July 26, 2007 / 11 Av 5767
“Two Kassam rockets just fell,” said Marcell Bar-On, quickly running to her kitchen, the “safest” place in the house since it is without windows. “All the electricity is out, but it sounds as if the rockets fell at least 200-300 meters away.” A few minutes later, Marcell continues speaking in a calm voice.
“This is our reality. My husband’s family founded this Kibbutz (Nir Am) and this is our home. We will not let anyone scare us from leaving,” says the South African-born mother of four.
The reality, however, has taken a tremendous toll on her children, especially her youngest son Gabi. “Gabi was born in 1997. When he was three, the rockets started falling. He can’t remember a time when there was no terror. His childhood has been fraught with never ending pressure.”
By the time he was in the second grade, Gabi, like many of the Kibbutz and Sha’ar Hanegev region children, had developed extremely aggressive behavior. His ability to concentrate in school was limited. Finally, Marcell and her husband took him for psychological counseling. “This helped him considerably, but the rockets continue to fall, classes are constantly disrupted and the children study in shifts, as all of the classrooms are not fortified,” explains Marcell, who is a teacher at the regional school. “The fear is always with us.”
“What truly helped the children this year were the enrichment activities and clubs provided by the Jewish Agency," says Marcell. "Gabi takes Darbuka (drums) lessons and this is a wonderful outlet for him. He bangs on those drums and unleashes so much pent up energy. The class gives him so much joy and I see the change in him. He also enjoys the nature classes. There is something very calming about caring for animals.”
Marcell also sees the change in the other school children. Through sports, music, drama and nature activities, the children are engaged in interesting activities that distract them from their everyday worries. “Our children are not able to play freely outside," she says. "These activities are a godsend. At the same time, many of the parents are struggling under terrible financial strain and would not have been able to afford these clubs.”
With the generous support of the Federations of North America through the United Jewish Communities’ Israel Emergency Campaign (IEC), UIA Canada, Keren Hayesod, Israeli donors and friends around the world, the Jewish Agency, with the cooperation of the local municipalities and in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, put into place an incredible network of formal and informal educational activities for children in beleaguered regions in the North and South. The A New Tomorrow program began in the North after the Second Lebanon War and was launched in Sderot and the Gaza perimeter communities soon after. More than 47,000 children participated in the program during the school year, and it has helped many of them to overcome trauma and return to normal activities.
“A parent's worst fear is not being able to protect their children,” says Marcell. “Every day we need to make choices that are so simple for most people. But what if we let our children go out to play and a rocket falls near them? Our reality is terribly difficult.”
“That’s why it’s important for me to thank all those wonderful people who have made the enrichment activities possible," says Marcell. "I wish they could see the effect their support is having on our children. I am from South Africa and I know how easy it is to distance oneself from what is happening outside of your community. But knowing that Jews all over the world are behind us has given us additional strength.”
A New Tomorrow enrichment activity