. I saw windows blown out and their 16-year-old son covered in glass. Bullet-like holes riddled the walls of their home. The car parked in front of their home was destroyed.
We stand by you
While our families in the US will never go through the devastation these brave families living in the Gaza Envelope are going through, I came to Sderot to give them strength, to convey the good wishes of hundreds of thousands of Jewish National Fund-USA supporters and to tell them we will continue to support them. I came to Sderot to tell our Israeli brethren that while we have always stood by them, we have received much more from them than they ever will receive from us.
Yes, we built the Sderot trauma centers and the world famous indoor Sderot playground that allows young children a place to play in security. And although we will continue to build beautiful parks and new housing sites for the residents of Sderot, one thing we cannot give them is the courage and strength that is embedded in the soul of each and every person living in the city. After the dust settles, the residents of Sderot will not dwell on the past but will start to clean up and move forward as they have always done. As I walked down one of the streets in Sderot to visit a local man and his home which was just hit by a Kassam, there were four new housing sites in the housing development area in which Jewish National Fund-USA had helped fund. The new housing sites would soon be the new homes for new families that were moving to Sderot to stay, not to run. As I walk down the street, I meet other people who are talking about other new neighbors who are moving to the city. I don’t hear anyone talking about the crisis. People in Sderot would rather talk about life and living.
So, what are the people of Sderot asking for? Of course, being with them in Sderot and showing support is important, however, you always want to know if there is a special project or if there is something else that we could be doing for them. When I visited Sderot's state-of-the-art bomb-proof children’s playground and music room built by Jewish National Fund-USA and named in honor of the late C. Hugh Friedman, a man came and put his arm around me and said, "For us, this is the biggest blue box in the world." He told me about the hundreds of children and families who come to the music room to learn the basics of music and how they have so much fun, despite the stresses of living in Sderot. Given the success of our music room, the town is now planning to create a music consortium. I know the budget is coming together for this project, however, I looked into the gentleman's eyes and I told him Jewish National Fund-USA will raise the money needed to build this important project for the children of Sderot. We're also going to continue to raise money to support the indoor playground, to support the local trauma centers, and we are going to be doing all of this because the people of Sderot give us strength.
|Photo: Alicia Yaffe|
A child plays at the Sderot bomb-proof indoor playground. Residents of
the town have learned to move forward despite the challenges they face.
After my visit to Sderot, I went straight down to the Eshkol region that's literally on the border with Gaza. There, I went to the brand new high school, elementary school, and kindergarten. It was built in a new complex and is one of the most magnificent places I have ever seen. I saw the children singing and the teachers and support staff talking not about fear, but about life!
Breaking new ground During my visit, we broke ground on a special Eshkol children's kindergarten indoor science center that will include a music school. The facility will also have an after-school program and a senior program that will offer multi-use after-school programming right next to the school we just created. We also held a small special dedication ceremony for Betsy Fischer, the chairperson of our Gaza Envelope task force. She didn't know that just a month earlier, her husband, Peter, called me and said he wanted to give a special gift to his wife, who is so dedicated to the residents of the Gaza Envelope and the people of Israel. He wanted to have the kindergarten playground named after her. Through Peter's generosity, we stood there looking over Gaza and unveiled a plaque dedicating the new playground to her. This playground is also dedicated to the thousands of Jewish National Fund-USA supporters who stand with the residents of the Eshkol region.
While the terrorists in Gaza fear the IDF, the greatest fear they have is that Israelis, especially in the Gaza Envelope, are continuing to live life, and that their resilience is giving strength to the Jewish people around the world.