Arriving in a different country

From there, we continued to Sha’ar HaNegev to meet Mayor Alon Shushter.  The daily barrage of kassam rockets on the 6,000 members of 10 kibbutzim has taken its toll on even the most hardened residents.  Scholarship funds provided by UJC via the IEC have encouraged students studying at Sapir College to remain – despite the difficult security situation.  Mayor Shuster and his wife are parents to two small children.  He shared with us that when he shuts off the light in their bedrooms at night, he often asks himself what he would do if, during an emergency alarm in the middle of the night, he would have only enough time to reach and save one child…  Which would it be?  
                                      
In the Western Negev along Israel’s Gaza border with Sha’ar HaNegev Mayor Alon Shuster

In neighboring Sderot we met with educational psychologists in a center that is being funded by the IEC to provide trauma counseling to residents.  Nitai, Director of the center, shared with us his sense of frustration that there is no end in sight to the crisis.  “If we knew it would take a half a year, a year or more, we’d at least feel some hope”, he said.  One of his twin 18-year-old daughters recently confronted him and asked, “why do we have to suffer so you can remain here to direct this center”?  For the past three years, they have slept in a security room – but many residents don’t have such a safe-room.  Nitai:  “The media and even Arkadi Gaydamak show up at our doorstep when there is blood and then disappear.  All people talk about is who has left and who is about to leave.  Over 1,500 residents have been taken by ambulances to local hospitals to be treated for trauma.  Their lives will never be the same.”   

Bomb shelters clustered next to an elementary school in Sderot.

The walls of the center were decorated with pictures and texts written by Sderot schoolchildren.  One photo is of a woman with no appendages.  The artist, Lital (11 years old) writes:  “This is a drawing of a beautiful woman lying on the ground, unable to move since she has no arms and legs. She reminds me of my beautiful Sderot which is stuck on every level – security, economic and social.” 

Writes 12-year-old Zehavit:  “I drew a picture of a happy clown to symbolize our joy for all the support we’ve received from our friends and to show that in spite of all our pain and suffering, we are still able to smile”… 
                     
Zehavit’s picture of a smiling clown at UJC funded Children’s Center in Sderot

Driving home, I thought of all the people we had met and all the stories we had heard and felt proud to represent the Greater Washington Jewish community which, though separated by thousands of miles, recognizes the need to keep putting smiles on the faces of people living on Israel’s borders.