Each his neighbor they help, and to his brother he said: "Be strong!"
(Isaiah, XLI, 6)
We have now started our eighth year of intensive activity in assisting the children and youth of Sderot. A tense calm reigns in the region, sporadically disturbed by terrorists from Hamastan-Gaza, be they Hamas people or other Jihadist groups. A few months ago a long concrete reinforced underground tunnel was discovered, ending near one of the villages inside Israeli territory. Recently an Israeli worker for the Ministry of Defense was killed by a sniper while repairing the fence, from time to time rockets are fired at our villages , and most fortunately land in general in open spaces.
The end of the linkage to Moslem Brotherhood's Egypt., the difficult economic situation caused by the closure of the supply tunnels by the Egyptian army and the continuation of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, all these generate a heavy pressure on the Hamas. Although apparently unwilling to escalate the situation for the time being, nobody in the region deludes himself that the relative calm shall continue, and a renewal of outbursts of violence is only a question of time.
The extensive investment in shelters and other protective infrastructure, as the deployment of the anti-rocket Iron Dome defense system, have proven their efficiency : despite the huge number of rockets and mortar shells of all kinds that were sent on Sderot and other Gaza surrounding localities, the number of casualties remained a minimum. Let us hope that this will also be the situation in case of a general outbreak of violence in the region.
In the local elections last October, Alon Davidi was elected Mayor of Sderot, replacing David Buskila. The financial situation of the city is still difficult, and a stiff implementation of the recovery plan is needed. This means, among other measures, the dismissal of many tens of workers. The generally low economic level of the population of Sderot, whereas the municipality is one of the major employers, makes this particularly hard.
Besides dismissals, "efficiency measures" means also a reduction of services offered by the municipality, mainly in the field of welfare. While there is a significant governmental budget for vital issues as children and youth at risk, broken families or lonely elderly, it can be operated only provided a municipal participation of 10% to 25%. When the municipality is unable to pay its share, the whole budget fails to be operated.
However, there is also encouraging news. A railway station was inaugurated
at the end of the year, and the inhabitants of Sderot and the surroundings can now reach the center of Tel-Aviv in one hour. An old dream has become reality, and may change the regional quality of life.
In this context, we continue our action in the areas of social welfare, informal education, care of children and youth at risk, warm meals for children from social care families clubs, anti-drug workshops, high-school alcohol abuse, or violence prevention. We pursued the promotion of numerous educational platforms, among them workshops for high school students, 13th and 14th grade curriculum for electronic practical engineers, financing enrichment courses for children and youth in cooperation with the municipal welfare department and the Community Center, as well as a pre-military preparation class, purchasing Cinematheque subscription cards for children and more.
Here are some details about our activities in Sderot during the past year:
Children and youth at risk Clubs
One of the main issues we deal with. We support directly 5 clubs and two familial "greenhouses", treating altogether 120 children and youth at risk. Our support consists in a monthly contribution to each of the clubs, assistance in connection with the national and municipal welfare authorities, holiday gifts and so on.
The project continued and even extended, while successive cuts in the municipal welfare budget diminished and almost eliminated the possibility for the clubs to prepare hot and nourishing meals for the children
there. Because of the difficult economic situation of their families, the meal provided through this program is all too often the only warm meal that they receive during the whole day. Thanks to the generosity of the Christians for Israel in Canada Community who have undertaken to support our warm meal project, we are able to offer every day in all "our" clubs a decent meal comprising meat, vegetables and fruit, to tens of children at risk from families in distress. The Spiritual Shepherd of the Community, Revd. John Tweedie, visits Sderot regularly at least once a year and brings back to his flock in Canada first hand impressions that generate an ever growing, greatly appreciated long term contribution, particularly to this project.
For this seventh consecutive year, we sent pupils from the two comprehensive high-schools in Sderot – the religious and the secular – to workshops at the Cameri Theater in Tel-Aviv. These included visits of the theater, conversations with actors and stage directors, and attendance at a play chosen by the school.
This successful project of "Musical tastings" continues for the third year, at the comprehensive secular high-school in cooperation with the Music and Dance Academy in Jerusalem. Musicians from the Academy come to the school and demonstrate the use of various instruments – strings, percussion, wind and keyboard. At the end of the round, they join in a short and explained concert, in which they play a well known musical work.
English language computer Lab
Responding to the demand of the comprehensive secular high-school for the creation of a computer English language lab, we have collected some 220,000 NIS from various donators and established a modern and elaborate laboratory, which operates at the school since the beginning of school year 2013-2014.
We purchased annual subscriptions for all the Club children. Here we attained a double goal: offering children the possibility to watch quality movies, and provide a critical financial support to the local cinematheque, which has severe budgetary problems.
Summer camps and summer projects
With the generous help of donators, we managed to send 200 children from distressed families to summer camps of the Community Center, and hold other summer activities for them after the camps were closed. Whereas there was in the past some participation of the Welfare Department and the Community Center in the budget of the summer camps, this year the whole financing relied on us, because of the difficult situation of the Municipality and the Community Center. Without our financial support, there would have been no summer camps at all last summer.
Study groups for children from social care families
A joint project with the Community Center, during the whole school year, involving at least one hundred children. It includes enriching courses in English, computers, or drawing, ceramics, judo, capoeira, dance, various instruments playing and more. This was made possible mainly thanks to an important contribution by the Dan & Gloria Schusterman Foundation, which generously responded to our request. The program included about 60 members of the Children's Clubs, who joined the other children already taking part in the activities of the Community Center, up to a total of 160 children.
Cooperation with the Jerusalem Music and Dance Academy
This year has seen a considerable strengthening of our cooperation with the Community and Youth Unit of the Music Academy located on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University. Besides the Musical Days at the high-schools, the Academy students give tutoring lessons at the Community Center and the Conservatory musical clubs, and have raised their level very significantly. The contribution of the Academy staff and students is on a fully voluntary basis, and we support all the travel expenses between Sderot and Jerusalem.
Cooperation with the Sapir Academic College
We have met the new President of the College, professor Jimmy Weinblatt who was impressed by our activity in Sderot and instructed the Community Involvement unit of the College to meet us and coordinate common activities. We are aware that the College has had an intensive activity in Sderot over the years, but there is always room for more. We have established a steering team in association with the city Education and Welfare Departments , and shall initiate during 2014 our cooperation with the Sapir College in the fields that would be sekected.
Practical engineers course for 13th and 14th grade pupils
Tens of pupils have until now been trained in four courses as electronics practical engineers, and joined the Air Force. The project is continued at the "Amal" College in Beer-Sheba, and preparations are under way to select appropriate candidates for the sixth course. This project has proven a great success: even though the number of students is not high, one has to recall that priority is given to the recruitment to fighting units, and that the yearly total of 12th grade graduates does not exceed 200-250 pupils.
Pre-military preparation course
The Preparatory School is now in its permanent premises and has been granted recognition by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Defense. The participants, coming from other localities, have well integrated in the city, volunteer in social activities and represent a major contribution to the community in which they live. Our main assistance consists in promoting solutions to problems linked to the local authorities and other factors thanks to our own involvement and influence, and to our ability to move things forward consequently.
Links with the Negev Nuclear Research Center
Scientists from the Center serve as tutors to pupils of the secular comprehensive high school, especially in computers disciplines, and bring them to impressive achievements in their final works. The project, which we initiated at the beginning of our action in Sderot, continues worthily since then.
The programs described above are the highlights of our activities in Sderot, as we are fully committed to pursue an eighth year of intensive activity there. We are present there at least once a week and have become a part of the landscape and an address for requests from various factors to help in a wide range of all kinds of subjects.
We consider all these requests with the utmost seriousness and respond to them positively in the measure of our best possibilities. Sometimes our knowledge of government institutions or influential organizations and personal links with them are sufficient to obtain the required assistance. Some other times, when the subject does not correspond exactly with our declared aims, we do not hesitate to contribute personally with our private moneys and help wherever we can. The most important for us is to be able to be helpful and solve problems – which, alas, abound.
All our activity is run on a basis of complete voluntarism. There is not even one salaried member of the Association, and the professional help that we receive in legal advice or accountancy is also benevolent. Every shekel collected by us from donations in Israel and abroad reaches entirely its destination, namely support to the population of Sderot and particularly to
its children and youth at risk.