Courageous Personalities Leading and Standing Firm
When you hear the shachar adom—the warning alarm that a Kassam missile is imminent, what are you supposed to do? Find the concrete structure to hide in. Or find a safe place, or find a room in your house—how long do you have to hide, to seek shelter? Seven seconds!!! What if you are walking on the street? What do you do then? Lie on the ground and wait for it to pass.
Matan, a boy of fifteen, was playing in the street with his friends when the alarm sounded. A pause, a delay for only a split second cost him his toes. He is now in rehabilitation, trying to figure out a way to get on with his life. Another boy wasn’t so ‘lucky’, he lost his legs in a similar explosion.
The rockets create fear; fear creates uncertainty and that leads to paralysis. This is the sad equation which plagues the city. A head of the social welfare of Sderot says that Social workers won’t come into Sderot. Prices have dropped a third! And the situation will get worse! People are fleeing; kids are searching for some sense of comfort, of moral support if not any other type. The situation is bleak, but there is still hope.
For these kids, we have our OU Makom Balev youth group. You might think that this group would have become defunct when bombs are falling all around; yet in Sderot that is the farthest from the truth, especially when you meet the Youth Group’s director, Guy Nagar.
Guy Nagar is a young man with great ideals; he’s a hard worker, filled with vision, purpose, and spirit. Guy and his wife Na’ama have put off their careers in order to work full time for Am Yisrael in the field of Chinuch as the Director of an astonishingly successful Makom Balev youth branch. But all this is not what is amazing about Guy and Naama. There are many young idealistic youth directors throughout the country and the world. What sets Guy apart is that his youth group is also a war zone! At a time when anyone who can flee, packs up their bags and leaves, Guy believes in staying in Sderot and working to rebuild the embattled town.
The Sderot branch opened up over six years ago, at a time when it was relatively safe in Sderot, starting out in an apartment and as they grew, they moved to a dusty, uncomfortable, but large shelter starting programming for all kids in the city from 5th grade until 11th. Little did they know that the move to the shelter would end up being the main reason that despite the rockets and that parents are not letting their kids out of their homes, some 200 kids are connected to this OU Israel, Makom Balev branch, the largest youth group in Sderot. With programs and activities running every week for kids, it seems almost like Guy Nagar has no time to consider the fear and anxiety of kassam rockets; he is too busy trying to cater to the youth of Sderot!
But it is only an illusion. Guy is well aware of the risk; his wife, Naama, born and raised in Gush Katif, is in constant fear, feeling locked up in her safe room with her two little boys beside her. Indeed, Guy wrote of the horrifying fact that his son’s first words were: “Red, Red, afraid, afraid”. There is nothing natural about that, nothing which makes you feel safe. Naama fears the notion of fleeing yet another piece of Israel. No, the couple have resolved to stay in Sderot, with the intention of building up the community and bringing in young families to redevelop. Impossible? That word is not in Guy’s dictionary!
Born in Ashkelon, he attended Yeshivat Hesder in Yerucham and is currently a law student. But he does not plan on dropping Makom Balev for a lucrative life in law; instead he intends to continue his work with youth while becoming an independent lawyer in the community. Guy is in charge of all religious children’s programs in Sderot. Makom Balev in Sderot has created a network where the different groups and denominations work together towards the greater good of its kids, especially in the midst of war. When kids can’t come to the branch, he created a program where counselors go and visit the kids in their homes. This is just one example of his successful creativity.
Makom Balev has many programs running to try to maintain the mental health of the city’s younger residents. Makom Balev offers the kids a chance to divert their minds from the constant fear and to search for positive ways to connect to each other and to God. The close relationship that the counselors have with the kids reflects the ideals Guy and his staff bring to the community. They are not leaving, they are on the front lines; they will stay and fight and defend our country. Sitting with Guy gives me a sense of pride in knowing that we will not give up, he will continue working, creating, inspiring, and comforting the residents of Sderot. And there are others like him who are doing the same. Guy has coordinated a team of leaders in Sderot who are joining together to raise funds for all of the city’s youth. Lay leaders from all backgrounds have one common goal—to stand firm on the front lines, impart confidence and stability to the youth, and offer support and positive programming for the future leaders of Israel.
The group, called Derech Hanoar, is grassroots and intends to provide leadership in Sderot and to be a departure point for restoring pride and confidence in our cities, municipalities, and ultimately, in our homeland.
With people like Guy we can rest assured that we have not given up; we are here to fight and to provide care and support to the youngsters of Sderot. Makom Balev will continue to serve this city with determination, and honor.
Our Sderot campaign will focus on supporting Guy and his team and the youth of Sderot, bringing them much needed comfort, special programming, and more spiritual inspiration.
With your help we can succeed.
Rabbi Avi Baumol is Director of Communications for OU Israel
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.