After being in Israel for three months and with another five months until our gap year program with Noam ends, we decided to take a trip to Sderot. Sitting in a beautiful park, freshly watered grass and pristine children’s apparatus, it was hard to believe that we were resting in one of the most dangerous towns in Israel. 8000 rockets have been fired at it over the past eight years, causing destruction, injuries, and sometimes fatalities.
As inexplicable as it might sound, though, the residents of Sderot are calm, peaceful and serene. They go about their everyday lives with an inspirational attitude. After interacting with some inhabitants of Sderot, we soon realised this was no ordinary town. Although the residents use this devastation of a situation to their advantage, to accumulate money for fundraising towards the brilliant Sapir College, the residents have unbelievable faith in god, and a strong sense of pride and belief.
Upon entering the huge college of Sapir again we realised how extraordinary this haven of a college was. With bomb shelters situated at ever corner and often most hallways, this was very far away from the student life as we knew it. After getting a general understanding of the town, we were soon greeted by a wonderful man called Eyal. He was the director of Hillel, community movement within the college. Eyal informed us of the importance of unison, community, and above all faith that the residents here must abide by in order to live a satisfactory life here.
Despite all the mishaps, the ducking and diving of the rockets launched here on a regular basis, the college offers a range of courses and is one of the most prestigious colleges in Israel, with over 7000 students. Also located in this college is a fabulous second hand shop; the reason why this is such a big success is because it gave the residents here something to focus on in times of desperation. All the shelves, the changing rooms, the till and of course the clothes are second hand. It was a community project and the people who participated were all volunteers.
The inhabitants of Sderot impressed us once again as we were all under the impression that there was a lot of hatred towards the people of Gaza because of the rockets. However, it was quite the opposite, as all the citizens here want peace and tranquillity. They obviously wouldn’t invite the residents of Gaza round for a cup of tea, but most of them do not want to retaliate and just want to live without the risk of death. The message we took from the meeting with Eyal was that both governments need to go back to dialogue, negotiating and communicating together: this is the only way the rockets are going to stop being fired. After thanking Eyal and departing from the college we were all left deep in thought, moved and inspired by Sderot.
As naïve wanderers we were astounded and shocked to find a magnificent market right in the middle of the town, with the familiar hustle and bustle, to-ing and fro-ing that market life entails. We had taken these markets for granted in all other towns.
We wandered round the town centre for a while after, and decided to speak to some villagers lurking around the town. We found it a challenge to find English speakers here, but we soon introduced ourselves to man called Shmoyal. Shmoyal owned a newsagent shop, selling just general items like cigarettes, sweets, newspapers etc. The first question we asked him was “where is your bomb shelter?” and we did not expect the fabulous reply, which was “I don’t need one, what will happen is in gods hands, I pray and put tefillin on every morning and que se ra, se ra”
After loosing track of time and 45 minutes later we had to leave him and go on our way; however this was not before we exchanged numbers and agreed to have a “real” chat about Sderot when he was next in Jerusalem. This meeting is still open and we have called Shmoyal and are still in suspense waiting for his trip to see us in Jerusalem.
We are writing to you not only because our leader thought it was a good idea, but because we honestly were moved and touched by the people of Sderot, We felt it was important for us to inform you, of not only the sorrow and sadness these people endeavour but the happiness, and unison they have. I suggest that if you are ever in Israel you take the initiative to visit not only the beautiful parts like the Dead Sea, the Kinneret and the Western Wall but also parts that are in devastation and destruction. In fact you wouldn’t even know you were in a dangerous town if it wasn’t for the sirens that alert you, as the reconstruction of the town is so superb.
By Melissa Ingram, Roseanna Niman, Samuel Hallowell and Yael Mosseson
(Noam Drachim Gap Year Participants 2009/2010)