No matter how many Israel Day parades we may have attended, coins we have dropped in a JNF charity box, or times we have sung Hatikva, as diaspora Jews our connection to Israel pales in comparison to the bond between Israeli citizens and the Land of Israel. They are bound to the land not just through a covenant, military service, or international recognition, but through tragic sacrifice. In Israel, this word “sacrifice”, has a deeper connotation than in America. After three months in Israel I am only beginning to understand this concept. A recent trip to the town of Sderot brought me one step closer.
Located less than a mile from the Gaza Strip, Sderot is an easy target for Hamas. Between 2001 and 2008, the city was subjected to near constant bombing. Living in such close proximity to Gaza, Sderot receives a “tzeva adom” (code red) 15 seconds before the impact of a bomb. The lives of Sderot residents, therefore, were forced to evolve around this 15-second rule, and the constant bomb threat.
In Sderot, my year program was given a tour by a resident who lived there through the intense bombing. We learned that children in Sderot grow up unfamiliar with playgrounds. Although there are numerous playgrounds available, during dangerous times all gathering areas have to be within a 15-second run from a bomb shelter, limiting their use drastically. However, refusing to live their lives around bomb threats, Sderot’s residents have normalized their lives as much as possible and have joined together as a community, building schools that could continue learning even during code reds, having barbecues even when there were 8 bombs a day, and ultimately refusing to succumb to a defensive lifestyle.
The tour guide brought us into his surprisingly normal home which smelled of good Persian food. Only at a closer glance were the signs of bombing apparent: his children’s collection of bomb debris, two detonated ketusha rockets on his back porch, and impressions on the wooden latticework from flying glass.
Although resilience is evident by quick rebuilding, lifestyle adjustments, and the development of a new normalcy, the scars of sacrifice have still branded the area. On our tour we were led to an Ethiopian section of the town, a small residential road with a modest monument to one side. A monument, we learned, that emulated the grief of the city. It was a monument for two small Ethiopian children who were playing where we stood when a bomb made a direct hit. Only two weeks after their deaths, the grandfather of the children made an incredibly profound comment: For decades Israelis have been shedding blood for the noble fight for Israel and now the Ethiopian community in Israel has shared in that sacrifice.
This is the Israeli way. No matter the sacrifice, what inconceivable tragedy occurs, the Israelis rebound stronger, more courageous, and with a tighter fraternity.
As we left the town we walked past a strange statue of a drummer sitting at a drum set. Only after a closer look did we see the statue was composed of parts of bombs and ketusha rockets.
Hannah Restle is a gap year student at Jerusalem’s Midreshet Amit.
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