June 10, 2007 / 24 Sivan 5767
Eran Cohen, 28, has lived in Sderot his entire life. On Friday evening, May 5th, he, his wife Snait and their two-year-old son Priel walked to Eran's parent's house for their traditional Sabbath evening meal. As they were getting ready to leave, Eran's mother said to them, "Why don't you sleep here tonight. It's late, Priel is tired. Stay." Eran looked at his wife. She lifted her shoulders in a "why not" gesture and the young family stayed the night. Little did they know that this random decision would save their lives.
"At 7:30 the next morning we heard a knock on the door," says Eran in his rapid fire Hebrew, his voice rising and falling with emotion. "It was my childhood friend, now a policeman. I knew this couldn't be good news."
The policeman reported to Eran that a Kassam rocket had hit his home in the early morning and landed in his bedroom. "Slowly, as if in a dream, we walked to the house," recalls Eran. "All our neighbors were outside, worried that something had happened to us." Eran was wondering why they hadn't heard the "red alert" warning siren, and later found out that it had not been activated because of the fog.
When Eran and Snait opened the door to their home they were accosted by a cloud of dust from the debris. Their bedroom was decimated. Snait saw this and broke into hysterics. Eran thanked God that he and his family were still alive and they went straight to the synagogue to say Birkat HaGomel, the prayer of thanksgiving for surviving a dangerous situation.
"Usually on Saturday morning we are all in bed together. And that's where the rocket fell," explains Eran matter-of-factly. And then in a softer voice, "It is a miracle we are alive."
In spite of the destruction of the top floor of their home, and the constant fear of living in Sderot, Eran and his wife are determined to stay. "Owning our own home was our dream. We took out a huge mortgage so we could have a better life," says Eran with determination. "We are not going to let anyone ruin our dream."
Eran also has another dream. He is putting his considerable energy into building the Jewish Agency's Youth Futures program in Sderot, and working as a Trustee in the program. Previously a professional officer in the Israel Defense Forces, Eran was offered a position at a base in the Golan when his base in the South was closed. But he and his wife chose to stay in Sderot. "We love this place and the people. We all receive strength from each other. The support from people all over Israel and all over the world also really helps us."
Eran heard about the recent opening of the Youth Futures program from his sister, who works at the Sderot Community Center. "I knew this was for me," says Eran. "Sderot's kids are being robbed of their childhood with all the terror. But for children who already come from difficult backgrounds, the ongoing terror is destroying them. I know I can make a difference in their lives."
The Jewish Agency's flagship Youth Futures program is built on the premise that when children at risk are given comprehensive, high-impact, tailored intervention, they will develop the skills and tools to take their place as independent, constructive members of society.
As part of Youth Futures, professionally trained Trustees mentor the young participants, ages 6 to 13, over a period of three years. The Trustees, idealistic young adults like Eran, dedicated to advancing social justice in Israel, provide youngsters with a positive big brother/sister role model. As they become involved in all aspects of the youngsters' lives, the Trustees help their charges overcome the barriers life has thrown their way and open their minds to fresh ideas and possibilities.
"In another few years, we will not be able to return their childhood to these kids. I want to make sure that they grow up knowing that there are people who care about them, and to give them the confidence to stand strong and to believe in themselves."
Today, more than 5,000 children are participating in the Youth Futures program in 22 settlements throughout the Galilee and the Negev. With the overwhelming success of the program and the support of Jewish communities around the world, the Jewish Agency hopes to expand Youth Futures to 52 settlements by 2010.
Photo Credit: Moshe Stern
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