Hundreds of American Jewish families have banded together to host children of Sderot residents who face daily attacks from Gaza terrorists.
The program, dubbed “Save Israel’s Children” is an independent initiative organized by an unaffiliated group of American Jewish friends. News of the program has spread through U.S. Jewish communities basically by word of mouth.
It has attracted U.S. and Canadian Jews from coast to coast who are offering to pay for a plane ticket and host a child in their homes for a period of time to be determined by the child’s family and the prospective host family. The program is designed to give the children a break from the deadly onslaught, not to encourage children or families to leave Israel.
Sderot Parents Association head Batya Katar said some 150 parents have already signed up to send their children to the U.S., as far from the deadly rocket attacks as possible. Katar is processing the applications from local families who want to participate in the program. She also plans to fly to the U.S. ahead of the children to ensure the success of the program.
One Israeli blogger, "The Big Felafel," had this to say about the new initiative:
"While I commend the Americans who have opened their homes to the victims of Sderot, I can’t help but ask the question, why? Why is this the solution? My fear is this attitude to solving problems will soon leave us without a state. If the rocket fire begins to hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, will we move everyone to a safer location like America or Europe? In fact isn’t this playing exactly into the terrorists’ hands? more..."
One of the organizers of the Save Israel’s Children program, American-Israeli New Yorker Avi Wolbe, lives in a suburb of the city after having moved from Israel to the U.S. 27 years ago. Wolbe said an Israeli child would have little difficulty staying with his family because they still speak Hebrew at home.
He plans to fly to Israel next week to meet with Katar, complete arrangements for the program and meet with applicant families in Sderot.
The program has a website designed by another organizer, 26-year-old engineer Genadi Fabyfhemko who, like the other North American Jews in the program, was deeply disturbed by what he saw when newscasts carried footage showing the children in Sderot.
“Israel’s government has been unable to bring a halt to [the constant attacks on the western Negev] for years,” reads a statement posted by the organizers. “It is the mission of this website and its initiators to empower people to help themselves.”
Russian-Israeli billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak has had a similar response to the government’s foot-dragging on finding ways to protect the residents of Sderot and other western Negev communities. Gaydamak has reached out to specifically help Sderot’s children, but with an approach that does not remove them from their families or from Israel.
Last weekend Gaydamak paid the tab for 200 Sderot teens to take a break from the attacks at hotels outside the western Negev city, with the promise that other students would have a similar opportunity in the near future.
Gaydamak has initiated similar programs in the past both in Sderot and for families in the north during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Several weeks ago, Gaydamak pledged NIS 90 million to fortify homes in the rocket-battered city. The government has been fighting a petition by residents asking the Supreme Court to force the government to build safe rooms for their homes.
Another program aimed at help Sderot's children was launched by two other American Jewish organizations, the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Federations of North America, who combined their funding to earmark $400,000 for a one-month program to help the city's youth. The one-month program will pull out almost 2,000 children one day a week for trauma counseling as well as recreation and education programs outside the city.