At the Passover Seder each year, the Jewish people recite: “This is what has stood to our fathers and to us, for not just one alone has risen against us to destroy us.”
“In every generation there are those who attempt to destroy us,” echoes Rabbi David Fendel, chief rabbi of Sderot’s yeshiva, with over 400 students. “However, we stand strong.”
On the roof of the yeshiva stands a hanukkia constructed from terrorist rockets.
When lit on Hanukka,it represents the eternal radiance of the Jewish spirit.
Just as in the times of old after the Greeks failed to extinguish the nation’s spark, the Jews turned their weapons of war upside down and lit them as a symbol of eternity, so too do the residents of Sderot transform these weapons of destruction into a symbol of the sanctity of life and strength of spirit.
The hanukkia stands tall, proving that while these are just scraps of metal, the people of Sderot are built of much more enduring materials. “The entire State of Israel is more resilient than we think and the enemy thinks,” says Fendel.
“We live through it every day, sometimes protected and other times unprotected.
“We have lived in caravans. We have run to bomb shelters; chosen which child to save first over another, bound by 15 seconds of an emergency alarm.
The vibrations of Color Red [the siren] shake through our core, and yet we have never abandoned this place. We can proudly say that we have won.”
Resilience is continuing to live and refusing to leave. Resilience is transforming weapons to sources of light. Resilience is dreaming of a brighter future and the dedication required to make the dream a reality. Resilience flourishes proudly in Sderot – resilience of the body, mind and soul.
Jewish and Zionist philosophy is steeped in resilience – the willpower to go on no matter what obstacles the nation may encounter. Sderot, the small town located a mere kilometer from Gaza, is no different. Though bombarded daily by terrorist rockets, Sderot remains a developing city in the western Negev of Israel.
On December 24, 2013, the world’s first protected railway station was established in the city, connecting it to all major centers of activity in Israel and providing unlimited opportunity for its residents. It is “already making a big difference,” notes Fendel, “uniting the country and providing an array of new job opportunities” – a much-needed boost in Sderot, as jobs are few and far between.
The station is one-of-a-kind, built to withstand the deadly stream of terrorist rockets that have threatened the very existence of Sderot and the State of Israel for 14 years to date. Throughout, Sderot has proven it will stand strong and continue to survive.
Indeed, construction fills the streets of Sderot – apartment buildings taking shape every few blocks, houses being blueprinted and schools covered in a thick layer of cement to protect the children inside. “The Palestinians wanted to destroy Sderot, but they cannot keep up with the building,” Fendel continues.
By building anew what has been destroyed and preventing further damage, Sderot will succeed in creating an indestructible metropolis.
As architecture is rising rapidly, so are population figures. While the town’s population once numbered 24,000 and lost approximately 5,000 residents due to heavy rocket fire and its palpable disruptions to daily life, the town is now bordering on 20,000. People are constantly joining the story: singles, couples and families, sharing the suffering as well as the work of renewal.
Twenty-four-year-old Oren and his wife moved to Sderot last September to study, and invest their knowledge in the developing of a town bound by poverty and trauma yet carrying endless potential. Similarly, 39-yearold Ayala and her husband, parents of eight children, have chosen the same community because of its high standard of education. Although neither couple possesses a prior connection to Sderot, they have both taken on the tremendous responsibility of strengthening the city.
Ayala’s husband expresses the importance of settling every part of the land, no matter what threat he or she may face. Internally, or across borders, in every corner of the country and the world, the possibilities of danger are endless. The question is not what one is hiding from, but what one is living for. In Sderot, one lives for unity against all odds and oppressors.
Most unyielding of all are not the buildings or rationales, but the spirit of the Sderot residents. “The Palestinians thought they would make this place a ghost town,” says Fendel – and they almost succeeded. From 2006 to 2008, Fendel watched businesses closing, the middle class fleeing, property deserted and trauma brewing. The town was becoming worthless.
However, like a seed that grows anew only once it approaches the point of absolute disintegration, Sderot began to sprout, evolving into a capital of community, study and connection to the land itself.
The writer is a recent high-school graduate from Toronto. She is currently taking a gap year in Israel and interning at the Sderot Media Center