June 10, 2007 / 24 Sivan 5767
"The situation in Sderot is so very, very difficult," said Moshe Vigdor, Director General of the Jewish Agency, during a recent interview following his heartrending visit to Sderot and the Gaza perimeter communities.
With urgency and deep resolve, Vigdor tells of the dire need to support the people and strengthen the communities of the western Negev. During his intense visit he saw up close and personal the paradox of living under constant terror – destruction alongside the never ending hope that there will be peace, fear coupled with determination, and the incredible will of the people to remain strong and protect their children.
At the Jewish Agency's Friedmann Student Village IBIM, located a few miles from Sderot and home to new immigrant students from all over the world, Vigdor checked the progress of securing the dining room from rocket attacks. "The students are eating packaged meals in the bomb shelters because it is too dangerous to eat in a dining room that is not protected," said Vigdor. "We are doing everything we can to get this finished as quickly as possible."
Meeting with IBIM's dedicated staff members, Vigdor was moved by their sense of responsibility for the students, even in the face of grave personal danger. He clearly saw the need for the psychological support and trauma services provided for students and staff at IBIM through the generous donations of the Israel Emergency Campaign. "The circumstances our staff people are dealing with are very trying," says Vigdor with compassion. "They also need support, and our partners at UJC understood this and stepped in to help."
In Sderot, Vigdor met with young Youth Futures Trustees whose belief in their ability to bring about change in this besieged region moved him. "One young man, a former army professional, looked me in the eye and told me that if the young people leave Sderot, there is no chance for the town to survive. The Jewish Agency is working with these youngsters to strengthen the region and give new hope for children at risk."
As he stood in Sderot's Community Center, Vigdor saw the ballet studio with a gaping hole in the ceiling from a direct rocket hit. The director told him of the tears of the little girls when they saw the destroyed studio. "We have no place to dance anymore," they cried. The director had no answer to give them. Vigdor promised to see what the Jewish Agency could do to help secure the Community Center and make it safe from future attacks.
According to Vigdor, the biggest shock of his trip was his visit to Kibbutz Nir Am. This kibbutz, bordering Gaza, is reeling from the recent escalation of terror. Acres and acres of fields went up in smoke, its restaurant and events hall were burned down and the people are unraveling from the never ending tension. "The image of the 'kibbutznik' is one of a strong, brave, pioneer working the land, driven by ideology and rarely in need of help. However, the people I met said outright, 'Moshe, we are unable to provide security for our children. Our education system is falling apart as the schools are not protected. We are not heroes. We need help.'"
Seconds later there was a warning siren and Vigdor had 15 seconds to get to the kitchen, where the kibbutzniks and their children go for protection from the rockets. A few days later, a Kassam rocket fell near the place where Vigdor had been standing.
"It is clear what we need to do for the people of Sderot and the Gaza perimeter communities," says Vigdor with authority. "We must provide assistance for small business owners, or else the entire regional economy will collapse. We must continue our A New Tomorrow program in the next school year, providing formal and informal educational enrichment for the children. We must make sure that the children are taken away from the line of fire and able to have fun at summer camps this summer and we must give the children and their parents days of respite to provide them with some relief from this terrible situation."
"With the support of our generous partners, the UJC/Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod, I know that we will be able to continue helping these brave citizens who, through no fault of their own, are caught in a horrible situation. Our ability to help them depends on their ability to stay. It is a national priority to give them the strength to keep on."