June 14, 2007
by Elaine Durbach
NJJN Bureau Chief
With summer vacation starting in Israel and Kassam rockets continuing to rain down from Gaza, the 2,500 children in Sderot were facing months of confinement, probably in their homes.
Now the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey has issued two grants intended to help the people of Sderot have a happier summer.
The federation has allocated $50,000 a year for each of the next three years to help cover the costs of Sderot's sports hall, a facility built strong enough to sustain rocket attacks.
Stanley Stone, executive vice president of the federation, said that the first grant is already on its way.
The federation has allocated a second grant of $102,000 for Lev Echad (One Heart), a project designed to boost morale and provide for some of the acute needs that go unmet in Israeli towns like Sderot.
Stone said the money for the two Sderot grants was raised during last year's Israel Emergency Campaign and was set aside from a larger amount that the federation contributed to the national United Jewish Communities system.
Sderot's sports hall was built in 1980 by the Jewish Agency for Israel for use by schools and the community and as a venue for basketball and other recreational activities. Renovated three years ago, the necessary funds for its maintenance were not forthcoming from the government, so the hall has stood empty and unused — until now.
Former Central federation board member Howard Gold, left,
and two local administrators check out the sports hall in Sderot,
which, thanks to a grant from the federation to cover maintenance
costs, will reopen this summer.
Former Central federation board member Howard Gold visited Sderot earlier this year and was shown around the hall. He suggested that the federation target its assistance specifically to making the hall usable.
"The children can't be out roaming the streets because at any minute there can be a rocket attack," Stone said. "This grant means that the children will have at least some time each day in a structured environment, in an air-conditioned place where they can be sheltered and protected."
He said it would also give the Sderot municipality the opportunity to find long-term funding.
Lev Echad, the brainchild of Russian-Israeli philanthropist Lev Levayev, engages college students as volunteers. Stone said that last weekend, 500 of them spent Shabbat with families in Sderot, "to show the people there that they have not been abandoned."
The students have developed a pattern of gathering once a week in downtown Sderot for a kind of mini-festival, "just to lift the spirits of the inhabitants," said Stone. "They also do things like knock on the doors of senior citizens to see if they need help, or assist families with special needs children, and they organized one-day trips for kids and seniors."
The grant will cover the costs for Lev Echad's Sderot activities for 30 to 40 days.
The Central federation transferred $500,000 from its Israel Emergency Campaign to the UJC system to become part of "the general pot"; the sports hall and Lev Echad grants come from funds set aside for direct allocation by the Central federation.
"We wanted to be able to respond to needs they are facing right now," Stone said.