SPECIAL REPORT: GAZA BORDER CRISIS
Israel’s Future Generation Living on the Gaza Border Amid Rockets and Terror Spend Some Time Just Being Kids
By: Rachel Kontorovich
For five months, since March 2018, Israeli communities bordering Gaza have sustained ongoing terrorism and arson from hundreds of rockets and incendiary kites and balloons, causing constant stress and chaos for the 50,000 people who call this region home. Residential and commercial damage along with some 10,000 acres of land, including forests and agricultural plots, have been destroyed.
Just as the worst seemed to be over, last week more than 200 rockets struck the Eshkol and Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Councils, a vast area sharing 37 miles of border with the Gaza Strip, also known as the Gaza Envelope. There was no mistaking that families and children were being targeted, as rockets landed within feet of the new JNF playground in Sderot, an Israeli town located less than a mile from Gaza.
Filled with fear and uncertainty, Jews from around the world sent prayers and thoughts to the families living amidst the terror. For Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF), the escalation of violence was a call to action.
“What can we do for these kids, right now?” asked Russell F. Robinson, Jewish National Fund CEO. In the span of a few hours, JNF took action by declaring a “Yom Kef,” or day of fun, for children in the Gaza Envelope communities.
Except that wasn’t enough. JNF decided to turn one day of fun into two weeks, providing a much-needed respite for these kids, a chance just have fun, as all children should during their summer vacation.
Jewish National Fund certainly had its work cut out. Mobilizing its vast network of partners across Israel, over 1,000 children and parents from the Gaza Envelope were bused to Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem to kick-off the weeks’ events. A renowned historical site and JNF partner, the site boasts sprawling green lawns and a built-in recreational campus. It was the perfect venue to hear the sounds of laughter and excitement.
“This summer has been especially challenging,” explained Einat Eliyashir, a mother of three from Moshav Yesha, “To go out from the Gaza Envelope, suddenly these concerns fade away. It warms our hearts to know that there are so many JNF supporters who are thinking about us and helping us to have such an incredible day of fun for the whole family. I don’t have enough words to explain how much this means to us.”
For Eliyashir’s 11-year-old daughter, Meitar, this break made all the difference in the world. “This summer has been a little scary. This is our summer vacation, and if I want to go outside to play, I always have to be close to the bomb shelters. It is so important to all of us to be able to get out and have fun during our summer break, and it is amazing that there are people who care about us to give us this opportunity, and understand our situation. It is so much fun to be able to come to a safe place and enjoy ourselves for a day.”
And indeed they did enjoy. The energy and laughter that has filled the historic JNF site is infectious, bringing a sense of community and belonging for the kids, families, and volunteers who have come out to celebrate life. Clowns, balloons, climbing walls and obstacle courses, zip lines, live music, food and drink, games, and many activities filled the day. Additionally, children were offered a VIP tour through the site by IDF veteran soldiers who fought in the Ammunition Hill battle during the Six-Day War.
With their faces covered in decorative face paint, showing each other their balloon animals, the smiles of these children quickly vanquished all sense of fear and unrest. “It’s fun to come out to a place like this,” said Shay Sagiv, one of the girls from Kibbutz Sufa, “I’ve known about donors supporting us in the past, but not like this. It’s just such a gift to us to have a day like today.”
Gal Beinart, a mom from Moshav Sde Nitzan remarked, “I have four boys between five and fourteen, and moved to the region 12 years ago—it is a very communal life and we love it.” “The only thing is that life can be stressful but we are so lucky to be out here on this beautiful day with our boys and participating in all the activities and sports,” she added.
Gail’s 12-year old son Roi said, “Our summer has been fun but there are a lot of alarms and bombs that have made it very difficult. We appreciate being able to come out to places like this to just have fun. This feels normal, and it’s awesome.”
Maayan Nochomovitz, a mother from Moshav Ein Hasof commented, “I’m originally from Amit, in Sinai, so I know this situation from growing up. Now, unfortunately, it’s come back and it is not nice for the kids to hear the rockets all the time and to run for the shelters. The kids always ask if they are able to go outside or what to do in an emergency, and it’s not an easy situation at all.”
Amid the stories of what what the families endured back home, it was good to see so many smiles on children's’ faces and it didn’t go unnoticed by the Jewish National Fund executives and staff managing the event. “This right here is the spirit of the Jewish people, of the Jewish Nation,” explained Eric Michaelson, JNF Chief Israel Officer, as he looked across the field packed with children, “In good times and bad, we are there to stand with and support them.”