Gabrielle Flaum’s first trip to Israel two years ago included a war.
The 17-year-old Short Hills resident and senior at Millburn High School was part of a group of 500 American students on a six-week trip organized by the National Federation of Temple Youth when war between Israel and Hezbollah broke out on July 1′, ‘006.
That day, at about 9 a.m, Hezbollah attacked a number of targets on the Israeli border. Two soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, were abducted, three were killed, and two were wounded. Their abduction was preceded by that of another soldier, Gilad Shalit, on June ‘5, on the border with Gaza.
From left are Yaniv and Sima Peretz of Sderot, Danielle and Gabrielle Flaum of SOS, Rep. Scott Garrett, Dane Burroughs of SOS, Nancy Kislin Flaum, and Martin Radnor of One Family Fund. Photo by Daniel Santacruz
Although they were in the south on July 1′, three days into their trip, the students were aware that the north was being pounded by katyusha rockets launched from Lebanon by the terrorist organization.
"We experienced the war not only as tourists but as Jews experiencing Israel for the first time," she said in a statement she read to Rep. Scott Garrett (Dist. 5) at his Paramus office last week. "When I returned home I could not let go of the image of my counselor going to fight in the war, or my friends crying when their town was hit by rockets, or the new graves at Mount Herzl cemetery."
Thus, in January ‘007 Gabrielle decided to start Save Our Soldiers (SOS), a group dedicated to creating awareness about the captivity of Regev, Goldwasser, and Shalit, and also about five Israeli soldiers missing in action Ron Arad, Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, Tzvi Feldman, and Guy Hever. SOS has about ‘0 members in New Jersey and chapters in New York state.
Garrett praised the teenager for her efforts and said the initiative was "right on the mark." He noted that two years have passed since the soldiers’ abduction and said "the average person on the street is forgetting."
Gabrielle was accompanied by her sister Danielle, 15, their mother, Nancy Kislin Flaum, and Dane Burroughs, 13, an SOS member and a student at Farbrook School, in Short Hills. The teenagers wore blue T-shirts with pictures of the three young men with the words "Save Our Soldiers" in black.
Also at the meeting were Yaniv and Sima Peretz, two Sderot residents, and Martin Radnor, regional director of One Family Fund, a Teaneck organization that provides financial, legal, and emotional support to victims of terrorism in Israel.
In her statement, Gabrielle asked Garrett for his help in publicizing the Yaniv Peretz family’s case "because their story is one of many people living in Sderot and neighboring towns in Israel."
She added, "We are confused and saddened to hear about what is happening in Sderot but also frustrated how can this continue to happen to our people?"
On May ‘8 of last year, Yaniv Peretz, ‘9, was jogging in Sderot when a rocket, launched from Gaza, landed about ‘5 feet in front him, throwing him in the air. The blast ruptured his eardrums.
On June ‘0, as he was leaving his house, a rocket fell on the Peretz’s apartment, destroying it completely. Although he suffered third- and fourth-degree burns, he managed to get his wife Sima and their 1-year-old daughter, Choshen, out of the house.
After two months in the hospital, Yaniv Peretz decided one day to surprise his wife and daughter, who were staying at his wife’s parents. As they drove to see what progress has been made in the reconstruction of their home, Sima Peretz realized she had forgotten the baby’s bottle at her parents’ house. They drove back, arriving at the home as another rocket hit the second floor, almost in the tub where Sima Peretz had been bathing Choshen earlier.
Yaniv Peretz, general manager of a grocery chain, is undergoing physiotherapy treatment at Tel Hashomer Hospital, near Tel Aviv. He now works fewer hours, drawing a greatly reduced salary.
Gabrielle, reading from her statement, asked Garrett "to join us as partners to let the world know that we will not stop fighting for Gilad, Eldad, and Ehud, and for a world where our Israeli brothers and sisters will be able to put their children to sleep without worrying that they will be killed by a kassam rocket."
Speaking in Hebrew through Radnor, Yaniv Peretz told Garrett that he was asked at several meetings on his tour why he does not just leave Sderot, where his family settled in 1951 after migrating from Morocco. He said he replied that "the town is my home and nobody is going to kick me out. If I leave, next week it will be Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Jerusalem. I am in the front line."
Radnor and the Peretzes have visited the Joseph Kushner Academy in Livingston; Gerrard Berman Solomon Schechter Day School in Oakland; synagogues in Wayne and Basking Ridge; Ramaz High School and Cong. Oheb Tzedek in New York City; and donors in Philadelphia. Their trip was paid for by One Family Fund.
Garrett said that the idea of letting Americans know what Israelis have gone through as a result of the more than 4,000 rocket attacks launched by Hamas from Gaza since ‘005 led him to sponsor Resolution 951,which passed on March 8.
The resolution calls on President Bush "to direct the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations to introduce a resolution within the United Nations Security Council condemning Palestinian rocket and other attacks against innocent Israeli civilians, and responsible countries and United States allies in the Middle East to officially and publicly condemn Palestinian rocket attacks and other terrorist actions against Israel."
Last May, Gabrielle testified about the soldiers at the New Jersey State Assembly and Senate, which passed a resolution a month later calling on the United Nations to help free the three soldiers.
In its Website, www.SOS8.wordpress.com, the group has a sample letter that can be mailed to Bush, a petition addressed to the United Nations, and updates of the group’s activities, as well as pictures of the soldiers and of last summer’s rally on their behalf in front of the U.N.