Sderot Redux (Part 3)

Should you find yourself on a future AACI Study Trip, be forewarned that you will be asked (and reminded, but in a nice way) to fill out the evaluation form and rate 1) how well the trip was run; 2) all about the accommodations –the service, the food; 3) how good was the guide; 4) every place on the itinerary. No surprise, people don’t always agree. But to get a division of the house, yea or nay, that’s rare.

We had started out the next day (that’s Wed., if you’re keeping track) and made our first stop at the Sderot Media Center, a place that engendered opposing feelings by those of us on the trip. To be fair, its director and guiding light, Noam Bedein, was not around, and the task of explaining what is going on there was left to another young man. Maybe he just wasn’t up to the task. Dov did tell us about his own experiences: how the rocket attacks in recent years put a complete kibosh on his plans to do graduate work at the university in Beersheva, as well as wreaked havoc on his bronchial system. His take on the current situation was markedly different from what we heard from many of the other folks we talked with.

If I understood him correctly, the Iron Dome was essentially a Band-Aid. It made people feel secure, but it did nothing to address the underlying problem. Much of the government’s response has been cosmetic, targeting empty buildings in response to very real rocket attacks. The current government, he feels, is busy pursuing other issues and leaving the people of Sderot to fend for themselves. Fair enough.

Someone asked him if he though regional representation in the Knesset would help matters? There have been Knesset members from the Sderot area, but they have not advocated for their neighbors, so changing the electoral system probably wouldn’t do much unless the government changed its policies.

If you want to obtain statistics as to the number of rockets fired at Sderot and environs over the years and the ensuing damage they caused, the Media Center has that information. If you want to see film clips of traumatized school children (from 2007), the Media Center has those too. But, as they say in these parts, Az mah (then what?). The Center has focused with steely intensity on the problem, but, as Dov admitted privately, he could not offer a specific solution. So what’s the point? What’s supposed to happen? Are they just complaining?

The other day, there were reports in the local newspapers that only about 20% of Israelis had bothered to get a flu shot, and, consequently, about ten people had died of influenza. The next day, there was a stampede on the kupot cholim, people had gotten the message and were now lining up to get their shots (including our daughter; Barbara and I had gotten our shots long before). So there is definitely a point in gathering facts and figures as long as you do something with them. Maybe if Noah Bedein had been there, we would have gotten a more well-rounded presentation, but some of us left, shall we say, less-than-satisfied.

As long as we were in Sderot, why not drop in at the indoor playground, funded by the JNF, right smack dab in the industrial area, in a building that had formerly been a textile warehouse. We had been there before; most people who show up on a tour of Sderot get taken there. It’s a great promo for the JNF: kids having a safe place to play, no matter what is going on outside. (I should mention that right down the block is all that remains of a factory, leveled during a recent rocket attack.)

We were given a perfunctory tour of the place by one of the employees. (This is this; this is that. Well, I could probably figure it out on my own.)

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A pretty nifty place for kids to play

The manager of the place overheard what was going on and decided to interject a little hizzuk of his own. I live here; my children live here; my grandchildren live here. We’re staying! He did admit later, privately, that some of his grandchildren are on medication. Of course, a lot of the kids in Bergen County are also on medication, and their biggest stressor is being late for the school bus.

A personal aside: Growing up, my group of friends spent quality time in the schoolyard playing basketball, one sport in which I developed a certain level of proficiency. One thing that none of us could do was jump and touch the rim of the basket (10 feet high). There in the JNF playground was a kid-sized basket (maybe 8 feet). Now, sixty years past my best playing days, I still can’t touch the rim – let alone dunk the ball. Not having touched a basketball in – what – twenty years, I was able to sink one shot out of the ten or so I took. Am I getting old, or what?

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For kids and old men

Change of pace: We were off to Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah to visit with Tzameret Zamir (is that an Israeli name, or what?). If you’re heading south from Ashkelon on the main road (route 4), you’ll reach a junction, and, invariably, you’ll take a left on route 34. That’s the way to Sderot and every other place we had visited so far. What happens if you go straight instead? That’s the way to the Erez crossing into Gaza and a nearby park that serves as an overlook and a memorial to those fallen in battle.

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Too many people have died….

There was a time, not that long ago, when that road was filled with trucks coming and going from Gaza to points north. No more. There is some vehicular traffic these days, but not so much. However, it is the way to Tzameret’s house, so that’s the way we went.

It’s not just her house; it’s also her studio and, de facto, a visitor’s center, where we would sit, listen to her presentation, and admire the ceramics that she creates.

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I had to buy it

Like everyone else we met on our trip, she had her own take on the situation, but her way of dealing with it was to create a Peace Wall. The government had built a wall on the edge of the moshav closest to the Gaza border. Like similar walls, it was soulless, ugly, depressing. Is that what you want to see every day? Is that how you want to view the world? What Tzameret did – in the spirit of making the proverbial lemonade – was to create the outlines for a message of hope (whether realistic or not, I leave it to you to judge). Anyone who comes to her studio may select a small ceramic piece to glue onto the wall in an appropriate spot.

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Jeff and Ann Rothenberg leading by example 

She has gotten messages of support from people on the other side of the border – for whatever that’s worth. Like every other community in this area, the population is growing; new housing, some of it fairly opulent, is in the offing. People want to live here, despite everything. As I’ve said before, and I’m sure I’ll say again. Go figure.

We’re not done yet; please be patient.

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