How did you spend your Sunday? Most parents in Israel dropped their children off at school and then went to work. Parents outside of Israel likely spent the day with their children doing recreational activities, shopping, and visiting family.
I spent Sunday in Sderot, Israel and got a small taste of how the residents of this city live every day of their lives – in fear.
A group of friends and neighbors in Bet Shemesh planned a solidarity visit to Sderot after we heard that residents were feeling isolated and abandoned in light of the rocket attacks that escalated in recent weeks. We decided to continue with those plans despite the fact that our contacts in Sderot warned that it had become a “war zone” in the 24 hours leading up to our trip. We wanted to be there to support our brothers and sisters specifically in their greatest time of need.
As we made the 45 minute drive from Bet Shemesh to Sderot we received word that a few rockets had hit that morning and at least three people were injured. We continued on our way feeling an even greater need to show our solidarity.
And, when we arrived, it was truly a war zone.
We arrived in Kfar Aza and met with Adva Klein. That morning Adva was walking when the red alert siren went off but she could not find shelter in time. The rocket hit nearby and she was spared injury from the rocket and its shrapnel. But, gunpowder flew into her eyes from the explosion. She met with us right after coming from the doctor who gave her eye drops to treat the stinging and burning from the powder.
Adva began telling us about how difficult life had become in Kfar Aza when, all of a sudden, we heard a loud boom, then a whistling sound, and then the red alert. There was no time to run for a shelter. We all dropped to the ground near cars which were parked all around us and covered our heads. Then we heard the boom from that rocket.
Thank God, we were all okay – physically. But those few seconds colored the rest of our day in that region. Emotionally, we were thrust into the mode in which all of the one million residents within striking range from Gaza live daily – on edge, scared, always on the lookout for the nearest shelter, and reacting with fear to every little noise which resembles a siren, a whistle, or an explosion.
We them met with Shosh Segev. She runs a private art center for children. Her center was empty because children were not allowed to leave home. This meant a day’s income lost. We then entered Sderot which felt like a ghost town. We met the owner of the largest supermarket. His store was empty – a day’s income lost, and since suppliers would not drive to the city to provide him with fresh food for the next day this meant a likely second day’s income lost.
The supermarket owner also told us about the rocket which hit his synagogue while he and his family were inside. A man walking past the store told us that he has shrapnel throughout his body from a rocket which landed right outside his home a few years ago. Everywhere we turned we saw victims.
We also visited the famous Sderot police station where they have remnants of thousands of fallen rockets and missiles on display. While we were looking at these projectiles which were fired randomly into civilian areas by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups, we heard a sound which made us all flinch. It was just the radio from a passing police officer. No need to run for shelter.
Our final stop was the yeshiva. We were on the roof of this beautiful building, admiring their Chanukah menorah made from rockets which hit the city, when we started hearing boom after boom. We ran into the yeshiva building which is built of heavy, reinforced concrete, providing shelter from attacks. Were those IDF tanks firing back? Were they missiles which were not picked up by the red alert system? We don’t know. But, this is what it is like in a war zone.
There are some tangible things which all of us can do to help our brothers and sisters who are living through this nightmare. For example, Adva Klein was injured because the shelters are not located in the right place and she had no place to run when the rocket landed 200 meters away. She is trying to raise $5,000 for a crane to move the shelters to more effective locations. Readers can contact her on Facebook and donate to her campaign. Shosh Segev’s art center is filled with the most beautiful artwork. Click here to go to her website and support her business. Josh Hasten, our hero tour guide who said he would drive to Sderot to show even one person what is like to live there, has provided this list of dedication opportunities on his Facebook page. Click here to see some of those opportunities.
However, all of this assistance is not the ultimate solution which residents of Sderot, Kfar Aza, and the other one million residents under fire seek. Alon Shuster, the head of the Shaar Hanegev regional council (Sderot and Kfar Aza are part of this region) came to greet us during our visit.
He explained that the residents of the region combat the terrorist attacks by continuing to live their daily lives as close to routine as possible and not to let dark days like the day of our visit get them down. He said that they remind themselves where we have come as a country in less than 70 years and they live with the same pioneering spirit which led to the establishment of our state.
Then he said the words which impacted me greatly. “We cannot go and protest and demand that our leaders do something about the situation. If we do that, it will show weakness and this will embolden our enemies. We need you, our brothers who don’t live here, to do that for us. We are waiting for that to happen.”
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets last year to protest the cost of living and housing, and tens of thousands protested inequality in national service this past summer. I believe we must show that same passion and rally on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the South. How can we carry on in our daily routines while they live in constant fear and under constant attacks? We must demand that our leaders take action to provide the most basic governmental function for its citizens – security.
This is not about left wing or right wing. The Torah commands us not to stand idly by while our “brother” bleeds to death. Our Sages teach us that “all Jews are responsible for one another.” And basic human decency dictates that people should not have to live in constant, ongoing fear.
It is time to stop the terrorists. Anything less is a colossal failure in leadership.