While last Friday, June 19th was my birthday, tomorrow, June 26th is the fourth anniversary of my “rebirth.” A pulmonary embolism almost felled me one frightening day, and that day was followed by months of treatment, healing, and – finally — renewal of strength and confidence.
I am so grateful to my wife, Carol, and all the kids for making one of my most dreaded days on the calendar enjoyable. It actually feels like a real day for celebration. While some may say I had a bout with death, I feel like it was my bout with life. Going through an experience that brought me close to death gave new meaning to what had once seemed like a cliché: “You only live once.” Over the past four years, I have grown to realize that I will only die once, and I am living each day of my life to its fullest.
Along with my desire to fully live my life has come a greater commitment to others who are not able to live life to its fullest. So as I celebrate another year of life after illness, I ask my readers to join me in a communal challenge – one that will help a group of children live their own lives to the fullest this summer.
But this challenge has roots not only in my own health crisis, but in last year’s Gaza military operation. So bear with me as I take you back to last summer.
Wartime in Sderot
I first became actively involved in Sderot last summer during “Tzuk Eitan” or “Operation Protective Edge.” Toward the end of June, I began traveling with friends to visit the soldiers that were being mobilized down in the area before the ground attack in Gaza. Like so many others, we found ourselves bringing goods for the soldiers as well as for others living in the area.
While I could share literally hundreds of stories of the many special people we met during roughly nine eye-opening, tragic, and yet inspiring weeks of visits to Sderot (from one to several times per week), we developed a close affinity with a particular segment of the population in Sderot. A large number of its residents live below the designated poverty line (which in itself is a separate issue for discussion). These residents had to contend with not only the tragedy of the “rockets” coming in from Gaza, but the daily burdens of hunger and deprivation.
When we visited with soldiers in the area, we increasingly made visits to the homes of many city residents. This practice had begun after we noticed how bare the city seemed during our initial visits. We learned that the deserted streets were due to residents’ fear of leaving their apartments. So many times we met with families in their “safe” room, if they had one, as they waited in fear of when the next rocket would be launched.
As for the children of Sderot, attempts were made to operate summer camps for them, but the children wouldn’t go due their parents’ fear of a rocket being launched in their path.
Once the military operation ended and our boys returned home, I felt that we couldn’t just abandon the residents of Sderot. They were not an abstract concern, but real individuals whose lives truly mattered.
At the beginning of September 2014, I assisted in bringing 30 southern Israeli business owners to the NY/NJ area, and we held eight merchant shows for them to sell their goods and help recoup some of their losses. While I was in the area, someone asked me what my next project would be since the war was over and business should be returning to normal. It dawned on me that, for the people in the South of Israel – particularly Sderot, relief from the barrage of rockets only meant returning to a “normal” that included the struggle to put food on the table.
So the next project came to be. I decided then and there that I would continue to go to Sderot every week and help out with putting that food on the table. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep this promise to myself. Every Friday I go down to Sderot, either solo or with whatever friends or guests want to join. Before the visit, I got to four or five stores – a few of the local “makolot”, bakery, fruit store, candy store, takeout – and buy food for between 5 and 10 households. (Older single people prefer takeout, while families get bags of groceries.) Once we arrive, Rav Pizem of Chabad Sderot accompanies us as we go out and deliver the food. Having been there about 28 years, this kind man understands the needs of Sderot’s neediest citizens.
Unlike the Tomchei Shabbos programs in most parts of the world, we are not an anonymous delivery program. We actually meet with the recipients, talk with them, and find out about their week and, more importantly, their needs. There are roughly 300 families on the distribution list and more that are in need. Each week we reach 5 -10 of these families. We are looking at ways of expanding out outreach – hopefully after the chagim this year.
The Next Challenge
Last summer, the children of Sderot stayed home – because the rockets were coming in. This summer, many of the children of Sderot will stay home – because the money isn’t coming in.
There are at least 150 kids I know of in Sderot – perhaps more – who want to attend summer camps, but can’t afford to. Their families struggle to even put food on the table. Again, for many of us, these families and children are not an abstract concern but people we know.
Ten days ago when I was in Sderot, I asked a family we were visiting what the kids were doing during the summer. Their reply: “What else can they do? They’ll be at home.” When I asked the next family the same question, I received the same response.
I asked Ray Pizem what the minimum requirement would be to do something with these children. We did some quick checking, ran some numbers, and came up with the following plan:
- We will run a children’s camp from July 1 – 23 (right before Tisha B’Av).
- Approximately 150 children will be served at no cost to the family. (Additional self-pay children may be served.
- Actual costs should run approximately 1000 NIS or $275 per child.
- Children will be provided with a daily hot lunch, swimming, other recreational activities, and trips both in the South and other parts of Israel. (An added benefit of the camp will be some respite for the parents.)
- Children grades 3 – 5 will first be served. If additional funding becomes available, we will operate an additional mini travel camp for grades 6 – 8, to include two trips per week plus an additional day of fun within the city for a three-week period.
- The camp will be coordinated through the Chabad Center in Sderot.
My challenge to each of my readers: What can you do to help make this plan a reality? If you are able to contribute in any way to this effort, please contact me to make your tax-deductible (Israel or U.S.) donation. You can email me at email@example.com or call me at (052) 608-3226 (in the US (516) 984-8593). Also, please share this information with others who also may be able to lend some assistance.
Join with us to help the Children of Sderot. We all deserve to live our lives to the fullest.