Each his neighbor they help, and to his brother he said: "Be strong!"
(Isaiah, XLI, 6)
Eight years of intensive activity in assisting the children and youth of Sderot are behind us, and we are already engaged in the ninth one.
The most significant event that occurred last year in Sderot and in the region surrounding the Gaza strip was Operation Protective Edge, which started in the summer of 2014, lasting 50 days. Hamas rocket arsenal was seriously reduced, dozens of attack underground tunnels discovered and destroyed, and hundreds of terrorists severely hit. Most regrettably, a few hundreds of innocent civilians used against their will as human shields also died. Houses and high-rises used by Hamas were destroyed.
Thanks to the exteneive investment in shelters and other protective infrastructure, along with the efficient anti-rocket Iron Dome defense system, the number of casualties in Sderot and other settlements surrounding Gaza was relatively lower than it would have been lacking these protections.
But the situation within the Gaza strip remains volatile. With the border with Egypt effectively closed and the Egyptian army actively destroying tunnels, the billions of dollars pledged by the Arab states for the restoration of the ruins is not enough to rebuild Gaza. This situation is likely to bring the Gaza pressure cooker to explosive tensions that might explode sooner or later. A new outburst of violence is, unfortunately, only a question of time.
At the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge the government provided the municipality of Sderot desperately needed funding. There is some improvement – but not enough – in the welfare services given in vital areas, such as children and youth at risk, needy families, lonely elderly and so on.
And so we continue our pro-active engagement in the areas of social welfare, education, child-care and youth at risk, warm meals for children from social care families clubs, drug rehabilitation 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 engineers, financing enrichment courses for children and youth in cooperation with the municipal welfare department and the Community Center, a pre-military preparation class, 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 5 clubs and two familial "greenhouses", treating 120 children and youth at risk. Our support consists of monthly contributions to each of the clubs, assistance in partnership with the national and municipal welfare authorities, holiday gifts and so on.
Warm meals 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, our support continued to grow, providing sustainability. 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 eighth consecutive year, we sent pupils from the comprehensive secular high-school in Sderot 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. Providing “food” for the spirit and soul is critical to the wellbeing of the young residents of Sderot, who live in a continuous state of high alert.
This successful high school project of "Musical tastings" continues for the fourth year in collaboration 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.
We were saddned to lose last summer a good friend, music professor David (Dudu) Sella, a talented cellist teaching at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, who had worked tirelessly to promote this musical education in Sderot. Leaving us with his inspiring vision, we are committed to continuing his important work.
English language computer Lab
Responding to the demand of the high-school for the creation of a computer English language lab, we have collected some 220,000 NIS (apprx. $60,000) from various donators and established a state of the art laboratory, which operates since the beginning of school year 2013-2014.
Summer camps and summer projects
As Operation Protective Edge took place during July and August, all summer camps were cancelled and shut down. Instead, there were frequent calming and recreational outings to leisure or historical sites in quieter regions of the country, like Superland or Lunapark. Our assistance was in providing tens of buses to the Community Center for the transportation of the children for these vital activities.
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 year we also started a chess club, thanks to a nice donation by a person who asked it to be earmarked for that particular activity. 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. This community center, made possible thanks to the generous contribution of the Dan & Gloria Schusterman Foundation, now benefits 160 children.
Cooperation with the Jerusalem Music and Dance Academy
This year we have further strengthened 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, significantly raising the kids musical skills. The Academy staff and students volunteer their time and knowledge with much love and commitment, with us covering solely travel expenses between Sderot and Jerusalem.
Cooperation with the Sapir Academic College
We have met the new President of the College, professor Omri Yadlin, and with the Chairman of the executive board and the board of trustees, attorney Gilead Sher. We agreed with the Dean of Students, Alon Gayer, to continue our narrow cooperation with the Campus-Community Partnership and to establish a yearly scholarship endowment for students of the College or pupils of the Sderot high-school, in memory of two members of our society, Shmuel Reshef and Yaacov Aloni, who passed away during our years of activity in Sderot. At the end of the year there was an impressive and moving ceremony at the College, where the fellowships were distributed and speeches were delivered in remembrance of our late friends.
Practical engineers course for 13th and 14th grade pupils
Tens of pupils have until now been trained in five courses as electronics engineers and, upon graduation, 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 eighth course. This project has proven a great success: while the number of graduating students is not high, the ratio of those joining fighting units is very high when measured in comparison with the total number of graduating students in Sedert, about 200-250 pupils annually.
Links with the Negev Nuclear Research Center The project, which we initiated at the beginning of our engagement in Sderot, continues to earn great merit since. Scientists from the Center serve as tutors to highs school students, especially in computers disciplines, helping them achieve impressive results in their final works.
Conclusion The programs described above are but selected highlights of our activities in Sderot, as we are fully committed to pursue a ninth year of intensive activity there.
We are present there at least once a week and have become a part of the landscape, a “go to” address for requests from individuals and organizations involved in a wide variety community and educational projects. We review and analyze all requests with utmost professionalism and seriousness, responding in accordance with our capacity to assist and make a difference.
Our assistance is not only with funding. We are all retired high-level government, academics, business, education and military professionals with extensive cumulative experience. 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 set agenda, we do not hesitate to contribute personally with our private moneys and help wherever we can. What is most important for us is to be able to be helpful and solve problems.
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.
Our account is being managed at the Ramat HaSharon branch of the Otzar HaHayal Bank, which has also accepted to assist our association by not charging any commissions or other expenses for our operations there.
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, in the areas of formal and informal education.