- Social & Humanitarian
- The Rebbe
June 25, 2007
Less than a month ago, Sderot’s streets were deserted. Most of the city's residents remained indoors, afraid of the barrage of kassams that has turned this once sleepy, working class town into a flash point of Israeli politics, fear, and turmoil.
Today, some stores are open, some people are on the street, buses are running and cars can be seen on the road. The constant kassam fire has ebbed into one or two a day for the past two weeks, presumably because of the Hamas coup which has thrown Gaza into chaos and wrested power from the more moderate Fatah party with which Hamas once shared power. It remains to be seen if the attacks will resume once relative quiet returns to Sderot’s neighbors in the Gaza Strip.
But all is not calm in Sderot.
Avi Karmi of the Manufacture’s Association of Israel estimates that the direct and indirect financial costs of the kassams have reached 60 million NIS, which has had a huge impact on the small, working class town of Sderot where many people live paycheck to paycheck.
Over 150 employees have abandoned their jobs at manufacturing plants in Sderot. "25 percent of the plants there are transferring their business activities to safer locations," Karmi said via telephone during the heavy attacks in the middle of May.
The numbers are dismal. "80 percent suffer from non-arrivals due to the kassams, and there is a sharp decrease in production."
According to a UN report published the beginning of this month, 40 percent of the population of 23,000 living in Sderot, left town during the heavy attacks of the spring in late May. The majority has now returned—many because they have no other choice.
But the stress is writ large on the faces and in the quick jerky movements of Sderot residents walking down the street; in the nervous gait of mothers pushing baby strollers down bumpy sidewealks for short reprieves from being inside, and in the multitude of shuttered stores.
Behind Tzivia Pizem's roomy and comfortable home in Sderot sits a field connecting her neighborhood with the new one popping up a half mile or so away.
"People run through this field," using it as a short-cut to get from one place to another, because they're afraid to be caught whena kassam falls, she said with a hint of her native Crown Heights accent that fades completely when she speaks Hebrew.
Her large, effusive gestures enhance both the humor and severity of her words.
"There is no more calm here," Tzivia explained. "People are constantly anxious, constantly nervous."
Tzivia is one of a threesome that makes up Chabad Sderot. Her brother-in-law Rabbi Moshe Zev Pizem and husband Rabbi Chanel Pizem together serve the community there.
"The government of Israel has largely forgotten the people here," Tzivia echoed what many residents of the beleaguered town have said.
“Chabad works to fill in the gaps. We make sure people know they are not forgotten. It is so important for people here just to feel like they are seen and heard.”
351 kassam rockets have fallen since the middle of May. In human terms, the impact of this is incalculable.
Rabbi Zev Pizem, who has lived in the small Southern Israeli town for over 20 years says that he has worked to “make sure that everyone in Sderot has what they need from Chabad.”
When the Sderot municipality organizes adults and the elderly for trips away from or determines specific needs for families that have been affected by the kassams, they turn to Rabbi Zev Pizem to coordinate relief efforts with Chabad. The Rabbi works as a go-between for families in need and the local government.
Large shipments of food reach Chabad monthly from the Colel Chabad in Jerusalem. In Sderot, these regular monthly shipments of dry goods and coupons for perishables are handed out from the Chabad house by Tzivia and the Rabbis. For the elderly or others unable to come, they deliver the food.
Lists are gathered by the city’s social services to determine which families are in need. As is characteristic of Chabad, any family in need is given the food or help that is required.
“There are about 300 families these days that need food,” she said. “The number has gone up recently due to the economic situation here.”
But Chabad also brings relief to emotional stress affecting the youngest of Sderot’s residents: In the spacious safe room in the Chabad House, Chabad has set up a gymabory – a large bouncy play structure open to all of Sderot’s children every Tuesday, where they’ve been coming to play for the last four months.
Chabad’s summer camps coordinate with surrounding towns’ Chabad Houses to arrange for the city’s children to leave for a few days or even an afternoon trip.
With the elderly and wounded, Tzivia said, “we make sure they have whatever they need.” This means everything from keeping people company to helping them visit their wounded by providing money for gas to bringing families food.
For the families that Chabad helps, both those that have suffered injuries and death due to the kassams and those whose injuries are deeper physiological ones from the stress of life under attack, the work being done here is often the difference between no life to speak of, and a life of quality with meaning and purpose.
Eti, who asked to only be identified by her first name given the sensitive circumstances which Chabad came to help her and her family under, speaks effusively about Tzivia and the Chabad House in Sderot.
“It was a real nightmare,” she remembers of the heavy kassam barrage a few weeks ago that finally forced her family to move after close to ten years of living in Sderot. “We lived in a very small house with only two bedrooms and no safe room. With every kassam that fell, the impact alone was enough to shake the foundation of my home. It was very dangerous.”
During the past few months, Chabad helped Eti’s family “in every way.” She said it was not merely the financial and practical support they offered, but more importantly a spiritual community that she hopes will remain a cornerstone for her children’s and their children’s faith.
Eti first came into contact with Chabad when her husband was in jail and she was unemployed. Chabad helped support her and her family through not just the kassam attacks, but the kassam attacks while her husband was imprisoned.
“They gave us food both on a regular basis and special things for during the holidays,” she said.
“Tzivia took me to her place to celebrate Pesach with her family. They gave us money to help support the family. Chabad stood by me the whole time and until my husband came back from prison and they continue to do so to this day.”
“A militant in Gaza said they will continue to fire kassams until the last people leave. This will be us,” Tzivia says firmly. “While there are people here, there is work for Chabad to do.”
To learn more about the relief services provided by Chabad of Sderot, and about how to participate, visit their website at http://www.helpshderot.com/.