Photo Feature: Sderot Refugees in Tel Aviv Tent City

Billionaire new immigrant Arcady Gaydamak built a tent-city in a Tel Aviv park to provide refuge for Sderot's residents. Arutz-7 takes you inside.

Ezra HaLevi ,

Arcady Gaydamak, the Russian oleh (immigrant to Israel) who built a tent-city on the shore of the Mediterranean during the Second Lebanon War for northern refugees, opened a new tent-city for Sderot residents – this time in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park.
Despite the government’s utmost efforts to prevent the move (the chairman of the park municipality was told he would be forced to resign if he approved the plan – which he did anyway), Gaydamak shelled out tens of thousands of dollars to put together the most fun-filled refugee camp in the world for the residents of Sderot.

“We may have a government of criminals and a hometown under fire from terrorists, but at least the olim [new immigrants] still care about us,” said Moshe, a Sderot resident who boarded one of Gaydamak’s buses the day the camp was opened and has been there ever since. Moshe says that claims that Gaydamak’s kindness stems from political aspirations are pathetic. “Israel’s foreign policy is influenced by dirty European money and foreign interests in almost every arena, and the folks on the radio can only find the indignation to condemn the generosity of a Jew who has actually decided to make his home here and who still cares when he sees other Jews absorbing rockets and bombs,” Moshe says.

Most others resting in the cool shade of the eucalyptus trees in the Bereishit Forest section of Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park don’t feel like discussing politics. They are grateful for the escape from the tense suspense of life in Sderot.
Entrance to the Bereishit Forest, a Eucalyptus grove at the corner of Yarkon Park

The tents Sderot residents are calling home

“We would just sit around, pretending to do all the normal things you are supposed to do, but always expecting the loudspeakers to go ‘tzeva adom, tzeva adom’ [Color red, color red – the code broadcast over Sderot’s PA system to provide about ten seconds warning of an incoming Kassam rocket –ed.],” says Elad, a hareidi-religious resident of Sderot who has taken refuge in the tents provided by Gaydamak. “My whole family is here,” he says. “We have no idea when we are going to return home.”

Gaydamak himself has steered clear of the tent city. He says he doesn’t want residents or anyone else to think he built it in order to score points with public opinion. “I don't care about…public opinion - because public opinion is managed by the professionals,” Gaydamak told Arutz-7.

The tent-city, though far from filled to capacity, is fully functional and “will remain open as long as at least 50 people want to stay here,” organizer David Nitzana said. Sderot’s tent city is different than that built for residents of north last summer.

"We learned from the tent city in Nitzanim that it is important to keep the people busy and to provide them with privacy,” Nitzana said. Gaydamak has therefore provided the refugees with free passes to nearby water parks and amusement parks and has set up dividers in the tents to provide each family with privacy in the living quarters.

A central area in the center of the tent city features a stage, where performers are featured throughout the day. Surrounding the performance area are shaded dining areas, a playground, toy-filled area, ropes-courses and football, pool and trampoline set-ups. There is even an area where young people can play video games on large-screen televisions.
A video-game station
Performers appear on a main stage throughout the day
A wheel-chair bound singer belts out popular Mizrachi hits

A furnished, air-conditioned shipping container serves as the camp’s synagogue and contains a Torah scroll and boxes of prayer books.
The air-conditioned shipping container used as the camp's synagogue

Gaydamak is not leaving the vulnerability of Sderot up to the government either. He held a press conference last week in which he presented solutions for the lack of reinforced shelters in most of the city. “We will aim to conclude fortifications of houses within four months,” he declared. “Over the next 15 days, the first buildings will be fortified and I will fund everything - beginning with multi-story residential buildings.”

Not everybody in the tent-city is a refugee. In addition to the large teams of counselors from the Israel Experience – an organization used to coordinate Birthright Israel trips and other tours – are a group of pre-military student volunteers. “We have been hiking across Israel and we called up Gaydamak’s office and asked if we could help out with cheering up Sderot kids,” explains Nir Ben-David, one of the students at the pre-military academy near Beit She’an. “It is incredible to be able to step in and help out in this situation,” he says.
Nir Ben David was on a hike across Israel with his classmates from his pre-military academy when they came to the tent city to volunteer for the day

The children in the tent-city climb, play, run wild and even sit quietly. They have not been informed of any return date. “We will go home when the Arabs stop shooting rockets at my house,” says Liron as he sits down for lunch.

“The number of people here varies,” says Elad. “When there are some really bad barrages of rockets, a busload shows up. When it is quiet for a little – some people go home.”
Many empty beds
One family's section of a tent
The day's itinerary of events and performers
Laundry and fans
Children's art, thanking Arcady Gaydamak for his generosity

(Photos: Josh Shamsi, Arutz-7 Photojournalist)