By Masha Rifkin
Newton North '04
Imagine feeling terrified at the thought of leaving your home. Imagine dropping your kids off at school, praying that you’ll actually be able to hold them that night. Imagine an awful noise, which can sound up to 60 times a day, notifying you that you have less than 15 seconds to drop everything and run to take cover from an approaching missile. Imagine living with this for 8 years, with no end in sight.
This has been life for the residents of Sderot, Israel - a town which has been hit with over 8,000 missiles, sent from terrorist organizations within Gaza, since 2000. A town whose cries, until very recently, have been met with silence.
Over two years ago, I was studying abroad in Tel Aviv and fell upon Sderot. For four months, I witnessed men breaking down amid a symphony of sirens, furious at their inability to protect their families. I heard the mad cry of a woman who fell to the ground in despair after sirens went off, as she was pushing a stroller down the street. She had been driven to such a point by the years of missile raids, that she couldn’t even lift her child and run him to safety; she could only beat the ground helplessly. I felt the nails of children digging into my back, trying to hide their fear of the nearby “BOOM” of the Qassam missiles.
Where was the international outcry? How could any government tolerate terrorist organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad firing missiles at their civilians – freely, with no fear of retaliation? I wrote home to my family and friends in Newton, begging them to do something. The Russian Jewish Community Foundation (RJCF) jumped to my side immediately. Within two months, and with the help of Natasha and Sveta Panaitov of Sderot, we had raised enough money to bring twenty children from Sderot to Boston for a month in the summer. Ten children spent the month at Camp Gan Israel in Brighton. Another ten spent the month at Camp Russian School of Mathematics at Sunapee.
With the left over money, we rebuilt a bomb shelter in Sderot, and began an after-school Math and English program which continues today. We raised funds again to hold two camps in Israel for 50 children of Sderot - one in the summer and one in the winter. College student volunteers, mostly from Newton, traveled to run both of these camps.
The goal? To offer the children of Sderot some respite and a chance at a future. Most of these children have no memory of a time without the Qassams, without the sirens. They’re different, the fear and agony that surrounds them has hardened them and caused them to grow up too quickly. With these camps, they have a place where for two weeks they can actually live without fear, and, as many schools shut down during missile raids, the after school ensures that education isn’t ruined. We can’t protect their bodies, but at least we can protect their minds.
I think my friends, the students who ran these camps, would agree that the
most painful moment is watching the children get on the bus to go back to
Sderot. For weeks, tried to pour all of our strength and spirit into them, to
give them something to hold onto the next time a siren goes off. But, when we
saw them get on the bus, we were instantly awoken from the surreal life of the
camp. We realized what life the children were going back to.
When Israel went into Gaza to stop the Hamas rockets, the country finally said, “enough is enough.” Eight years is enough. 8,000 rockets are enough. Yes, there will be civilian casualties in Gaza. Yes, these civilian casualties will be made worse by the fact that Hamas hides in hospitals, schools, and behind their own families. But, entering Gaza is unavoidable. As Golda Meir once said, “We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours.”
Sderot was only the first stop. After Sderot, Hamas fired missiles into Ashqelon, then Ashdod. Must every Israeli civilian live with the fear of losing their children? The people of Sderot and the people of Israel deserve the right to life. Any government has the obligation to protect this right.
The camps that the RJCF hold in Israel will continue regardless of the outcome of the war. I know, however, that my friends and I pray for a time when we can put the children of Sderot on a bus back to their home and not have to wonder when the next siren will sound for them.
Masha Rifkin, a graduate of Newton North, is currently an employee of an Investment firm located in Westport, CT. She assists the Russian Jewish Community Foundation in running the Children of Sderot Program. [link]
posted by: jrtelegraph