MDA sderot kassam .
(photo credit: Channel 10 [archive])
Going to Sderot to volunteer has been on my mind for over a week. Last Saturday night my daughter Talya forwarded me an email from an organization called Lev Echad (a wonderful volunteer organization run by young people ages 19-30) which said that Sderot needed volunteers for a day or more. I contacted them and arranged to go down on Monday May 28.
I started the day by taking hitch hiking from my home in Efrat to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station and then took two Egged busses - something I rarely do - to Ashkelon and then to Sderot; altogether a two hour journey.
I arrived in Sderot and went directly to the Lev Echad center. There were many young adults and three older people beside myself. We all registered (I imagine for insurance purposes) and received our assignments.
Around five minutes after I arrived, there was a Kassam attack warning. Loudspeakers throughout the city scream out: "Tzeva Adom, Tzeva Adom" (literally: Color red, color red"). After that, one has only about 15 seconds to find a safe place to sit it out for at least another five minutes. Since we didn't have time to get to a bomb shelter we all hugged the western wall (how symbolic) of the building we were in. Four Kassam rockets landed in town and, according to the media, only one woman was wounded, very slightly.
AFTER RECEIVING instructions on how to behave upon hearing "Tzeva Adom," I went with my partner Gilad, a soldier on leave (this is what a combat soldier does during his week off?) to survey 25 homes throughout Sderot, interviewing the residents to determine who is left in the city and what their needs are.
All of the families we met had at least one family member with a disability or special needs. The serenity and quiet of this Sderot morning was disturbed by only one other Kassam attack. We were caught on Trumpeldor Street when we heard "Tzeva Adom." Not having a compass, we didn't bother looking for the western side of the street and just crouched down hugging a wall until it was all over. The radio reported "no casualties."
By the end of the day we had met many frightened, hopeless, angry and frustrated Sderot residents. We met a woman originally from the former Soviet Union, who was just on her way out to work. She told us how hard it is for her husband who has kidney disease and has to go to the hospital in Ashkelon three times a week for dialysis. They live in a third floor walk-up apartment and it is virtually impossible for him to get to a safe place in 15 seconds. When asked how we can help them, the woman asked us to help her move to a flat on the first floor.
We then met a family of seven. When we entered, they were sitting in the living room watching TV, reading and chatting. They looked sad, almost as if it was a Shiva home. It certainly wasn't, the opposite was the case.
The 13-year old son had just been called up to the Torah as a Bar Mitzva that Monday morning. But there was no joy in that house. The father who is a small-time building contractor hasn't worked in weeks and they had to cancel the Bar Mitzva celebration, because their family and friends were too afraid to come to Sderot. The father said that after seven years of Kassams falling in Sderot, he is losing hope in his ability to provide for his family.
We met another family, this time of four. The mother is blind, the father is physically disabled, having only one leg. Although they are very upbeat and positive they don't have a safe room. When they hear the "Tzeva Adom" the best they can do is stand under a door frame.
THE STORIES repeat themselves over and over. People don't leave their homes. They are literally incarcerated as if under house arrest. Going shopping for food is scary for many. One woman told me that she will not leave her house and asked us for food, badly needed medicine and a psychologist to talk to.
After surveying the homes, my partner and I returned to Lev Echad to file our report. It was 16:00 and I had to return to my congregation in Jerusalem, but Gilad stayed on with another list of 25 families and another partner.
It's all very frustrating. I'm no general, and I am really not able to give my government any military advice on how to stop the bombing of Sderot. However, since our rabbis have taught us of the importance of Bikur Cholim, I can only encourage you to go down to Sderot to volunteer and visit the residents, talk with them, allow them to tell their stories and help lift up their spirits.
In addition we could do the following:
â€¢ Bring residents of Sderot for a breather in Jerusalem, just like we did last summer for the residents of the North.
â€¢ Send care packages of food, goodies and games to the families of Sderot.
â€¢ Send letters of encouragement to the families.
â€¢ Send goodies to the volunteers.
Lev Echad can be reached at 054 758 7462
The writer is rabbi of Moreshet Avraham in East Talpiot, Jerusalem, and president of the Masorti movement's Rabbinical Assembly of Israel.