In the Negev region of Israel there is a city called Sderot, which serves as a commercial, medical, cultural and educational center for the surrounding area. Brochures seeking to attract visitors might call it “kassum,” Hebrew for “enchanting,” if not for the fact that today Sderot’s main claim to fame is the Kassam missiles that rain into it from the Gaza strip, often without warning. For over a decade, Hamas terrorists have been trying their best to destroy everything kassum in Sderot with their Kassams.
So naturally, when I came to visit the city, I was surprised to see banners proclaiming, “Bati l’Sderot ki Kassum li,” which in English translates to, “I came to Sderot because it enchanted me,” with an alef added in parentheses to make sure the pun on “Kassam” came through loud and clear.
At first I assumed it was an attempt at humor, but I soon learned that the charms of Sderot are no joke. This city is full of heroic people who won’t allow missiles to destroy their love of life and who continue living there, refusing to relinquish Jewish land and Jewish pride, no matter how tough it gets.
When I asked people what gives them the strength to remain there, they gave me many different answers. But the one repeated most often was, “It’s the support we get from our Jewish brothers and sisters, who come from all over the world to help us persevere, and hope for a better future.”
The threat of missile attacks hovers over Sderot at all times, yet the stories of brotherly love and kindness keep popping up. Here are a few vignettes from the local residents:
Many professionals or business owners have come and offered their wares or services free of charge to the people of Sderot. One shoe store owner from Tel Aviv closed his store for a day and drove down to Sderot with a carload of brand-new children’s shoes in all sizes and colors. He didn’t know anyone in Sderot, so he simply parked his car by the main shopping center and called out to the passersby, “Come and get free shoes for the kids!” You can imagine how happy the children of Sderot were that day.
During periods of heavy missile fire, people came from all over Israel simply to show their support. Some made the trip to Sderot to do their weekly grocery shopping in the city’s stores in order to contribute to the local economy. Masseurs offered free services to assist adults with the ongoing stress and tension; teachers came to give lessons to the children in the bomb shelters; trauma teams of psychologists and social workers, sponsored by OU Israel, offered counseling to children at local schools; famous entertainers arrived to take people’s minds off the constant fear, if only for a little while. But what touched me most of all was the gesture by the evacuees of Gush Katif, people who had been dragged out of their homes and were still trying to recover from that trauma. Many of these evacuees would travel to Sderot and go from door to door every erev Shabbat to hand out home-baked challah and cakes.
This is the greatness of Am Yisrael. When times get hard, Jews of all stripes come together in a cohesive unit, living and breathing as one. Times of crisis bring out the beauty of our people.
Now if only we could learn to be united when there is no crisis and things are relatively peaceful.
Translated by Yocheved Lavon.
Lior Kakon is an Ivrit and Judaic studies teacher at Hillel Torah in Skokie, Illinois.