Finding refuge in the capital

Led by the municipality, a team of non-profits, hotels and private individuals welcomed thousands of residents from the South.

Children from Southern Israel (photo credit: Courtesy Jerusalem Municipality/Jewish Agency/Jeru)
Children from Southern Israel
(photo credit: Courtesy Jerusalem Municipality/Jewish Agency/Jeru)
The courtyard of Beit Avi Chai is unusually full of children on Tuesday afternoon when the air raid siren warning of a missile in the Jerusalem area causes some of them to freeze up.
“These are the children from the South,” says one of the staff members, who hurries, along with a few others, to the protected area in the city-center building.
“Poor kids,” adds another staffer. “They came here to get some respite from the missiles and it has followed them here.”
The children don’t seem too distressed, and after a short while they go back to their games in the courtyard, not seeming to notice the painful irony of the situation.
More than 8,000 people – adults and children – from towns and villages under the blitz of the missiles being launched from Gaza had been hosted in Jerusalem as of Tuesday, through an impressive network of volunteers and the cooperation of the municipal education and welfare administrations and several cultural institutions, all under the baton of Mayor Nir Barkat, whose office led the operation.
Like six years ago, when residents of the North suffered thousands of missiles launched from Lebanon, the Jerusalem Municipality mobilized itself and many of its subsidiaries, together with the support of nonprofit associations, to assist them. In 2006, mayor Uri Lupolianski led a convoy including art teachers, social workers, basic necessities including diapers and infant formula, and even the city’s veterinarian and a generous supply of pet food to the heavily bombed town of Kiryat Shmona.
This time, the focus was on helping families that felt they couldn’t take any more, and to offer them an alternative refuge to the bomb shelters and safe rooms they have been confined to. Although many residents of the South managed independently to find refuge outside of the missile zone, there was a clear need to organize an official, large-scale operation.
Despite the two missiles launched toward Jerusalem, all agreed that, for a change, the city could be considered one of the few relatively secure locations in the country.
Twenty-one Jerusalem hotels have answered the municipality’s appeal and have proposed comfortable solutions with maximum privacy for Southerners seeking a place to stay. The municipality has also organized a long list of cultural activities, free admission to practically all the city’s museums and attractions, admission for young displaced Southerners into Jerusalem schools and a call center to assist in matching up families from the South with local host families. Families who wish to host or be hosted are invited to fill out a form on the municipality’s website.
According to Rona Darwish from the municipality’s spokesman’s office, who is in charge of coordinating most aspects of the operation, a large percentage of Southern families who wish to spend a few days in Jerusalem are religious and a smaller number are haredi, “and it was not too difficult to match them up with host families.”
ONE OF the most heartwarming initiatives in hosting families from the South occurred in the Katamonim neighborhood. Zion Hassid, a well-known builder and entrepreneur in the city, summoned his three sons last Thursday evening.
“We never argue with our father” explains Sharon, the eldest son, “but this time we did hesitate a bit because, after all, his request sounded a bit much,” he recalls with a smile. His father had decided to offer to house 21 families from the South in some of the empty apartments he owns in the tower of the Ganei Zion project that his company recently built on Eliezer Hagadol Street.
“Imagine – these are apartments we have decided not to sell. They are for our own investments and, for the moment, they were not ready for use – no connection to water, no taps, no furniture, of course – nothing. But my father made the decision and all three brothers quickly changed our minds and joined forces with the municipality to make these apartments ready for use. Within less than 24 hours everything was ready, including mattresses, tables and chairs, refrigerators and stoves, even basic [food] staples, everything,” says Sharon.
Meanwhile, the neighbors in the tower discovered quickly who the new tenants were and, within a single day, a warm community was formed.
“We residents of Jerusalem know better than anyone else what it means to live with daily danger,” Shula, one of the building’s residents, says of the immediate mobilization of her neighbors.
“They organize dinners together, they help them with the children – these parents are exhausted, physically and psychologically,” Sharon Hassid continues.
“I didn’t expect a refusal to help, but I never thought it would go so far. It’s unbelievable and deeply moving, and now I heard they are busy preparing a full Shabbat together – all the neighbors.
Isn’t it beautiful?” One of the families that found refuge at the Zion Tower arrived in Jerusalem from Sderot when the wife was at the end of her pregnancy. On Sunday she gave birth to her first son, and announced to Hassid that she and her husband had decided to call the baby “Zion.”
“It is the least we could do in honor of your father, who opened his property and his heart for us,” she said.
Getting the Southerners to talk about their experiences is no easy task. “We came here in order to get some rest and to try to forget for a short while what we’ve been through,” says Hodaya, a woman in her early 30s who accompanied her twin daughters to a special show for children at the Kumkum Theater. “We just want to avoid talking about it, at least for a few days. We are very thankful to the city, the residents and the municipality for the welcome, but we’d prefer not to be noticed and to simply enjoy a few days of rest and relaxation,” she adds.
TO JOIN the efforts to help welcome residents from the South, call 106 or 629-5830 and leave your name and telephone number, and a representative from the team organizing the hosting operation will call you back. Or simply download the form from the municipality’s website and an employee will get back to you. Specify your location, how many people and for how long you are able to host, your degree of religious observance and the ages of children welcome.
As for the schooling, once families from the South are registered by municipality’s team, employees from the education administration will get in touch with the parents to find the closest and most appropriate school.
With regard to entertainment, the list of events that are free or are charging reduced admission for refugees from the South is very long. Almost all the cultural institutions have opened their doors to this initiative.
For those who prefer a hotel, where a discount of up to 30 percent is available upon showing identification indicating residence in one of the cities or villages in the South, see
All other details can be obtained through the city’s official website at