You should try to do some good wherever you are in the world, 17-year-old Hallel Bareli, a resident of Sderot, recently told The Jerusalem Post.
Bareli, an 11th grader at the AMIT Shirat Ulpana in Sderot, will be the youngest torch lighter at this year’s traditional Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
This year’s ceremony theme is “Courageous Citizens.”
“I am representing not myself, but all the youth of Sderot,” she said.
Bareli has been an integral part of Sderot’s youth community, where she acts as a social activist and counselor for the Ariel youth movement.
During Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, Bareli played a key role in helping to maintain a sense of routine and normalcy for the city’s citizens.
She took part in a community volunteer project that provided a 24/7 telephone hotline and aid services to elderly people in the city. She also ran shelters for young children, organizing fun activities to provide a respite from the constant rocket fire.
“When I was young, the adults always tried to give us candy or chocolate when there was an alarm so that we wouldn’t feel scared,” she said.
“So we played music, brought clowns and balloons. We wanted to give the kids and their parents a break from the Kassams and let them have some fun for a little while.”
Bareli took it upon herself to establish a volunteer rotation for all of Sderot’s neighborhoods, and mobilized youth movements, both religious and secular, to help maintain calm.
She also visited injured soldiers in Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.
“One story that always makes me emotional is when we went into the room of an injured soldier to tell him about Sderot and thank him for defending us and he looked at us for a while and then said that he had taken the grenade with ‘love for us.’ “This really strengthened me and it showed us that what we are doing is important and it has an impact and meaning,” she said.
Bareli, who has nine brothers and sisters, has lived in Sderot for the majority of her life, which means that she has also known rocket fire for the majority of her life.
“I love Sderot. I am happy in this city. There are amazing people here,” she said. “The residents are brave and strong and don’t give up and won’t let the terrorism take them away from here.
“Of course I remember the previous wars. I was young, but you remember. You remember the fear. Every citizen in Sderot has this mark,” she said.
“You hear a door slam and you think it was a Kassam – it is a part of our instincts to run and look for shelter,” she said.
“You can’t forget that people have paid for this city with their blood, with their lives.”
When asked why she felt the need to volunteer and take part in so many activities for the citizens of Sderot, she replied: “I think that when a person gives, he actually receives.”
“In the previous wars there was fear throughout the city and we were even hesitant to go outside – we didn’t always have the sirens to warn us – but volunteers from all over the country came to help the people in Sderot,” she said.
“Well, the youth of Sderot have grown up and they remember this and so now we are able to help Sderot.
We received a lot and we are giving back a lot.”
Bareli explained that rather than sulk about how the last Gaza war ruined summer vacation, the youth decided not to indulge in self-pity.
“The youth, the citizens, and the city decided to take this [situation] to a different place,” she said.
“Despite the Kassams and the difficulty, the city has only grown – there are no words to express the strength of this city,” she said. “It is the city that deserves this credit.”
Bareli joins another AMIT School Network student, Or Assouline, who was chosen to light the torch at last year’s Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl.
Assouline, an outstanding student from the AMIT Kennedy School in Acre who has already established herself as CEO of a company for young entrepreneurs, lit the torch together with Ehud Shabtai, one of the founders and developers of the Israeli navigation application Waze.
“After generations who worked to establish the state, I am thrilled to be part of the next generation that will continue the path and will promote the country,” she said of her lighting the torch.
Dr. Amnon Eldar, CEO of the AMIT school network told the Post, “What is characteristic of these girls is a lot of creativity. Each took it to a different direction. Or took it to excellence and entrepreneurship, to be a CEO at this [young] age in the “Startup Nation;” Hallel took her creativity and her infinite giving to help those in need during a difficult time, a time of crisis.”
Eldar attributed the fact that both girls are from the Amit network in part to the ethos and values their schools have sought to impart.
“One of the principles we really believe in is being involved in the community – and being a part of the community of all of Israel. This is a part of our DNA of every school, regardless of their differences,” he said.
He said that the school network encourages students to volunteer, to give back and to take on leadership roles.
The network even has a Leadership Council comprised of student representatives from every school and named after fallen soldier Roi Klein, another student from the AMIT network, who jumped on a grenade to save the lives of the soldiers in his unit.
“Whenever you give students the leadership, the responsibility, the drive to be involved, it is no surprise that girls like Or and Hallel become such leaders,” he said.
He added that it was wonderful to see that two girls were chosen from the periphery, one from Acre in the North and the other from Sderot in the South.
Eldar said he felt it was important to note that one of the most essential aspects of the education system today is not only to “worry about students’ academic successes, but also to educate toward responsibility, toward accepting others and living together in society.”