Spending for solidarity

Tel Avivians came by the thousands this week to the 'Open Your Hearts' food and arts festival for residents of Sderot.

Sderot hole in roof 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sderot hole in roof 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Camaraderie and good intentions abounded at the "Open Your Hearts" food and arts festival for residents of Sderot and Gaza border communities, held at the Tel Aviv port this past Sunday and Monday. Accolades for the government, however, were less prevalent. The festival, a joint initiative by the Tel Aviv Municipality, Jewish Agency and Isaac Zeev, who owns the Hangar 11 venue at the port, hosted some 115 business owners from areas within range of Kassam rocket strikes, and nearly 9,000 visitors attended each day to buy various artwork, clothing and other goods on sale, and to hear first-hand about life in the south. According to Oded Houbara, who heads the Tel Aviv Municipality's Community, Youth and Sports Department, the municipality had collaborated with Zeev in 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, and he again offered his venue free of charge as a good-will gesture to the residents of Sderot and the Gaza border communities. Shosh Segev, an artist who has lived on Kibbutz Kfar Aza for 34 years, brought samples of her paintings, hand-made jewelry and art work to the festival. Segev notes that visits to her kibbutz gallery have declined dramatically in recent years, as has participation in the art workshops that she runs. While she does not consider leaving the kibbutz, she says that her three children have relocated and refrain from visiting, citing security concerns. Segev praised the event at the Tel Aviv port, regarding it as a form of "affirmative action." Segev's husband, Ben Zvi Ofek, said that the festival brought much joy to the lives of Sderot residents. He expressed his dissatisfaction with the government, saying that the south needs funds to be allocated so that homes can be reinforced. "The government is detached from residents of the south. Our communities have sustained physical, financial and emotional damage," he says, saying that other sources have stepped in where the government has been absent. "While the government was deliberating a possible income tax break for residents of the south, the Joint Distribution Committee allotted $1,000 grants to business owners. The government has not provided aid or support. There's no development. There's nothing." Ofek says that the governments on both sides of the Gaza border should be replaced. "The Hamas government should be toppled. I'm sure the Palestinians want to live quietly. We just need to replace our government as well and we'll be fine," he says. Eli Mor, an Ashkelon resident who owns a toy store in Sderot, says that he can think of no politician in Israel capable of making a bold decision needed to move things forward. "The government should either make peace with Hamas or go to war, but it can't sit on the fence. They can't carry out operations in the Gaza Strip and meet with [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas at the same time," he says. Mor had many words of praise for residents of the center of the country, saying that their show of support has been amazing and that it is much appreciated. He described the festival at the Hangar as outstanding, saying that beyond the sales that were made, it served to bring people together. Noting that sales at his store have dropped by 20-30 percent in recent years, he called for tax breaks and other means of financial aid, saying that if businesses keep suffering, people will leave Sderot. Shai Madmoni, who owns a pet store in Sderot, says that business has gone down in recent years, as both friends and customers have left the town. Madmoni, whose wife gave birth to a baby last month, has since relocated to Netivot, saying that they did not want to raise their son in Sderot. Houbara said that the impressive turnout at the festival proves that Tel Aviv is not the bubble that the media portrays it to be. He went on to say that the municipality is planning more initiatives for residents of the south, including bringing youths from the area to partake in fun activities in the center region, day-long activities in Tel Aviv for senior citizens from Sderot and free admission for residents of Sderot and the Gaza border communities to museums, plays and operas in Tel Aviv if seats are available.