NORTHERN NEGEV, ISRAEL - Arriving at the Community Center in Nahalat Ada, the music is pumping and hundreds of kids are dancing off the tension of having been stuck inside shelters for over a week.
Tens of thousands of Israeli children across the western Negev have been traumatized by barrages of Grad and Kassam rockets, and mortar shells fired from Gaza - especially during the Israel Defense Forces' Pillar of Defense air operation in October.
Sonia Rada, a lecturer at Sapir College in Sderot, lives in the community of Beror Hayil, a few kilometers north of the Gaza strip. She has joined her three daughters, Agam(8), Lior (6), and Ziv (3) for a day of much-needed respite organized by The Jewish Agency, the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, and the Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) in Herzliya.
Sonia says that life has been very difficult for the family over the past week. She and her children have been stuck in her house, unable to go outside even for a few minutes due to the risk of rocket fire. Every Code Red alert scares the children, who sleep in the family's protected room. Despite this, she has tried to keep life as routine as possible.
Sonia describes the initiative to take the children out of the South for a day of respite as "fantastic", and notes that the volunteers from the Israeli scouts, who are looking after the children, are doing a great job. For Sonia, this is a perfect reflection of the Jewish people looking after one another.
Despite the difficulties of the past several years, Sonia chooses to stay in the South. She says, “It's my home. Where can we run to? The rockets have even arrived to Tel Aviv.”
Aviva Har-Tov Siani, Rivi Harel, and Sigal Benita, friends from Beror Hayil and Nahal Oz (located a few hundred meters from Gaza), are sitting on a bench chatting with one another while their children are entertained by volunteers from the IDC and the Israeli scouts. The volunteers dance, play sports, and put on a play for the children.
Aviva notes that the worst thing about the entire experience of living where she does is that every second of her life, whether in the shower, kitchen, or anywhere else, she is constantly thinking 15 seconds ahead: "Where is the nearest safe space, and how will I get the kids there?"
Rivi, who moved to the South from Tel Aviv two years ago for the kibbutz lifestyle, says that when her kids arrive home from school, she asks them how the day was: "Were there any ‘code red’ alerts? Where were you during the alert?" The emergency and the extreme are a matter of course. Her son (age 8) has suffered from emotional problems since moving to the area.
Sigal’s children, on the other hand, grew up in this strange reality and are well practiced at seeking shelter. During a tennis lesson with their cousins in Tel Aviv last week, the alert sounded in the metropolis for the first time since the Gulf War. Her children ran looking for the non-existent shelter, while the locals just froze.
There are apparently some advantages to living in a reality where the improbable is likely.