Recently, after a particularly harrowing weekend in Sderot, Rabbi Avi Berman, director of OU Israel, told me, “That’s it; enough! I know we have invested so much in Sderot, we have raised funds, sent teams, and currently work more in Sderot than we do any other city in Israel, but still I can’t have us sitting here in Jerusalem while they are in so much pain. So that’s it, we are all going down to Sderot, in two days.”
Two days? How, I asked myself, could we organize our entire office, and put together an appropriate itinerary, in two days? But when our brothers and sisters are suffering so much, it’s not difficult to clear everyone’s schedule and find the people to meet and the places to visit in Sderot.
Where in the world but Sderot do people go about their business – sending children to the schools, policemen to the streets, sanitation workers to the trucks – all under constant fire of missiles, each of which has the power to take apart an entire floor of a home? And what country but Israel would allow more than 5,700 missiles to be shot into its universally accepted sovereign territory without an intense and definitive response?
It’s a remarkable manifestation of God’s protection that the Kassams most often miss their mark, or that when they hit a home the family is not there.
As you enter Sderot you are confronted by a large sign that reads, “After 5,700 missiles, have we not suffered enough?” Eerily, next to it is another sign, this one pointing to the cemetery whose graves include victims of the Kassam attacks.
We begin our day in Sderot in a bomb shelter and are briefed by Elad Attia and Elyashiv Buchbut, two remarkable young men who are counselors in OU Israel’s youth group, Makom Balev. Elyashiv and Elad are also yeshiva students and members of Magen David Edom, medical volunteers acting as a rapid response team. They spoke about the most recent catastrophe; it started when an 8-year-old boy ventured out of his house to buy a birthday present for his father. When he heard the siren he started running to the concrete fortified shelter, only to be struck by shrapnel from the Kassam, which severed major arteries in his leg. Ultimately, this soccer-playing boy lost most of his right leg.
But each story of tragedy and despair on this day contains within it a silver lining of faith and hope. We learned a little later that Matan Cohen, a boy of 13 who had lost part of his leg in a missile strike last year, went to visit the boy in the hospital to give him encouragement and support.
The heroism of those who continue to live, work, and raise their families in Sderot is incomprehensible. Guy Nagar, director of Makom Balev in Sderot, and his wife choose to live in Sderot and endure the terror as they attempt to foster a community built on chesed and emunah – and belief in acting as Israel’s frontline against its enemies.
Yael Spanglett, who moved here eight years ago, laments the absurdity of living in Israel and not being defended by her government. She calls the place Planet Sderot.
Asked why she doesn’t just leave, she responds with pride: “We are here to stay. We have amazing friends and feel we can’t abandon others who can’t leave. Also, we want to teach our children what it means to fight for your country just by living here and spreading goodness around.”
In the heart of Sderot is one of the biggest hesder yeshivas in Israel – Yeshivat Sderot. The number of students has actually grown during the recent period of intense bombing. This is due to the mission inculcated into each student by the rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Dovid Fendel: Your Torah learning must be joined together with involvement in the community, acts of chesed, kiruv and connection.
We at OU Israel are honored to be working closely with the yeshiva in our kiruv efforts in Sderot – together we provide 18 shiurim every week, enhancing the lives of hundreds of individuals.
Later in the day we met with the principal of Amit high school. The school is only half fortified, which calls for a unique educational method of evacuating and returning as many as seven or eight times a day. The boys accept the reality and attempt to concentrate regardless of the insanity around them.