Beyond Asher Vaknin’s home, the horizon is hazy, and one hears echoes of explosions in the distance.
I met with Asher Vaknin, the Director of The Jewish Agency’s Nurit Absorption Center in Beersheva. Vaknin is with his son Guy, who serves in the IDF.
Asher has been working for The Jewish Agency for the past twenty-five years, and by now can put a name to every face in the south. He lives in the city of Ofakim, known for many years for its constant rocket bombardment from Gaza.
Every morning for the past eight years, Asher travels to the southern absorption center in order to meet with new immigrants personally. He feels responsible for their physical and mental wellbeing. When I saw his immense work load, aside from the already-strained background of mental clutter weighing on him, I asked if his sons are in daily contact with him.
“My son Guy, is less involved in combat, because I already have one son serving in the Givati Brigade in the Gaza Strip, and is right in front of my house. I know that we’re fighting for our home, literally – Guy and his brother fight for our home in the army, and I am doing my part working at The Jewish Agency,” he tells me.
As the director, this is the third war that Asher has gone through. “I see these immigrants of mine, as Israeli veterans. Therefore, it is important to me to see how these immigrants are coping with this war, in contrast to previous wars. On my end, the absorption center holds mostly Ethiopian immigrants, some of whom are veterans, and are relatively old. They went through Operation Pillar of Defense and today we see them having grown more accustomed to these wars. Some truly understand what is happening around them. Unfortunately, they adapted to the story of our nation quickly,” he says.
Asher is also the chairman of the worker’s committee in The Jewish Agency’s Southern District. “My main responsibility is to be the director of the absorption center, and I also take on special cases in the worker’s committee. Overall, I run the absorption center and occasionally I have to be absent for a few hours, contacting the center and finding out the latest about the falling missiles. I am in constant connection with the absorption center.”
Indeed, the Nurit Absorption Center in Beersheva has overcome some serious changes during these past weeks. “Lately, the Aliyah Department brought new immigrants into our absorption center. At first, I felt that my absorption center was full of veterans and we initially couldn’t accept the new immigrants. But slowly, my veteran immigrants were able to rent new apartments and leave. Since they moved on, we were able to take in new immigrants from countries like India and Uruguay along with their families. We intend to take in many more new immigrants from various countries, as if there is no war going on in the region,” he says.
And when I went back to Asher and asked him regarding his responsibilities for the immigrant’s mental wellbeing, when his kids are in the line of fire, with a home just across Gaza, he answered: “This is the responsibility of the father, of the director of the absorption center: he must worry about the immigrants and his children, and it is also the responsibility of a citizen towards his surroundings. After all of the missiles, I make sure the immigrants are alright, and I call my family. I never forget that I live in Ofakim, where missiles always fall. After work, I still have my family… I have a wife and kids living at home. I also have a married daughter living in Beersheva, whom we continue to worry about. Unfortunately, we are learning to live with these things…the struggle for our home has forced us to do so”