May 20, 2007 / 3 Sivan 5767
Last Tuesday, barrages of kassam missiles again shook the city of Sderot and the settlements of the Western Negev and we again paid a heavy toll in injuries and damage to property. But all this is nothing compared to the high emotional price which thousands of area residents have been paying for several years, as they face a cruel and heartless enemy who aims missiles at population centers, schools, educational institutions, community centers and villages for youth in distress and unsettles everyone’s lives.
On Friday I went to Sderot. I went to be with the residents, to show solidarity with their suffering. To listen to them. To offer the assistance of the Jewish Agency to the city and its residents. Several minutes before I arrived in Sderot, three rocket barrages fell on the city, one of them making a direct hit on a house. As I entered the city I saw ambulances passing, evacuating the wounded to the hospital.
I would like to share with you the trying experiences which I witnessed as I met with the mayor, civic leaders, residents, senior citizens, children and youth, whose lives depend each day on the warning sirens which are heard only seconds before the missiles land. Families living in daily fear and anxiety. Children who have learnt to keep against the wall on their way to school. Mothers and fathers who are afraid to leave their children at home even for several minutes. Young people who have lost their joy of youth and have matured before their time. The emotional distress, anxiety and tension seen clearly in their eyes.
And all this, my friends, is happening in the light of day, in the midst of audacious attacks against civilians whose only crime is that they chose to live close to Israel’s border, across from the Gaza Strip, a wasp’s nest of terror and hatred of Israel. The Government of Israel restrained itself for a long time and did not respond, so as not to aggravate the situation. Until there was no longer any choice.
As soon as I heard of the renewed rocket attacks Tuesday evening, I turned to my friends and colleagues in the UJC and UIA Canada. Knowing the leaders and their commitment to the State of Israel and its citizens, there was no doubt in my mind that, like last year, when the Second Lebanon War broke out in the North, this time as well they would be the first to come to the aid of the residents of Sderot and the surrounding communities and give us their commitment to make emergency assistance available for Jewish Agency activity in the immediate stage as well as for the longer term of the summer.
In parallel, we started to organize Jewish Agency activity in Sderot and the area’s settlements. On Friday morning we already took out the first group of dozens of children from settlements in the area for a break of a few days in Jerusalem. In addition, we are planning a series of activities, among them treating terror victims and their families, taking more than 8200 young people out of the area for activities and time out, in partnership with the youth movements, young communities and student villages which we support, as well as assistance to businesses, etc.
Representatives of the Jewish Agency have been on hand since Tuesday and are in constant contact with the local systems in order to identify needs in the area so that our activities will be focused, efficient and as valuable as possible.
This provides me with the opportunity to commend the wonderful partnership we have with the UJC and UIA-Canada, with Keren Hayesod and Jewish Federations around the world, who through their faith in us, enable us to be a leading and significant factor in assistance to the citizens of the State of Israel the whole year round and especially in their most difficult hour. The expressions of thanks and appreciation which I heard during my trip to Sderot on Friday for Jewish Agency activity for the city and its citizens – these are primarily thanks to you. Thanks to the steadfast partnership between us. Thanks to your being with us and your commitment to the Jewish People and the State of Israel.
This is also an opportunity to thank the employees of the Jewish Agency for their speedy reaction, dedication and professionalism which proved itself in the Second Lebanon War and will surely do so once again.
As the bridge between the Jewish People in the Diaspora and the State of Israel, we in the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization are committed to the mission of being in the forefront of activity on behalf of our brethren in distress whether in Israel or anywhere in the world. At this time, during this emergency in the south of Israel, we all join together for the sake of those who so need us.