Jun 4, 2007

Adventures in Eretz Yisrael: Sderot: Daf Yomi: Solidarity

Sderot has been beleaguered with Kassam rockets. They have devastated the morale of the residents of Sderot, and the local businesses have supposedly been worse for the wear. According to the news media, people are emptying out of Sderot in droves. It sounds like it is practically a ghost town. For those staying, aside from the difficult financial situation they are in, the depression is great and the morale is low.

Different groups of people have been organizing trips from around the country to visit Sderot in a show of solidarity.
Somebody in my shiur came up with the idea that we should go to Sderot one night to learn our daf yomi shiur there. We got the general agreement of a nice portion of our group and decided we would do it. I was in charge of making the arrangements.
I got hold of the number of one of the yeshivas in Sderot. This one is the Hesder Yeshiva (in which the students combine their period of military service with learning Torah) of Sderot, though I am told that in recent years a number of new yeshivas have come to find their home in Sderot.
The secretary in the office gave me the number of somebody who helps make such arrangements. We did not want a tour of the city, and we were not coming to distribute food packages or charity or some things other groups do. Such groups are arrange and they happen all the time. Our goal was to go to Sderot, learn our daf yomi there, talk to a few people and go back home.
The objective was threefold:
1. to show solidarity with our brothers in Sderot in their time of distress.
2. To learn Torah in Sderot, providing extra merit for the residents of the city.
3. To remind them that people from around the country have them in our thoughts.

So, off we go to Sderot. We were a small group. A couple of guys who planned on joining had gotten stuck at work and could not make it. Another couple had conflicts of scheduling. Another couple were concerned about the safety of making such a trip. So we were a group of 6 people who went.

It was a pleasant 45 minute drive through the countryside. As we approach Sderot I get directions from my contact how to get to the yeshiva. As we drive through Sderot we notice that it is not the ghost town it is made out to be in the media. There are people walking around, cars on the road, we do not see a line of cars exiting the city, some restaurants and businesses are open, etc. Let's not forget, Sderot is a small city. It has a population of about 24,000 or so. Bet Shemesh is about 4 times as large and businesses also close fairly early in Bet Shemesh, so we were not surprised to see stores closed at 8:30 in the evening.

We find the yeshiva and walk around a bit. The campus is beautiful and promises to be even more so when it will be completed. We meet up with my contact and he takes us to a classroom in which we can study the daf for the next hour or so, after which he had arranged a person to meet with us to describe daily life in Sderot and answer any questions.

He shows us the remnants of a Kassam rocket that had fallen in the area. This specific rocket had fallen in August 2006 next to a kindergarten.

BTW, it is heavier than it looks. It is made of heavy steel and even just that remnant of a Kassam must have weighed about 15 kilo or so...

He leaves us to our gemaras and we learn the daf. I then find out where a nearby shul is in which we would be able to catch a minyan for maariv. It seems the directions given to us were not very good, because we never found that specific shul and the one we found was already closed with no more minyanim for the night. We walked around a bit and found the Magen David Adom station of Sderot. It is right near the yeshiva we were visiting. We saw a number of religious medics inside cleaning up. They offered t complete the minyan for us and we davened inside their station. Afterwards, we continued walking a bit. Right across from the MDA station is the Kadima Party headquarters of Sderot.
You can see the sign has been the victim of a rock attack. Or maybe a Kassam rocket hit it, right in the middle of the word "Kadima"... The building was all closed and locked up with metal gates. It looked kind of unused. I asked somebody if the building is ever n use and he told me it is not, it is always locked up. Kadima opened that branch a few months ago to great fanfare, but it seems it was all just PR because nobody ever actually uses it.

We make our way back to the yeshiva, we learn a little more and then our guest speaker arrives. He sits with us and tells us about life in Sderot. He tells us some stories about how Kassam rockets fell within 20 feet of him and his children. he tells us of a neighbor who was seriously injured by a direct hit from a Kassam. He describes how their daily lives have become complicated by the situation. Schools have not met in 3 weeks. People are afraid to congregate at the bus stops, so they leave earlier than the rush hour times, or they get rides.

He did say that this week it started getting better. We noticed that it did not look like the ghost town it is described as being, and he said until recently it pretty much was, but people have no started coming back and have to get on with their lives. Businesses are trying to open again, people are out and about. He described how many hundreds and thousands of people have been coming from all over the country. Some volunteer to help out with things, some just come to make people happy. They are very appreciative of all the visitors who come.

On our way out of Sderot we stopped at a local grill joint to buy some drinks and snacks for the road (it is already 11:00 pm and everything is pretty much closed..). We chatted with the proprietors. They are older Morrocan Jews. The owner told me that he came to Israel and Sderot 55 years ago, and 56 years ago is when Sderot was established. He has seen ti grow from a small tent village into a sprawling city of nearly 25,000 residents.

He described some of the city and what it is like with so many people having left. He also confirmed that many are starting to come back now. I asked him what he thought about leaving and why he did not. He said we have staying power and we cannot give in to them and let the, chase us out. he was completely against leaving. he pointed to what was I guess his partner, or maybe just a friend hanging out there with him and said his kids had left for a couple of weeks, but he would not go. He insisted on staying.

After that, off we were back to Bet Shemesh.


  1. Yasher kokhakha. Tisske b'misswoth!

  2. Love that bit about the Kadima branch--how telling! I heard you can buy challot from Sderot if you order in advance and pick them up in Jerusalem. I'm going to post about it.


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