Meeting with Shas mentor leaves Sderot's rabbis frustrated

A group of rabbis from Sderot met Wednesday with Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in an attempt to convince him to leave the government, but came away frustrated. "He spent most of the time heaping blessings on us," said Rabbi Dovid Fendel, head of the Hesder Yeshiva in Sderot. "He asked me, 'What can I do?'" added Fendel. "If he really wants to know I'll tell him that he needs to leave the government coalition as quickly as possible. Every day that Shas stays in the government endangers the entire country." Fendel was accompanied by rabbis of Sderot's synagogues, educators and religious activists. "We told Rabbi Ovadia that what is happening right now in Sderot will be happening in other places soon unless [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert's government is toppled. I tried to explain to him that the situation in Sderot was deteriorating from day to day and that dozens of businesses had left. "He told me that the city would rise again soon," Fendel said. Around 20 percent of Sderot's residents have abandoned the town located 1 kilometer from the northern Gaza Strip, while the 20,000 who remain live in constant fear of Kassam rockets. On Saturday, a rocket severely wounded two Sderot brothers, Osher and Rami Twito. Eight-year-old Osher had to have his his left leg amputated, and doctors are trying to save his right one. Since the Twito attack, Sderot residents have organized a series of demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv demanding that Olmert resign. Often, anti-government demonstrators vent their anger on Shas, the only right-wing party in the coalition, for not leaving the government. Shas's Council of Sages decided last month to remain in the government as long as Olmert refrained from negotiating territorial compromises in Jerusalem. However, Shas has been under pressure to leave the government, especially since a report in The Jerusalem Post quoting a Palestinian Authority official saying negotiations had begun with Israel over the division of Jerusalem.