June 10, 2007 / 24 Sivan 5767
Itai Avitan's father was one of the pioneers of Sderot. From the time he arrived in the sleepy southern town from Morocco in the early 1950's, until today, he has dedicated himself to building and strengthening the city he loves. He has passed this commitment on to his 23-year-old son, Itai, who is one of a number of mission delegates touring the United States and Europe to talk about Israel's current security situation from a personal, human angle.
The delegations are a joint partnership of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the World Zionist Organization. Four French speaking residents of Sderot and the Gaza perimeter communities were sent to Switzerland, France and Belgium and four English speakers went to London, Dublin and Copenhagen.
In meetings with members of the press and parliament, local Jewish communities and regional leaders, the delegates shared their heart wrenching stories of life under the constant threat of Kassam rocket attacks. They told of their personal experiences from the long years of constant shelling and the effects on their families and their businesses as they struggle to maintain a normal life under such pressure.
David Mamou, a teacher from Sderot, said that he left his handicapped daughter in Sderot while he was on the mission because he felt that it was important to tell the world what the everyday reality is like in Sderot.
"Personal stories, human experiences - that's what touches others. What is obvious to you isn't necessarily clear to people abroad," Jewish Agency spokesman Yarden Vatikay told the mission delegates during a day of briefings at the Foreign Ministry. Prior to their departure, the delegates participated in a workshop organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which included background briefings on political and media-related subjects and instruction on appropriate methods of interacting with the media.
Currently, Itai and fellow Sderot resident Mor Yehudai are in the United States, traveling coast-to-coast to Jewish communities to tell their stories. Itai, who is studying visual communications at Sapir College, close to Sderot, has seen Kassam rockets fall from the time he was 16. "I was in high school, working at a gas station when a rocket landed right next to the station with a huge bang. The girl I was working with went into shock. But I was a volunteer at Magen David Adom and knew how to react under pressure. I just thanked God I was alive."
Twenty-one-year-old Mor, recently discharged from the army, also grew up in Sderot. Her neighbor's home was hit by a rocket, and her parents decided to move the family to Be'ersheva to stay with their older sister. The next morning their house was hit by a rocket. Mor was one of the participants in the delegation to Europe.
"Sderot is my home, and I love it. When I finish college I want to build my future here and work with my brother in his advertising agency. But I think it's important for the world to know what is happening, that there is tremendous suffering," says Itai.