TEANECK On Sunday night, a visitor from Israel told local residents about life in Sderot, the western Negev community that has been the target of more than 6,000 Kassam rockets launched from terrorist bases in neighboring Gaza over the past seven years.
Josh Hasten hoped that by describing and showing images of Kassams exploding in backyards and children running for their lives as the warning sirens sound, he could give residents here a deeper understanding of why a beleaguered educational institution in this hard-hit working-class town is seeking their help.
This undated photo from the yeshiva’s Website is of a Kassam rocket landing nearby.
Hasten’s appeal was on behalf of Yeshivat Hesder Sderot where some 500 post-high school students commit to five years of Judaic studies broken up by 18 months of duty in the Israel Defense Forces. The yeshiva’s grounds have so far taken just one hit despite the dozens of rockets falling each day, and that rocket failed to explode.
"But," said Hasten a Jerusalem publicist who was to speak at several New York-area parlor meetings this week "the Hesder must redo its entire campus. Right now it is constructing a new beit midrash [study hall] with a reinforced roof. They also had to take down all the caravans that were serving as dorms, because they were not strong enough to withstand Kassams. The students were all living in bomb shelters and now they’re in temporary apartments."
Eleven Sderot residents have been killed, hundreds injured, and an untold number traumatized, Hasten added that few students have left the yeshiva. "I ran into an 18-year-old student last week whose off-campus apartment suffered a direct hit and now he needs psychiatric care," he said. Another left recently because he already had been traumatized by being expelled from his home in Gaza two years ago, then serving in Lebanon during last summer’s war. The daily rockets proved too much for him.
However, for the most part, Hasten said, the students and the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi David Fendel, "have strong resolve and determination. Rabbi Fendel wants to make sure that Sderot will not turn into a ghost town. Without judging those who have left, they are defying Hamas, and sending a message that Sderot will not fold."
Constructing properly reinforced buildings is an expensive undertaking only partially financed by the Israeli government. Hasten estimates that an additional 3 million shekels, or close to $800,000, is needed.
He told prospective donors that the yeshiva students are a vital part of the community, volunteering to help those whose lives have been shattered by the attacks.
"The Hesder students not only spend their days learning but are also active in many projects including a ‘big brother’ program with local youth at risk, a special learning program for retirees, volunteer work with the local Magen David Adom, and ‘Heart to Heart,’ which provides visits and food, water, and toys to children whose homes were damaged in attacks," he said.
He related in a phone interview, before the meeting here, that he took on the yeshiva as a client after touring Sderot with a ‘Heart to Heart’ volunteer from the yeshiva.
"The things I saw there were mind-blowing," he said. "There was so much destruction and suffering, but there were also many, many miracles down there. One person I visited told me his wife had a premonition one Friday afternoon that something bad was going to happen and she insisted they go away for Shabbat with their three kids. They found out on Saturday night that their apartment had suffered a direct hit the next day. They are now moving back after five months of repairs. There are all kinds of crazy stories like that."
Those wishing to contribute to the rebuilding fund may send tax-deductible donations earmarked for the "Hesder emergency campaign" to American Friends of Yeshivat Hesder Sderot, 49 Dakota St., Passaic, NJ 07055.