One attack too many for Sderot's mattress factory

CEO: 'No one can be a hero for so long.'

sderot kassam 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
sderot kassam 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The rocket that hit near his factory's doorway in Sderot on Thursday morning was the last straw for the CEO of Hollandia International. By nightfall he had decided to move his factory to the center of the country and to provide financial assistance to his 120 employees, including 86 from Sderot, so that they could relocate, too. "There is no other choice," said Hollandia President and CEO Avi Barssessat, who lives in a moshav near Ashkelon and commutes every day to Sderot. Founded in 1981, Hollandia International, which exports its high-end mattresses around the world, moved its sole manufacturing center to Sderot 11 years ago out of Zionist ideology, Barssessat told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday night. But the rocket attacks have finally compelled him to move out. "I believe in [building up] the Negev," he said, "but sustaining seven years of rocket attacks was more than I or anyone should endure." Barssessat said he believed he was the first factory owner to leave Sderot as a result of the rocket attacks. "I hope it will be a warning light for the government," he added. He described his decision as emotionally charged, and said he had considered the move often, but held back during previous periods of intense rocket attacks. "It is impossible. This is not a game. No one can be a hero for so long and entrust their lives to the luck of the draw," he said. Barssessat spoke of the NIS 30,000 of his own funds he had invested in protected windows for the factory. Those windows, he said, had made the difference between life and death for at least eight of his workers on Thursday. "I could have been at eight funerals today," he said. "It was a miracle." As it was, 16 workers were treated for shock, Barssessat said. Shalom Halevi, who works in the Sderot mayor's office, said that Barssessat's decision was an isolated action. The number of factories in Sderot has grown in the last six years from approximately 60 to 75, of which Hollandia is a mid-size company. Other companies continue to invest in Sderot, such as food giant Osem, which has about 400 workers and is in the midst of expanding to include a new soup line, Halevi said. One hi-tech firm is actually working on moving engineers to Sderot, Halevi said. Unemployment in the city is at 3.5 percent. As a worker in the municipality who had helped Barssessat move into Sderot, Halevi added that he was surprised to hear the CEO was leaving. "I don't believe it," Halevi said. Barssessat added, when told of that response, "I don't believe it myself."