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Beneath Barrage Of Missiles, A Glint Of Humor And Hope

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SDEROT, Israel – A small workingclass town lying just a short distance from Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, Sderot is a city filled with residents crying desperately to be heard.


After over six years of the city’s being incessantly shelled by Palestinian terror groups that have enjoyed safe harbor in the Strip located just below, many locals are mired in a state of perpetual daze. Passers-by can count on one hand the number of shoppers in the once-busy downtown marketplace where business owners far outnumber their customers.


The town’s sleepy feel is of course highly deceptive. Within seconds the calm can be shattered by the shrill cry of the warning system repeatedly calling out, “Red Alert, Red Alert,” indicating a Kassam rocket is about to strike. Because of the proximity to Northern Gaza where the terrorists launch the missiles, the warning – if it comes at all – sounds only 15 seconds before the projectile hits its target, just as it has over 1,800 times in 2007 alone, according to Noam Bedein of the Sderot Media Center.


It was into this arena of sorrow, confusion and fear that a delegation of three Hollywood comedians arrived in Israel as part of the Crossroads Comedy Tour 2007. The tour, which benefits the Crossroads Center in Jerusalem for At-Risk Anglo Youth, had played to sold-out crowds in four Israeli cities.


But in Sderot the accomplished performers recognized they faced a far more challenging appearance. Despite the increasing tensions along the Gaza periphery and an Israeli air strike that had killed over a dozen terrorists the day before their visit, the comedians were determined to bring some level of cheer to the residents of the town.


Avi Liberman, a comic who has been featured in clubs all over the U.S., and most recently toured Afghanistan performing in support of the allied troops, founded the Crossroads Tour. He said he thought it was critical to include Sderot in the places that he and his fellow comedians would be visiting.


“The decision to come to Sderot came initially out of frustration that this was an area of Israel where the people within the city were suffering and were not being heard,” said Liberman as he made his way between shops in the downtown Sderot marketplace.


Along with fellow comics John Mulrooney and Mark Schiff, Liberman distributed over $2,000 raised from American Jews to storekeepers and local residents who have been directly affected by the wave of Kassam missiles. Rather than simply dole out the cash, the group favored respecting the pride of the Sderot businesspeople and would make purchases and then refuse to take the change.


The reactions from the residents always reflected intense gratitude that this group of Americans had come so far to remember the plight of their little town.


Schiff, a well-recognized figure on the U.S. comedy circuit who regularly opens for Jerry Seinfeld, relished the chance to induce smiles on the faces of a community that has had little to laugh about in recent years. “This city has completely overwhelmed me with the desperation and pain that you can feel coming from these people,” Schiff said. “I only wish we could do more.”


As part of their stay in the town, the group was taken to the home of a family that had suffered a direct strike from a Kassam missile only days earlier. The kitchen that suffered the brunt of the hit was completely destroyed. Littering the ground were signs of how a happy home had been transformed into a site of terror in just an instant.


A bowl of oranges was covered in a fine layer of soot, while nearby a doll lay sprawled on the floor, her angelic face blackened by the effects of the missile strike.


Mulrooney, a native New Yorker with a booming baritone and infectious laugh, was clearly overcome with emotion as he saw the damage. Shielding his tears behind dark sunglasses, he firmly embraced homeowner Pinchas Amar, whose wife was still recovering in the hospital from shrapnel wounds to her legs, and presented the father of four with a check for $500.


Leaving the Amar home, Mulrooney fought to regain his composure as he moved on to the next house determined to do his little part to make the residents of Sderot smile.


Jeremy Wimpfheimer is a freelance journalist living in Beit Shemesh. He can be reached at dandjw@bezeqint.net

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