For more than 8 years, rockets launched from Gaza have rained down on the Israeli town of Sderot and the surrounding rural communities. Virtually every day and at any hour, loudspeakers warn that a rocket is in flight, blaring: “Tzeva Adom!” (Code Red!). This gives the residents just 15 seconds to find shelter. Schoolchildren scramble for a safe hallway. Pedestrians dash for a bus shelter, doorway or car that might shield them from the blast. Parents race to throw their bodies over their children to protect them.
More than 6,000 rockets and mortars have struck Sderot and neighboring communities. Thirteen people have been killed and hundreds injured; virtually all have psychological scars. One in three children in Sderot suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder Four in five small- to medium-size businesses in Sderot have closed or left in the last 18 months.
A difficult reality is that many residents of the area who could afford to relocate outside the range of terror rockets have done so, leaving behind a relatively poorer, more vulnerable, population. (Also note that the range of the rockets is ever increasing due to the smuggling of more sophisticated weapons from Iran, along with Iranian terror training.)
A broad communal effort, which channels funding to essential services through United Jewish Communities and its Israel Emergency Campaign (IEC) via the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel. IEC, to which JUF had contributed more than $43 million by the end of 2007, has assisted besieged Israelis in both southern and northern Israel, where terror rocket fire exactly two years ago had sent more than a million Israelis into bomb shelters while destroying homes, businesses, and lives.
Thanks to contributors to the Jewish United Fund, Chicagoans have enabled the Jewish Federation to provide more than $2.88 million for ongoing trauma relief programs serving Israelis in the region of Israel adjacent to the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip. including:
- Safe after-school activities for children
- Respite day trips for children and families
- Grants to devastated businesses
- Scholarships for students at nearby Sapir College
- Assistance for individuals and families of those injured and killed, as well as counseling for those experiencing trauma.
The following three programs are illustrative of the many social services, educational, and psychological programs provided by the Federation system:
Over the past couple of years, Chicago has responded to the needs of a vulnerable population, the children and youth in Sderot and environs. Those who have been in the area during a “Red Color” alert, know the impact that it has on them and the evidence from studies of post-traumatic distress is clearly evident among the youth. One of the more important interventions is the respite offered during the summer months by bringing the kids out of harm’s way for day or overnight summer camping programs.
Youth Futures in Sderot
Youth Futures is a national program of the JUF’s beneficiary, Jewish Agency for Israel, which provides youth at risk with a comprehensive, tailored intervention that helps them to take their place as independent, constructive members of society. Its objectives in Sderot include:
- To provide 175 children and youth with personalized educational opportunities to fill critical gaps
- To have professionally trained mentors who are committed to each child's individual educational, social and cultural advancement and work with these children and their families for a period of three years
- To develop new opportunities for underprivileged children to have access to activities that cultivate self-esteem and confidence.
Community Center on Wheels
A “Community Center on Wheels” vehicle enables professionals at the local community center to reach residents of Sderot and the surrounding area and to establish direct contact with them in their home communities. This mobile extension allows a greater number of Sderot-area residents—who are reluctant to travel due to the increased risk—to access the support resources they need to maintain positive, productive, and forward-facing lives in the wake of daily threats and setbacks. Staff of the community center travel in the “Community Center on Wheels” and facilitate short-term recreational activities for area youth, giving them an opportunity to temporarily forget their worries and just be kids.