Saturday, July 12, 2008


About 3 years ago, I met Yafa Arberboy, an Israeli living on Moshav Kohav Michael in the Hof Ashkelon region. She was the chaperone for 3 Israeli youths who came to Seattle and Arizona to talk to American Jewish teens about living in Israel. We stayed in contact, and before this visit, I e-mailed to ask if she could show us around Sderot. Given the relative quiet, we felt it was safe to do. We had in the area two years ago, visiting a teacher at the local high school. On that visit, an hour after we left, a qassam fell near he town. No qassams have fallen in Sderot in the past 3 weeks, so we felt comfortable visiting. We were pleasantly surprised to see how active the town was and how many people were walking and traveling around town. Businesses were all open; the shuk (weekly market) was filled with people, and there were plenty of cars on the road, as well as people in the streets.

In April 2007, Yafa began a half-time position in Sderot, working for Pamonim, a non-profit which helps working Israelis get out of debt and learn to budget. This organization was founded 6 years ago and now has 41 branches throughout Israel.

Until a few years ago, Israelis could have bank overdrafts without large charges, like in the US. When one uses a credit cards here, the clerk asks if the user wants to pay in three payments or all at once, so people are used to pushing the limit when spending money. Also, Israelis rarely use registers to keep track of what they spend or balance their bank accounts monthly. Pamonim was created to help working couples in debt learn to reduce their spending and to budget. It also provides zero-interest loans to some clients.

Sderot , founded in 1951, is a town not much bigger than Kiryat Malachi. It is located less than two miles east of Gaza. It had close to 30,000 inhabitants at one time, but the true population now is closer to 25,000. Sapir College is located just outside the town as is the regional secondary school, Shaar HaNegev. Many teens from the Hof Ashkelon region attend high school there.

A month after Yafa came to Sderot, qassams started falling in large numbers on Sderot. Yafa’s priorities changed, and Pamonim allowed her to help up to 40 families survive until their earning situation stabilized. But the needs multiplied and Pamonim-Sderot helped more than 125 families ith financial and emotional support, and kept them off welfare. The organization helped one woman who was traumatized after her home was hit twice. And, unfortunately, others also have been near ground zero in two cassam attacks. Yaffa and her volunteers contacted attorneys to help families with damaged homes fill out all the paperwork to get government help.

Some people in town suffered severe hearing loss when they were close to where the qassams landed. Yaffa managed to connect them to a Hearing Aide institute which helped them get funding for the hearing aides from a local cell phone company. That in addition to what they get from a national plan and part from Pamonim helped 15 hearing-impaired gather the 5,000 ($1600) for the hearing aides. (Each did pay a small amount too--$130 shekels.)

Unfortunately, now Pamonim has no more funds for this kind of support though there are other families in need Yafa focuses now on 20+ families that are learning to budget. She works with both husband and wife to lower expenditures and to learn to be responsible for their financial life. Some wives do not work, and it becomes clear they need to get jobs. Pamonim helps these women build resumes. If any reader wants to give a donation to Pamonim in Sderot to help with any of its projects, checks in the US can be sent to:

c/o Yeshiva Yad Moishe

1520 39th Street

Brooklyn, NY 11218-4414

Put "Paamonim in Sderot in the momo line of the check and in the cover letter.

Yafa took us to her office, told us more about what she had done the past year, and gave us a tour of places recently hit by qassam rockets. Qassams are simple steel rockets filled with explosives, produced by different groups in Gaza. They are made in small factories (usually in houses or connected to them) and have a maximum range of 6 miles. They are free-flying artillery rockets lacking any guidance system. When they hit, part of them explodes and send out pieces of shrapnel. Cars explode when hit. Qassams were first fired at Israeli targets in October, 2001. The first time an Israeli city was hit was in Sderot in March, 2002. By November, 2007, 6311 rockets had fallen in town.
See for more details. Hamas is not firing them during this temporary calm. The Al Aksa Brigade (a Fatah splinter group) is claiming credit for the ones fired, breaking the cease fire.

Qassams are mainly fired at civilian centers. 15 Israeli civilians have been killed by these rockets. They also have a huge psychological impact on people living within qassam range because they never know when the next “Color Red” alarm will sound, giving them 15 seconds to get to shelter before the qassam hits.

We saw a home where a qassam recently landed

The first picture shows where the qassam landed. In the second picture, the Pamonim volunteer is standing just to the right of where the qassam landed. In the third, you can see the damaged solar panels too.

A qassam fell through the roof of this home. Luckily no one was hurt, but the structure cannot be saved.

At the town police station, we saw a collection of spent qassams, each one with the date shot and the place where it landed.

It was chilling to see them in one place and to know that close to 7000 have fallen in and around this one town.There does not see an end in sight to qassams falling in the area. Still new neighborhoods are being built and new people moving in, many of whom are religious. In one new area, the new playground includes what looks like big concrete culverts, more than two meters in diameter, that will soon be painted bright colors. Children can play and run through them but the structures will also has a practical use -- bomb shelters.

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