December 30, 2008

A Visit To Sderot - December 28, 2008

Reflections from Alan Gill, Executive Director of International Relations, JDC-Israel

Today, I accompanied Arnon Mantver, Director of JDC-Israel and two senior professionals to Sderot to meet with Mayor David Bouskila and his staff. As you all know, Sderot is a primary target of missile attacks by Hamas and, following the onset of the current Israeli army offensive, has braced itself for a major counter rocket attack.

Some brief reflections as follows:

The streets were very quiet. Restaurants were open, so we stopped to eat hummus in a small restaurant where a missile had struck an hour before and just a few feet from the front door. The owner insisted on taking us to see his car whose back window was blown out by the blast. He was smiling at his good luck in that only the car and not the restaurant was hit.

Morale was positive. The people we met there are very supportive of the Israeli offensive. After eight years under rocket attacks, they are relieved to see this strategic offensive on the part of the Israel Defense Forces.

There were incoming missiles while we were walking to see where rockets had hit an hour earlier. After years of enduring these attacks, everyone reacted calmly and knew just what to do. They all knew the nearest shelter's location and there was absolutely no sense of panic.

And after the missiles landed, people immediately started debating with one another as to how close they hit based upon the loudness of the "boom". Ears are well-tuned there.

We were very impressed with Mayor Bouskila and his team's approach to creating a widespread sense of both community organization and rapid response. For example, immediately after missiles hit, city workers and community youth volunteers, who are part of JDC's AMEN Youth Volunteer Initiative, descended upon the wreckage and commenced with repairs and clean-up.

We were at an apartment that was hit by a missile only one hour earlier. The owner, an older woman immigrant from Kharkov, welcomed us warmly and chatted with Arnon in Russian while workers were busy replacing her windows and volunteers were finishing the clean up of all the glass in her house. Outside her window, workers were filling in the shrapnel holes in her wall as well as smoothing over the holes in the garden. Everyone was determined that this woman be able to sleep in her bed tonight and to immediately return her apartment to its former condition. This was both impressive and heartwarming.

It is also clear that JDC programs are making a critical difference for the community, including supportive neighborhoods for the elderly and people with disabilities, emergency consulting & crisis management for the municipalities, The "Chibuki" doll & "Red Color Song" programs to ease children's trauma, "Helping the Helpers" to insure coordination of first response emergency crews.

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