The American Jewish Committee will be contributing approximately $300,000 toward the establishment of a Resiliency Center in Sderot. "The American Jewish Committee's donation is great news for the city during these hard times," Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal said in a statement released Saturday evening. "The Resiliency Center and the psychological services that will be provided there are the real solution for our residents, and not assorted public spectacles."
Peretz slams Gaydamak's Eilat offer
Moyal was likely hinting at the chorus of criticism directed at Russian-Israeli billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak, who last week provided a weekend break in Eilat for some 2,000 Sderot residents.
The Resiliency Center will be housed in the old theater in the city's center, with the AJC funds paying for the building's refurbishment. One of the center's primary missions will be to attract psychology professionals to the city.
The salary offered to municipal psychologists - about NIS 2,500 per month for the part-time positions - has left psychological services chronically understaffed.
"Sderot residents are in the front lines," said AJC Executive Director David Harris. "We visited Sderot in July and saw up close the destruction, alongside the determination of the residents to continue living a normal life in the city. With the help of the aid money, we want to express our deep concern for the welfare of the city's residents."
Harris promised the AJC would "continue in our diplomatic activities in the world and convey the message that Sderot residents are subject to murderous rocket attacks that violate agreements and international law."
The donation will come from a $10 million fund established by the AJC to aid those affected by this summer's war.
An American Jewish Committee solidarity delegation, which visited the North during the conflict also met with Moyal in Sderot.
Meanwhile, Gaydamak's initiative came under fire from several sources over the weekend.
Sderot municipal spokesman Yossi Cohen said Gaydamak's "asprin" solution would be better spent on psychological services for the residents, similar to the AJC initiative. City officials also complained that his activities were not coordinated with the city, and did not help to create an atmosphere of calm.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz, a Sderot resident, also blasted Gaydamak's activities last week. "The State of Israel won't allow wealthy donors to take over by taking advantage of the citizens' distress," Peretz said Thursday.
On Saturday night, apparently prompted by Gaydamak's assistance plan for Sderot, Peretz held a meeting with MOD Dir.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and OC IDF Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Gershon and discussed ways to help the residents of Gaza-belt communities.
Peretz plans to recommend in the cabinet meeting on Sunday that the residents of the areas under attack be allowed free access and housing at Friends of the IDF facilities and hotels.
Gaydamak's representatives accused the government of failing to care for residents, leaving the tycoon no choice but to step into the vacuum.
Gaydamak's initiative seemed to be well received by Sderot residents. He initially offered to send 780 people for a respite in Eilat, but he didn't blink when 1,920 signed up.
He planned to send an additional 300 youths to Eilat, his representative said.
"They [Gaydamak's people] work so quickly, without any bureaucracy," said Sderot Parents Association head Batya Katar, who first asked the billionaire to intervene last week. "I simply don't know any other organization that works this way."
For some Sderot residents, the Eilat vacation was cut short Saturday night due to their Wisconsin Plan obligations. The back-to-work program requires that they appear at the labor office on Sunday morning or risk forfeiting the week's stipend.
Sunday also marks the beginning of a program to provide Sderot youth with trips out of the city.
On Thursday, Education Ministry and local council officials, joined by representatives of the IDF Education Corps, developed a program according to which children, from the First to the 12th grade, will take turns going on two-day seminars in youth hostels around the country and attend daylong educational activities in nearby communities.
The older children will attend study marathons to supplement some of the school days lost due to Kassam rocket attacks. The programs are intended to provide the schoolchildren with "breathing space" from the daily sirens and explosions of recent months.
Education Minister Yuli Tamir instructed ministry officials to fund the Sderot projects.
Education Ministry director-general Shmuel Abuav also promised the the ministry would "be considerate with them [Sderot children] in the matriculation exams."