Families in South find welcome respite from war

Thousands of Israelis have opened their homes.

sderot shock victim 248.88 (photo credit: GPO)
sderot shock victim 248.88
(photo credit: GPO)
For British-born Madelaine Black, the chance to host a family from the South was more than just an attempt to offer those living on the front line a chance to escape the rocket attacks, it was also an opportunity to put into practice what she had dreamed about for years before moving here in 2007. "During past conflicts I always felt so impotent in England," the mother of four told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend. "In the last war [the 2006 Second Lebanon War] we mostly just watched on television as Israelis pulled together to help each other out. Now we can be part of that, and it feels wonderful. I never realized the depth of the hessed [good deeds] that happens in Israel during times like this. It's awesome." Black, who has a private apartment in the basement of her home, said that she and her husband had not hesitated to contact terror victims' organization OneFamily Fund to see if any of their clients from the South needed a place to stay since Operation Cast Lead started on December 27. "We have done some volunteer work for OneFamily and knew that they were offering a multi-faceted service to assist residents in the South," explained Black, who now has a family staying with her until they are ready to return to their home in Beersheba. According to a collection of governmental and nonprofit organizations, thousands of Israelis have come forward to either offer their homes for hosting or themselves for a wide range of volunteer positions to help residents within rocket range, within 40 kilometers of Gaza. Naftali Bennet, a former adviser to Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, said that his ad-hoc organization Israelim (www.israelim.org.il), which is aimed at matching families from the South with those in the Center willing to host, was set up 12 days ago and had already received calls from 8,135 people hoping to volunteer or host. Roughly 600 families from the front line have already been or are being hosted by families in quieter parts of the country. Many only stay for a few days' respite from the Hamas rocket attacks before returning to their homes. "Just like last weekend, today we are seeing a big wave of people looking for a place to get away from the firing line over Shabbat," Bennet told the Post. "Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for them to find a place to stay." During the Second Lebanon War, Bennet, who was then serving as a major in the IDF, became frustrated with the lack of cohesiveness of individual volunteers, non-profits and the authorities. "There were so many people willing to volunteer, but no one knew where to call," he said, adding that Israelim was part of the Kulanu Beyachad (We are together) initiative of more than 40 NGOs that are working together to ease the pressure on residents in the South. "We wanted to create a direct link between those who need help and those willing to give it," he said. For Ya'akov Bogdiny, his wife and their three children, the Israelim service was as straightforward as it sounded. "We decided last Friday that we'd had enough and wanted to get out of the area for a while to air out, so we just went to the Internet, found the site and entered in our information," said Bogdiny, who works as an Egged bus driver in Sderot. "Within a few minutes someone called us, asked us some more questions and then put us in touch with this family in Moshav Nov in the Golan Heights." "The family has been great. They own a guest house here and have given us everything we need," he added. "It has been especially calming for the children, who spent last week cooped up inside our house running to the sealed room every five minutes." Shoshana Nakash, who runs the guest house where the Bogdiny family has been staying this week, said the opportunity to help "our brothers in the South" was her main consideration in hosting. "I own a guest house and I asked myself how I could help these families - the solution was obvious," she said. "What we are giving of ourselves pales in comparison to what the people on the front line are giving," she added. Information published Thursday by Israelim, which has received free services from several hi-tech companies, including office space from Imagine in Netanya, showed that out of the 600 families who have been hosted so far, 40 percent were from Ashkelon, 16% from Ashdod, 9% from Netivot, 8% from Sderot and 6% from Beersheba.