Report from Sderot
Currently leading an OU Solidarity Mission to Israel consisting of over 40 individuals, joined by Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president, emeritus of the OU, and Rabbi Avi Berman, executive director of OU Israel.
Friday — We met with one of the engineering groups that is demolishing the tunnels. The leader of the brigade said it takes 3-4 days under optimal conditions to destroy a tunnel with multiple openings.
We met with the Sayeret Golani brigade that lost seven soldiers to a RPG attack last Sunday, in a Black Hawk Down type of battle, trying to evacuate their peers. We saw the backpacks of the seven, which their peers guarded as kodesh kodashim. As well as the standard supplies, we brought them multiple generators, which they had requested of Rabbi Berman.
Friday night in Sderot — the most meaningful Friday night davening that I ever had. Over 500 officers, soldiers and members of counterintelligence units davened, slept and ate at the Yeshivat Hesder Sderot. To see guys davening for the first Friday night of their life and dressed in all types of gear. They were welcomed not only by the yeshiva but by all of Sderot with open arms. They trained in urban warfare on construction sites of apartment buildings. We talked for hours with counterintelligence soldiers and officers of combat units. The morale is extremely high and Hamas is starting to buckle. Israeli soldiers were leaving hospitals without permission to get back to their comrades in Gaza. The IDF had to put guards at the hospitals to prevent this. There is an extremely united sense of purpose. There still is resistance but many Hamas posts have been abandoned and the resistance is significantly less. The tunnel network is extensive but they are finding more and more. Before the ceasefire on Shabbos morning, Israel was bombing Beit Hanoun and Khan Yunis all Friday night. The sound of cannon fire, F-16s and other Israeli weapons didn’t stop all night. You couldn’t sleep; needless to say, war isn’t the way it’s portrayed in the movies. We were about a kilometer from the border so we were watching buildings that had explosives in them explode, and burst out in black smoke that filled the sky.
For 2000 years we have only been on the receiving end of implements of war and in our lifetime we have been blessed with the means of being able to defend ourselves, and not have to be slaughtered, but can respond with force.
I had lunch with the new mayor of Sderot and his family in their home. He is a former executive of the Hesder Yeshiva and facilitated the OU expansion in town. He is a capable leader who has found many funding partners for municipal projects. We counted six cranes from the view out of our dormitory room and he shared that 3000 apartments and condos are under construction. There are jobs in Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Be’er Sheva, all within a 30 minute commute, and Tel Aviv is only 50 minutes with the high speed train. They set up funds to subsidize university education for residents. They are grateful for the country’s response.
Tomorrow we go on hospital and shiva visits as well as meeting with CEOs whose companies have been profitable and functioning under continuous rocket fire.
There is a real sense of purpose and unity in the country.
I could go on, but the city, the soldiers and the combat unit saw that the Jewish world cares and is behind them. They were really grateful, though not as grateful as we are to them.