Sderot residents 298.
(photo credit: Amir Mizroch)
Standing Together, a NGO that devotes most of its efforts to supporting IDF soldiers on active duty, organized a trip to Sderot last week for 45 Jerusalem-area residents, in an attempt to draw attention to the town's plight and to help local businesses.
Meanwhile Friday, two more Kassam rockets hit the western Negev. In the early morning, one struck Sderot's industrial zone; two people were released after being treated for shock at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. Two hours before Shabbat, a second projectile hit an open area near a kibbutz in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, without causing damage.
Wednesday's visitors, primarily American- and Canadian-Israelis from Jerusalem, Efrat, and Ramat Beit Shemesh, boarded a bus (rented from a Sderot company).
"This could be Monsey," exclaimed a middle-aged American woman standing on a well-manicured lawn in front of a large, attractive house in Sderot.
But the dwelling had one particular attribute that would make it rather noteworthy in the New York suburb; a Kassam rocket had added a new, unwanted, window to the second floor two days earlier.
"Standing Together was created to help Jews in Israel and around the world make a difference in the lives of IDF soldiers," said spokeswoman Miriam Gottlieb. "But the people living in Sderot are defending the land of Israel, too. And they're doing it for world Jewry."
More information on the NGO is available at www.stogether.org.
The visitors showed their support by meeting with Sderot residents, hearing their stories, and spending money in their shops. Standing Together director David Landau said one reason the organization had sponsored the trip was to promote tzedaka (charity) that would not be a handout, but would help keep the town's economy running.
On his numerous trips to Sderot, Landau has established ties between Standing Together and Sderot's hesder yeshiva, in which soldiers combine religious study with military service. Gedalya Fridel, a soldier and participant in the hesder program, introduced the visitors to his town and showed them the home hit by one of Monday's rockets.
The residents of the well-furnished house complained about a lack of government and community support. "You've all come from so far away, but nobody from the city has come to see us [since the Kassam hit]," said homeowner Marcel Maimon.
With rockets raining down daily, some residents have become jaded about the Kassams, which rarely leave anyone seriously wounded. Maimon admitted that her family did not head for the bomb shelter when the city's early warning system went off ahead of the first Kassam hit (there were three that night,) but only - luckily - when the third siren sounded.
The visitors were not so blasÃ©.
"Where is the nearest shelter?" one asked Fridel before disembarking to do some shopping on Sderot's modest commercial strip.
The question provoked nervous laugher from the other visitors and a bit of down-to-earth advice from the guide.
"Gaza is that way," he said, pointing west. "If you hear the warning siren, get on the opposite side of a building. And shrapnel flies up, so if a rocket hits the ground near you, get down," he said.
After shopping, including a quick stop to buy candy for children spending their day at a summer camp, it was on to the yeshiva for lunch. Yeshiva head Rabbi Dov Fridel, who is Gedalya's father, gave a brief but forceful talk about his work and brought in the remains of a Kassam that had landed nearby.
Rabbi Fridel had strong words of criticism for the government's response to the problems faced by Sderot, suggesting a solution based on religious faith. "Zionism is Torah," he said.
However, Sderot has a very small Orthodox community. The city's residents have reasons for staying, but it is difficult to imagine that religious zeal is their principal motivation.
If giving a face to the rocket-plagued town was Standing Together's goal, the trip was a success.
"When you meet a person face-to-face you can identify with what they're going through," said one visitor, originally from Canada, who had heard about the excursion via Standing Together's "Challot from Sderot" program.
At the end of the day, Gottlieb announced that the bus passengers had contributed NIS 2,200 to be split between Maimon and her contractor, whose house was also hit.
The Kassams were in some ways a blessing, Rabbi Fridel said. "When people see problems, they come and they help."
Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.