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Sderot: A City Besieged

July 30, 2007
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For six years, Sderot—a city of 20,000, less than a mile from the northern Gaza border—has been bombarded by thousands of Kassam rockets, killing seven of its residents—four of them children. “These rockets, whether they hit anybody or not, cause trauma for the rest of your life,” said Aliza, a resident. Dr. Rosa Schneider, a trauma specialist at the Ashkelon hospital where victims are treated, agreed. “It is a feeling of hopelessness. You do nothing bad, and suddenly your life is destroyed.”

Yet miracles abound. Rockets land in open fields. The western side of a house is demolished while the family was gathered on the eastern side. An elementary school takes a direct hit, only after the children had already gone home. A rocket lands very close to the commercial center of town, on a day when most owners had closed their shops for a town meeting.

The Dahan family—10 children, all born and raised in Sderot—experienced an extraordinary miracle. After completing a year of mourning for their father, they made plans to dedicate a Torah (Gen.–Deut.) scroll in his memory, but the police and army discouraged them. The family’s response was, “What?! We are going to let Hamas and Hizbullah win?” The dedication went as planned, attended by 400. After the event and festive meal, the family cleaned up the synagogue and were visiting in the courtyard when the Red Alert warning went off, giving them only seconds to take cover. They tried to get into the study room, but it was locked, so they ran to the main sanctuary, screaming Psalm 121:1–2. All were safe; however, the study room—the room they would have been in if their mother hadn’t locked it— was shattered by the rocket.

A City with Chutzpah

Sderot residents are people with chutzpah (incredible guts), continually living a Russian roulette-style life. They have repeatedly appealed to the government to do more to secure their community. In January, a group of 50 filed a petition, challenging the government’s right to collect taxes from them. “If the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] won’t fight, Sderot residents aren’t going to pay,” declared their attorney. In April during Passover, 1,500 people arrived to march from the observation point overlooking the closest Gazan town of Beit Hanoun to Sderot, making it one of the biggest demonstrations there since the Disengagement. In May, several dozen families filed a lawsuit against the Palestinian Authority for damages inflicted on both life and property. After a fatal attack in May, dozens of frustrated residents demonstrated in the city, clashing with police.

The Fendels—a family of nine, residents of Sderot for 13 years—explain their attitude: “We were sent with a mission to try to strengthen others around us. When you go with a mission, you’re strong, and you don’t get influenced by things that are not positive. We don’t get hysterical.” Instead of focusing on the missiles, they choose to see the miracles, and their faith keeps them optimistic about the future. Aliza agrees: “We truly know that things will be good…We are simply grateful to God that He has given us health and homes. We can never forget to say ‘thank you.’” Indeed, signs throughout the city emphasize a positive outlook, such as,”Psalms counter missiles.”

Helping Hands

Fortunately, many individuals and organizations have shown their support and compassion. Boaz Shabo, a volunteer for the Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross), often spends days in Sderot treating the wounded. He can relate to their suffering. Only five years ago, he lost his wife and three of his five children, when a Palestinian entered their home and brutally murdered them. “Giving so as not to receive is my therapy and helps me go on,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

The local yeshiva sends its students door to door, offering assistance: driving residents to appointments or the grocery store, holding gatherings to encourage the despondent, or cleaning houses. “They learn that their studies don’t remain only in the books, but translate into actions,” explains Rabbi Fendel. In June, Israeli news agency Arutz Sheva held a six-hour telethon to raise funds for Sderot. Israeli billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak, who erected a tent city for refugees in the North during the Second Lebanon War, also sponsored a tent city in Tel Aviv for Sderot “refugees.” It included lodging, food, daily live entertainment, pool and ping pong tables, rope courses, and children’s inflatable play stations.

Also in June, Bridges for Peace sent a team of five for a one-day project. With scrapers, paint, rollers, and brushes in hand, they erased the scars left by a rocket attack from the exterior of an activities center for grandmothers. Sderot is one of our 13 adopted towns, where our food bank team has delivered tons of food for 100 poor families, cheer baskets for families in mourning or the wounded in hospitals, and truckloads of food to stock the municipal bomb shelters. We encourage you to pray regularly for this besieged city and its courageous residents.

—By Charleeda Sprinkle, Assistant Editor

Photo Credit: Photo by Isranet

Photo Credit: Photo by Will King

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