Kites and rockets don't deter new immigrants from moving near Gaza border

“It is what it is and it’s not something we live to fear. It’s a part of life. If you fear it, then in essence they won.”

New immigrants from France disembark at Ben Gurion Airport on July 23rd, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
New immigrants from France disembark at Ben Gurion Airport on July 23rd, 2018
Of the 232 new immigrants who arrived in Israel from North America with Nefesh B’Nefesh on Wednesday, 35 chose to move to southern areas, including Ofakim, Netivot, Ashdod, Nir Chen and Beersheba.
Netivot is one of the cities closest to the Gaza border, located approximately 13 km. away, and Ofakim is less than 30 km. away.
While they are not among what are known as “Gaza envelope” communities, they are frequently struck by rockets from Gaza during times of unrest, and more recently, by incendiary kites and balloons which have been setting ablaze southern Israeli land.
But their frequent appearance in the news in recent months due to these unhappy circumstances did not deter the fresh-off-the-plane immigrants from seeking to establish their new homes there.
Ravit and Yehuda Sharabi, for instance, were attracted to Netivot by the Chabad community that exists there, enabling them to move to a familiar environment from Brooklyn’s Crown Heights.
The Sharabis are in their 30s and bring with them their five children, ranging in age from four to 13. Yehuda was born in Israel and moved to the US from Kiryat Malachi 20 years ago, and the couple is happy to move back where they can be close to his family.
Ravit is an accountant and Yehuda is a transportation service provider. Ravit heard a rocket warning siren for the first time when visiting Israel four years ago. “It scared me,” she admits. “Knowing that I’m going to a place where you can hear it often scares me, but I see how everyone goes on with life. It’s sad but people just keep going.”
In May, a rocket exploded in Netivot and a number of the town’s residents were taken to hospitals suffering from trauma and anxiety. The rocket caused damage to several buildings, but nobody was physically wounded.
“I’ve seen posts of the kites and I know a rocket landed there... but it didn’t make me say ‘Hey we’re not doing this’ or choose a different place,” she told The Jerusalem Post aboard the El Al plane en route to Israel on Wednesday.
“I’m definitely taking an apartment with a maamad [fortified room],” she said, adding, “I believe Hashem is watching us and taking care of us and no siren or rocket or kite will scare us away.”
While the Sharabis were drawn to Netivot’s Chabad community and proximity to family, the Hollingers named better and more affordable schooling for their nine children – eldest 16 and youngest 9 months – as a reason for their decision to move to Israel. They are settling in Ofakim, and Jonathan, 39, the father of the family from Allentown, Pennsylvania, mentions warm weather, affordable housing and agricultural surroundings as factors that pulled him to the South.
Jonathan plans to start off by working as a handyman and hopes to return to agricultural work once he his Hebrew improves.
Jonathan is unperturbed by the security situation in the South. “That doesn’t bother me,” he told the Post. “If you look at is statistically, if you look at the murder rate in Allentown... my chances of getting killed in Allentown are way, way higher than actually living in a conflict zone.”
The Hollingers, formerly Mennonites, converted to Orthodox Judaism a year-and-a-half ago.
As with Ravit, Jonathan’s faith plays a role in his decisions. “We trust that God will take care of us and protect us,” he asserted. He added his children are well aware of the situation. “We told them what happens. It is what it is and it’s not something we live to fear. It’s a part of life. If you fear it, then in essence they won.”
His children, he said – though they have never been to Israel before – are tremendously excited about the move. “If I would have told them yesterday that we were leaving, they would have beat me to the airport,” he quipped.
Jonathan himself developed a love for Israel while visiting the country on a mission trip with Rabbi David Wilensky of the Sons of Israel congregation in Allentown in August 2014, during Operation Protective Edge. They visited IDF bases and wounded soldiers at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba and Jonathan fell in love with the country.
He sees the South as up-and-coming and a good place to raise his family.
Family was also why the Mosers decided to move back to Israel from Buffalo, New York. Reuven and Iris were both born in Israel, the former moving to the US as a child and the latter 13 years ago when she met her now-husband.
With all their family still in Israel, the parents of three have found the distance difficult. “And we want to live a Jewish life, which is easier in Israel,” added Iris. The family moved to Ashdod, where both of their families live. Reuven is a physician and Iris hopes to find work as an English teacher.
“We had a good comfortable life in the US... but sometimes it feels lonely without family,” she said. “It was always our goal to go back to Israel and it’s now or never,” she added, noting that her eldest child is 12 and it would be harder to move as the children get older.
While Ashdod is further away from Gaza than Netivot and Ofakim, it is no stranger to sirens. “I think it’s going to be OK... I hope so,” Iris told the Post. “We want to move there because of our families, but if it’s going to be hard obviously we will move,” she added, though she said the recent unrest between Israel and Gaza did not make them question their move.
The Hollinger and Sharabi families made aliya in the framework of a new NBN-KKL initiative called “Go Beyond,” which provides support and incentives for olim moving to the peripheries as well as to Jerusalem. Ashdod, which is closer to the center, is not included in the parameters of the program, which includes communities south of Ashkelon.
The initiative was launched in November 2017 in a bid to boost the organizations’ joint efforts to develop Israel’s periphery by offering olim to those areas enhanced benefits. The project advanced the already existing “Go North” and “Go South” programs, which aided olim with employment mentoring and placement, social programming, community advisement and educational resources.
Go Beyond adds to that grants of up to $20,000; pilot trip grants including hotel stays, rental cars and subsidized flights; personalized meetings with municipal contacts, community volunteers, realtors etc.; guidance with community research, employment opportunities and education options; assistance with aliyah documentation expenses; online ulpan vouchers; and assistance with college loans.
Since the launch of the Go North and Go South programs in 2012, the organizations recorded a 7% growth in aliya to the North and South, increasing from 17% to 24% within five years.
“As Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael works to reduce the gaps between people living in the center and the periphery of Israel, we see the new olim moving North and South as a huge national asset,” KKL-JNF world chairman Danny Atar said on Wednesday during the arrival of the new immigrants. “Even after 70 years of independence the work is still continuing on, and the building of the Jewish home has not yet ended.”