Rabbi Weinreb in Sderot: From Laughing to Crying and Back Again

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On Thursday May 31, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, his wife Chavi, and a number of other OU representatives, visited Sderot. Below are the messages Rabbi Weinreb sent while there.

I. Thursday, May 31, 2007 4:31 PM

We just arrived in Sderot. A sprawling pretty town, splashed in sunlight. Greenery. But quiet. Spooky quiet. Our first stop, a crack in the pavement looking harmless. But six feet away, a few bouquets of red and pink flowers, placed there by passersby in memory of the woman who was killed here a few days ago. The crack in the pavement is where the kassam fell. Then I noticed the shrapnel marks in the walls of the surrounding shops.

Most of the shops in this mini-mall are closed. No customers. Some are open, but with reduced inventories and reduced staff. We are standing in a bakery. Delicious fragrance of freshly baked challot and pastries. For shabbat. Normally on a Thursday afternoon the place would be filled wall to wall. Crowded with customers. Today, the five of us are the only customers.

We are greeted by our guide for the day from the Gatin Torani (Torah/Religious Community) here.

We are among the very few who have visited here, he says.

Hold it–we just heard a code red. They are pushing us indoors. On the floor. We are all on the floor. Now the all clear. It seems the rocket fell North of the town, Wow! Avi Baumol just regrets that he didn’t get a picture of me and Chavi on the floor.

Now we are all laughing.

Only politicians and the press come here.

A woman approaches us crying. Don’t look at us as miskenim, as objects of pity. We want to live b’derech kavod, dignified. No handouts, no charity. Just normalcy. I built a home here and we sold “adidas”. Who is buying sportswear now?

The kassam fell in an open area. Started a small fire which is now being extinguished.

The shopkeepers here feel abandoned. Like they are the korbanot (sacrifices).

That is it for now.
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II. Thursday, May 31, 2007 4:50 PM

Just came to mercaz chesed (chesed center). Run by the garin (community). Met Arye Bonner friend of Rabbi Billet. This place gives out food to the hungry, clothing to the poor, and entertainment to frightened children. After seeing stockpiles of food for shabbat packages and a huge storeroom of clothing for distribution, I am now doing one of my favorite things, watching a puppet show with a ventriloquist, and a sing-along with pre-schoolers. Can you hear them in the background?

Twenty minutes ago I was cowering under a table. Now I am in a colorful gan (playgroup) watching an expert puppeteer teach sweet little kids a cute song called “kulanu b’yachad” (we are all together/one).
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III. Thursday May 31, 2007 5:16 PM

The woman who runs the clothing warehouse is herself unemployed and came to the mercaz chesed for aid. Now she volunteers here and is a major force. We need to put her in touch with Simcha Katz’ daughter’s used clothing project.

Now we are at an apartment which was hit by a kassam last week. The residents were not home. The damaged apartment is in the corner of the second story and people are living in the rest of the building.

The friend of Rabbi Billet, Arye Bonner, gave me a sefer “V’Asu Li Mikdash” by Rav Korn, an illustrated detailed album about the Beit Hamikdash. A free sefer makes all the risk worthwhile.

Our guide is telling us about the koach (power) of emunah of faith. The non-religious here had emunah in Defense minister Peretz. He was a great mayor here, he lives here, so he would help them when he became defense minister. So they thought. Now they are disillusioned with nothing else to believe in. We have a “back up”, the ribbono shel olam. That’s the only way to make it through.

Our guide now takes leave. Tearfully, we promise to help, to return with others, to spread the word. He jokingly tells me that he paid Hamas to shoot the kassam when we were here so that we’d have an experience to talk about.

Now we are joined by Guy Nagar who leads our Makom BaLev program here. He tells me that he is finishing law school and I tease him that we will lose him for a better paying job. He is not sure that law pays better than makom balev.
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At 6pm Rabbi Weinreb and the OU delegation in Sderot took part in a conference call with leaders in the United States. Rabbi Weinreb spoke of the siren, stating, “I was too frightened to be frightened.” He found the visit “mind-boggling,” having experienced “for a few hours what the people of Sderot are going through 24-hours a day…We heard the impact of the missiles as they hit, then the sound of the fire engines racing to put out any blaze they may have caused.” Rabbi Weinreb added, “Don’t think this is a wasteland. Sderot is not the Warsaw Ghetto; it is a beautiful city. What makes it all the more surreal is to know that in this lovely place the code red will sound at any moment.”

Rabbi Avi Berman, the director of the OU Israel Center, pointed out, “We only experienced two of the thousands of missiles that have fallen on Sderot. It is heart-breaking to see the situation here.” He described businesses being at a standstill, stores closed, people who bought homes now without any income to make their mortgage payments.

Rabbi Weinreb added, “People feel abandoned. We were told that we are the first visitors in the past few weeks except for a government delegation and the press. We need to do as much as possible so the people of Sderot will not feel abandoned.”

The OU continues to raise funds for Sderot and is calling upon individuals and synagogues to dedicate next Shabbat, Parashat Shelach, June 9 as a Sderot Shabbat, concentrating efforts to fundraise for the Sderot community.

Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is the Executive Vice President of the OU

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.