By Yossi Baumol
American Friends of Sderot
Over the past week, I have been spending most of my days and nights in S’derot. It is a surreal experience. In the background one hears the almost constant rumbling and frequent explosions of the IDF at work in Gaza just a mile or so away. About half the “red alert” sirens are immediately followed by two “whooshes,” one after the other—the sound of a pair of outgoing “Iron Dome” missiles streaking overhead, leaving smoke trails behind—and then a thunderclap of the explosion of a successful interception. The deployment of the “Iron Dome” in S’derot is relatively new. Until now they said that we were too close for them to be effective. Indeed, a few miles from here, in the Eshkol region, a young man was killed today by a single shell which was shot from Gaza—with no warning, no siren, no 15 seconds to take cover.
Nevertheless, the miracles abound. For example in nearby Nir Am there is a small guest house. The manager was surprised that a tourist from Canada actually showed up to move into the room he had reserved. When the lone guest was offered room number 13, he politely explained to his Israeli host that this was not such a lucky number. He received the keys to room number 14 instead and went to sleep. The next morning a direct hit by a Kassam rocket destroyed room number 13!
All around us institutions have closed down. Whether it is the nearby Sapir College or the charedi yeshivot—they all closed up and went home. The S’derot Hesder Yeshiva continues to operate, not only full time, but round-the-clock in shifts through the night we learn and pray for the success and safety of the IDF. Over 50 additional students and staff have donned their olive uniforms, joining over 100 of our students who were already on active duty. Those who are left do not rest for a moment.
Over a year ago, I organized a day of volunteering in S’derot. A number of families from the Five Towns, Brooklyn, and New Jersey came to help us paint bomb shelters, plant gardens, and beautify the area. It was then that I met Mrs. Tzofit Peretz, director of S’derot’s volunteer services. Far from being religiously observant, she nevertheless proudly referred to the yeshiva as “our yeshiva” and tried to describe to me the help she gets from the yeshiva in times of crisis. I just didn’t get it until I saw it this week with my own eyes.
This is how the Makor Rishon newspaper described it.
“The rosh yeshivah, Rav Dovid Fendel, declared a curfew and none of the students went home…The parents understand that this place is soaked in Torah, courage, and a strong desire to share the burden with the public at large. This may be a difficult situation, but it invigorates and challenges our students and brings out in them hidden wellsprings of Torah, emunah, and leadership.” Ruby Edri, assistant director of the yeshiva, gathered the students together in the ‘water tower’ (the yeshiva library located in an old water tank) and divided up the work. Each group of students was given a neighborhood they were in charge of. ‘There are many elderly people who are in a panic, but the municipality’s policy is not to evacuate anyone. You must visit each and every one of them, tell them that the students of the hesder yeshiva are staying on and we are here for them. Give them your cell numbers and ask them if they need anything, like medicine, for example. If there is a ‘red alert’ don’t be heroes—take cover with everyone else.’ When the students return from their mission, they take to the streets and dance and sing with the local residents. As night falls they return to hear talks from the many great rabbis who make it a point to visit the yeshiva.”
In a two-minute film on our website, www.sderot.org, you can hear the Channel 2 reporter say, “These students are very active here in S’derot. They finish the morning class and then go out to help the people. They bring packages and supplies to those who are in need, they go shopping for the elderly.”
Mrs. Peretz loves the yeshiva for two main reasons. The first one is that when her father got sick a few years ago, a number of boys would learn in his house, learn with him, and take care of him. The second reason is that in times of war, the boys go to her office, set up and run an emergency volunteer command center, and then bring their friends to race around the city responding to requests for help. Whether it is distributing vibrating beepers to the hard of hearing, taking kids to play in one of the armored indoor play centers in S’derot, or running errands for people, it’s our students who do it all and do it with a smile and song.
The yeshiva is at the forefront of all this activity for one simple reason—because the entire main campus is all armored and rocket proof. Whether they are studying in the beit midrash, having lunch in the dining room, or sleeping in their beds at night, they don’t have to run for cover, don’t need to leave. This is why we are the only institution which is operating despite the panic and danger, why we are the only ones with such a large number of students on hand who can then go out and help others.
Over the years I have had the privilege of connecting good friends in the United States with good causes in Israel. Fourteen years at Ateret Cohanim, six years at the Hebron Fund, and almost two years now in S’derot—all fantastic causes worthy of your support.
In all my years I have never seen such a return on your investment as I see here in S’derot! It is only because of your generosity that we can do so much for S’derot. Sitting here in one of the protected rooms at 3:00 a.m., it is such a warm feeling to know that American Jews have played such an important part in the present struggle with donations that were made years ago.
Much remains to be done. In Kiryat Gat, our affiliate yeshiva, Derech Chaim, has made community service part of the year-round curriculum, and our young men are inspired and matured by helping others in a wide array of programs. Now, when they are needed most, they are just not there! Their “campus” (a few crumbling shacks) is not armored. They are not allowed to stay on and help.
A similar problem exists at our other affiliate branch—the “Second Chance” Lev LaDaat Yeshiva at the other end of S’derot. They have a newly dedicated armored dormitory, but no armored beit midrash to study in. With your help, these projects will get done as well. Thank you for being here with us. Thank you for continuing to stand with us. Your protecting us enables us to help so many people in need when they need us most. Your protecting us enables our army the time and breathing space to get the job done.
I have three sons in the IDF right now. One is continuing his active service in combat engineering. One just got released from the Navy to go back to his hesder yeshiva, but went back again and again until they let him back in to serve in his patrol gunboat off Gaza. The third son is married with kids and was called up to Gaza to serve as a Golani combat medic. I will never forget what my father-in-law, Rabbi Israel Wagner, z’l, told me at one of the Golani ceremonies we attended. “I saw the Russian soldiers marching, I saw the Polish soldiers marching, and I saw the Nazi forces marching. Today, I was zocheh to see my own grandson in the uniform of a Jewish army!”
We’ve been waiting for this for 2,000 years. It’s about time we got the job done!