Fear, terror, trauma, have all become part of routine life in Sderot. It's something that people who don't live here can never understand. You hear on the news that "a Kassam rocket fell in an open area in Sderot, there was no damage," and you say, "Oh, that's ok, no-one was hurt." Well, it's true that no-one was killed, there was no damage to property and no-one suffered any physical harm. But the internal scars are there, and they grow deeper with each Kassam that falls, whether or not the wounds can be seen.
A lot of people have left, moved to safer parts of the country. But I can't leave. Not because I have nowhere to go, but because I'm here for a reason. I moved to Sderot 20 years ago, because I wanted to contribute to society, to help make Israel a better place to live. I chose to follow Ben Gurion's dream and make the desert flourish by investing in its human capital, by working with people. Together with a number of friends, we set up an urban kibbutz in Sderot and we have all dedicated our lives to developing the city and building local grassroots leadership here.
Through my work in the Gvanim Association, I have worked with the municipality and with other non-profits to develop a broad array of services for vulnerable populations, including children and youth at-risk, the disabled, new immigrants in crisis and others. Even before the Kassam rockets began to fall, one third of the population of Sderot were on welfare. I came here with a sense of purpose. Zionism is not an outdated concept to me, it is a way of life.
Over the past seven years, we have found ourselves on the front-line against the Hamas, subjected to relentless, unpredictable Kassam rocket fire. We are fighting for our homes. Not just our own personal homes, but for the entire city of Sderot. All four of my children were born here and for the past year and half, the entire family has slept together in our "protected room." We cannot choose whether or not to stay. We have to hold our ground.
In this reality, the support that the UJC's Israel Emergency Campaign gives to various programs, operated by the Jewish Agency, the JDC, the Ethiopian National Project and the Israel Trauma Coalition, is a ray of light for us. I see it in my professional life and in my personal life.
Without the support of the IEC, we would not be able to run the special trauma-related programs for high-risk children, the disabled, the immigrants from Ethiopia and the Russian Caucuses, all of whom are even more vulnerable in this time of crisis.
Thanks to this funding, we have managed to build a leading team of professionals from the various organizations operating in the city, representing all sectors of society, which meets regularly to coordinate our work to make sure we have the maximum impact and reach all those in need.
It also provides support for us professionals. We must be strong for those who need our support, but we are not immune to fear. This ongoing emergency situation is wearing us down, too. The informal education staff and the community workers sometimes work around the clock to support others. And at the same time, we are torn between our professional responsibility to the populations at risk that count on us and our responsibility to our families, whom we are putting in the line of fire.
The professional training that we receive from IEC helps us to help others, the psychological counseling it provides, helps us go on in our own daily lives.
My 17 1/2 year old twin daughters, Shaked and Nitzan, also receive therapy. They tell me that during their sessions, they don't talk about the Kassam attacks, they talk about their anger at me, for living here. It has helped them see that they can't control the Hamas, but they can deal with their own feelings. And for my part, I console myself that soon they will be in the Israeli army and then, ironically, they'll be out of harm's way.
As for my two youngest, Tal (aged 12) and Allon, the protective, nurturing environment in the Havens of Calm that the IEC has provided in their school has helped them learn how to relax – at least a little. And the brief respite they enjoyed during the summer camp gave them strength to come back and face another year on the battle front.
Yes, we in Sderot are on the front line. But we draw our strength from the knowledge that we are not alone. We have the support of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people all over the world.
Together we will get through this and together we look forward to more peaceful days.
- Nitai Schreiber