ASHDOD, ISRAEL - Children have been sleeping in the emergency rooms on the ground floor of the Absorption Center in Ashdod from the beginning of the war last week. Mattresses are strewn on the floor. More than 2,722 Olim live in the area being attacked by missiles in the South, reports Yehuda Sharf, Director of the Aliyah, Absorption and Special Operations Unit.
I came across Yaakov Romaniota, 17 years old, from Kiev, Ukraine, in the shelter, between the Code Red sirens. He was writing to his friends in the Ukraine, on his computer. He came to Israel as a tourist, and he wants to change his status. He is not worried about the war.
Yaakov arrived here and joined the members of his family who are part of the doctors’ program at the Absorption Center in Ashdod. Doctors come here in order to participate in this program, which the Jewish Agency initiated many years ago, and they are continuing their studies and their internships during the war.
“We have a project that involves thirty doctors who arrived here in July, 2013, who are studying for a medical degree in Israel,” says Beni Harel, Director of the Absorption Center, between Code Red alerts. Whenever necessary, he brings various Olim who need his help into the office.
Dr. Alexander Abuchov, his wife Anna and their 1 ½ year old son Estep, come into Beni’s office. They arrived in Israel on July 10th, and have just returned from the Ministry of Interior and the bank. The Code Red siren is ringing loudly outside and Dr. Abuchov comes into the office holding the little boy.
He is a surgeon, and his wife is a trauma nurse. He made Aliyah from Siberia, from Altai, hoping to improve his quality of life and his salary. “I want to move ahead, and I don’t see a future there,” said the doctor, age 28.
“Did you know that there is a war here?” we asked.
“Yes, I knew about the tension and what was happening just before my Aliyah, but I didn’t hesitate, despite the fact that I have no family here except for distant relatives,” he said.
“What is your reaction to the situation?” I ask him, a minute before the Code Red siren starts.
“It’s in honor of my arrival – we received fireworks,” he says with a smile.
“And what does the family say about the situation?”
“We are in touch with them every day, by Skype. They are worried, but we calm them down.”
“We need to embrace and caress these Olim under fire, and that is what we do,” Beni Harel, Director of the Center, says to me while we are meeting with Dr. Alexander Abuchov and his wife and child.
“I opened a first shelter and then a second shelter, and it is still crowded because the children and adults want to live close to the shelter, so that they will not need to run. However, people still need to go out to the bank, to the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Interior Ministry, under fire. The shelters are completely and utterly full, but we squish in, and live with it,” says Beni Harel.
Beni Harel, who lives in Jerusalem, has been spending long days here since the beginning of the war. Friday and Shabbat he spent with the Olim, together with the rest of the staff.
We received a surprise visit from the Chairperson of the Workers’ Committee, Hanan Mor, and the Director of the Aliyah, Absorption and Special Operations Unit, Yehuda Sharf, together with members of the Board.
The Chairperson of the Workers’ Committee said, “I have been working in this organization for twenty years, and I am very proud of what it has accomplished and continues to accomplish. However, at the sites that I visit, when I see what the workers do, I am filled with a feeling of satisfaction and immense pride. Their quiet, their organization, their organized signage, the fact that there is not a single child who isn’t being watched. The workers are with the Olim every second of the day.
In the office of the Director, Beni Harel, a discussion takes place with the Director of the Aliyah, Absorption and Special Operations Unit and the Chairperson of the Board that focuses on issues, which had come up in the course of the work. “I was in Ibim and I saw the closing of a circle. Really. A decade ago, The Jewish Agency, through the Jewish Federations of North America, raised a billion shekel for the construction of shelters and protective materials. The protective materials were built by Amigour, a subsidiary of The Jewish Agency. And now, when I arrived at Ivim, I saw a protected kitchen that had been constructed was being used by the Olim in Ibim,” said Mor.
I asked the Director of Aliyah, Yehuda Sharf, about the plane of French Olim that landed during the war, and he said, “418 Olim came on the plane, with babies, and they didn’t cancel.”
“Do you know that I heard from the Director of Ibim that relatives of his from the area are coming to live in Ivim because the protection in Ivim is one of the best and most secure in the area?” says Hanan Mor, “And I know that our work projects a sense of security for all of our clients."
The Chairperson of the Executive, Natan Sharansky, visited The Jewish Agency facilities in the South and he saw the work being done by the workers firsthand. After him, managers and senior staff came to see what was needed and to view the work being done. “When I see the light in the eyes of workers I understand that their work is being done, and that they deserve appreciation,” says the Chairperson of the Board.
The Director of the Absorption Center, Beni Harel, says, “The tension felt by the Olim is dissolved by the workers. They embrace, and they listen. The workers are also tense, and I am happy that we are supported by the organization, and the Board, and the management. They help us overcome the daily difficulties. Hanan, do you know that there are Olim who came to the Absorption Center from the airport at twenty minutes to eight, and at ten minutes to eight they went down to the shelter for the Code Red siren?”
There is another Code Red siren, and we go down to the shelter in an orderly fashion. It has been like this for several days ─ and who knows how many more.