Helping Those Who Are Helping Sderot Endure

Little Yossi did not have the 12 seconds to find shelter when the Kassam hit the play area near his family apartment in Sderot. He was struck in the shoulder, but remains in the hospital and recovering. Some young mothers were with their children on benches today near the play area where twisted metal and broken concrete remain from the attack. Where else can they go?

The Jewish Agency for Israel's Youth Futures program we visited provides trustees -- young women and men -- who work with Yossi's classmates, making cards for him, and many other children, helping them cope with this daily situation (one program member, Osher Twito, was also injured in a missile attack earlier this month -- see this JAFI article). And a resilience center of the Israel Trauma Coalition (a group founded in part by UJC's Israel Emergency Campaign) -- nothing fancy, only the basics, was called into action again today.

It is a reminder that the part we do -- providing the funding, is ever so urgent and important. At the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's Center for Young Adults in Sderot, I met talkative Khatina, who came from Russia without her family on a JAFI program, attends nearby Sapir College and volunteers 10 hours a week to this JDC program. I also met Milano, who emigrated to Israel with her family from Kazakhstan, lives on the fourth floor of an old apartment building with no possible shelter from a rocket attack, and energetically does her National Service by working full-time in this program.

A Kassam rocket directly hit the home of Rafi Peretz and destroyed the upstairs where his newly married son and wife lived. Fortunately they were downstairs singing and welcoming the Shabbat. Rafi said that they went on to finish the brachas and then thank G-d for watching over them. While their house is mostly rubble inside, the Fund for the Victims was immediately on the scene with cash assistance. His son has moved from Sderot, but this is Rafi's home and even though he is now on heavy medication, he says Hamas will not evict him from this part of Eretz Yisrael, where he has lived for 46 years.

Wherever I went, I met young, middle age and older people who choose to stay in this area bordering the Gaza Strip, coping with the daily hardships and giving of themselves in simple but amazing ways. I asked each of them: Who helps you cope each day with this anxiety and uncertainty? None of them had an answer -- they just do it because they have to do it and few if any are coming here to help.

From the tranquility rooms in the schools, to the partly vacated kibbutzim, to the Sderot absorption center for recent immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, to the dilapidated apartment buildings and the nearby college, the differences -- albeit small compared with the needs of this economically depressed area -- made by the UJC/Federation system and its partners, JAFI and JDC, are facts we can be proud of.

Our part is easy -- we raise the funds. Their part is difficult -- they put their lives on the line for all of us. They are the role models -- the everyday people who in their own ways are heroes. With everything I saw today, I am even more inspired and energized by our mission. We can all do more: we really have no option.

Shalom.

- Sam Astrof

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Today, Sam Asroff, the Director of Finance for the UJC, visited the region together with Yossi Rosner and Daniela Mor.

We started the visit at the Neviya Marei Observation Point. From there, one can see and understand how close we are to the border; the places from where Kassams are fired at Israel.

Our next stop was the city of Sderot. At the police station, we saw dozens of Kassams on shelves in the yard. Sam photographed the ones that had landed two days ago in Sderot.

We continued on to the Trauma Center to see what happens to people who are injured mentally, though not physically, from what is happening to us every day.
With Yossi’s kind permission, we drove to visit the Peretz family. Their home had been directly hit about two weeks ago. Mr. Peretz told Sam what happened to them on that Friday night. The hole in the roof is still there and the second floor is totally destroyed. Sam was praised by Rafi Peretz for coming to visit. Sam replied: “Sir, you are the hero who lives here, not me. I have only come to visit. Take care of yourself.”

We continued on to the Gil School where we met with the guidance counselor, the trustees from the Youth Futures program and the children in the group. During the visit, they prepared get-well cards for their friend, Yossi Haimov, who was wounded by a Kassam two days ago. Sam inquired about the children and the program. He asked: since you are taking care of everyone, who is taking care of you. I explained to him that there is a program and I hope that we will be able to raise money for it – Helping the Helpers.

On the way to our next destination, we stopped to see where Yossi had been injured and the difficulty in finding a place to hide if there is a “Color Red”.
Near the location, there is a small grocery store. Sam and Yossi did a good deed and did some of their weekend shopping there. They thus contributed to the effort to help small businesses in Sderot.

We paid a brief visit to the Partnership 2000 offices.

We continued on to the Youth Center project of the Joint which is partly funded by the UJC. The Center provides solutions and answers to young olim. It challenges the youth with various possibilities and provides them with employment assistance.

After we finished our visit to the city of Sderot, we traveled to Kibbutz Nir Am and met with Avi Kadosh, the director of the community, who told us about the difficulties the kibbutz is experiencing in these crazy days.

Sam viewed the map showing 600 missile landings within boundaries of the kibbutz, 60 of them within the heart of the kibbutz.

We completed the visit in the region with a quick look at the Ibim Students Village and I gave Sam a tour of the Village and described the main programs for the young olim living there.

Just after Sam and Yossi left, a barrage of Kassams started raining down on us, claiming the life of 47-year old Ronny Yihye, the father of 4, a student at the Sapir College.

- Baram Ofer (to read about another Feb. 08 Sderot mission Baram took part in, click here)