July 22, 2014 – Jerusalem, Israel
What a day…
This morning began like most, davening shacharit then onto breakfast. The beauty of this specific morning was that we prayed at Congregation Moreshet Yisrael, which is on the campus of the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism. The Fuchsberg Center is a place I know well, having spent a year of my life living within its walls as a staff member on NATIV. It was wonderful to be back, to see old friends and to reminisce. Yet while everyone spoke about how good it was to see each other, we all wished to be in Israel under different circumstances.
After a davening and a quick breakfast we boarded a bus and headed towards Ashkelon to visit Kehillat Netzach Yisrael. At the Kehillah we were introduced to Rabbi Gustavo Surazski & Marty Davis (president of the congregation) as well as Mr. Alan Marcus who is the head of strategic planning for the Municipality of Ashkelon. The leadership of the kehillah gave us an understand of the constant threat the city is under from Hamas. Since July 7, 2014 Hamas has fired 160 rockets towards Ashkelon. Thankfully many of them have been intercepted by Iron Dome or fallen in open areas, yet a number have hit houses or commercial buildings in the city. Due to the situation the government cancelled school / summer camp since some of the camps do not have shelters. The Kehillah decided that since they have a shelter they could offer the children of the community a safe place to send their children during the day.
The congregation runs camp from the shelter and have dressed up the walls and ceiling to make it less scary for the children. This is their new normal, so they are making the best of it. While in the shelter visiting with the children the sirens went off, notifying us of a rocket in the area. Thankfully we were already in the shelter, nevertheless a reminder of the gravity of our visit.
We also heard from Mr. Alan Marcus about the precision used in deciding where shelters are built. It is a highly sophisticated mapping process that determines where people live, the most densely populated areas during the day…etc. Nothing is left to chance when it comes to people’s safety. It was also pointed out the Ashkelon runs the largest desalination plant in Israel, and continues to provide clean drinking water into the Gaza Strip.
We left Ashkelon and headed towards Sderot. Sderot is one of the closest cities to the Gaza border. A town that has been bombarded by rockets from Hamas. We toured the city and we able to meet with members of the city’ emergency management team in their situation room. They explained that since Sderot has been hit with so many rockets the government has helped subsidize the building of more shelters. Now, every bus stop has its own shelter, as does every preschool, allowing the children to be in school and not at home with a parent. It was clear from our meeting that the residents of Sderot love their town. They were born in Sderot, they live in Sderot and they will die in Sderot. Their job is to protect their citizens from terrorists.
We left Sderot and headed towards Beersheva, the capitol of the Negev, to meet with the city’s Deputy Mayor. The deputy mayor made a very interesting comment to our group, he explained that 20 years ago the homefront was wherever a War was specifically being fought…whether it be the Egyptian or Lebanesse border…etc. Today the homefront is the entire State of Israel. Beersheva has seen 116 rockets in the past few weeks and maintains 262 shelters throughout the city. Interestingly the schools in Beersheva do not have reinforced roofs, like Sderot, so children are not allowed to go to school/camp. Throughout these meetings you realize how much these rockets affect the day to lives of each community in the South. If a child cannot go to school, a parent has to stay home. Perhaps a father or brother has already been called up for reserve duty…the cities are working with limited human resources.
Following our meeting with the deputy mayor we drove a short distance to meet with Rabbi Mauricio Balter at Kehillat Eshel Avraham. While on the drive we heard the sirens and were immediately directed to lie, or duck, as close to the floor of the bus as possible. Once the sirens ceased, we got up and continued on our way to the congregation for lunch. Upon arrival we met their leadership as well as
Sultan Abu Abeid the co-director of the Beersheva office of Shatil- New Israel Fund. Shatil is an organization committed to strengthening relationships between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs.
After our visit to Ashkelon we headed to the city of Omer to visit Meet with Rabbi Jonathan Sadoff & leaders at Kehillat Magen Avraham. On the way to Omer, another siren went off and once again we were instructed to lay on the floor. We were instructed that if you are in a car, you get on the ground and lay flat. The rockets that are being fired have explosives with small ball bearings inside. When the bearings hit the ground they bounce. So safest place to be in flat on the ground, or if on a bus…below window level.
When we arrived in Omer we met with Rabbi Sadoff who had just taken the children at the synagogues camp into their bomb shelter. Rabbi Sadoff spoke about the task of being a rabbi during the difficult times and how he responds to congregant’s fears. Following Mincha our group boarded the bus and headed back to Jerusalem for dinner.
I will leave the speakers from after dinner for tomorrow post. Tonight turned a bit hectic as we got back into Jerusalem as many of my colleagues, including myself, received word that our flights out of Israel had been cancelled. The FAA placed a warning on all U.S. flights going into Tel Aviv after a rocket fell in the town of Yehud, a short drive from Ben Gurion Airport. Bad news was I had to find a new flight home; good news is that I get to spend another night in Israel. I have faith the FAA will reverse its decision; regardless I know I am in the right place.