The Gazan-based Hamas terrorist organization threatened to break the “cease fire” with Israel this week and return to armed violence if their demands weren’t met on issues concerning the re-building of Gaza following last month’s IDF operation dubbed “Guardians of the Walls.”
Many of the Israeli residents living in southern Israel fully believe that it’s not a matter of “if” Hamas will strike again but “when.”
Therefore during these periods of relative quiet, the IDF along with the many various first-response organizations in the cities, communities, and kibbutzim near the Gaza border remain on high alert in case the terror raises its head again.
In the town of Sderot, less than 1.5 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, a special group of first-response volunteers is prepared 24/7 to spring into action should rockets start falling on the city.
Known as “Tzevet Zachash” or “the neighborhood emergency response team,” these volunteers arrive at the scene of rocket attacks to assist those affected.
According to Shlomit Eckstein, who is in charge of Sderot’s 120 neighborhood emergency-response volunteers commissioned by the municipality’s welfare department, her staff responsibilities differ from those of first-response medical teams who arrive when rockets are fired at the town.
Eckstein explains: “When a rocket falls near a building, MDA (Magen David Adom) are able to identify those who are hurt and are in need of medical attention. But what we do, which is so unique, is go door-to-door in all of the surrounding apartment buildings or homes to ensure everyone is OK.”
Eskstein says that oftentimes during rocket attacks, there are those who go into shock and board themselves up inside their apartments, fearing for their lives. Thanks to her volunteers, those in need of care, whether physical or psychological, are identified and provided the necessary assistance.
“When our volunteers - who have been trained by mental health professionals - arrive, they are able to immediately evaluate the situation. They can call in MDA or members of our Mircaz Chosen (community resilience center) who include mental health counselors or social workers in order to assist with those who are in a state of high stress or trauma as a result of the attack.”
25 of Sderot’s neighborhood emergency response volunteers, or around 20% of them, are students at the town’s Max and Ruth Schwartz Sderot Hesder Yeshiva, a five-year program combining Torah learning with Israel’s mandatory IDF service.
Shmuel Pachima, who learns at the Yeshiva, and is the organizer of the Hesder’s response volunteer teams, has been on board since the initiative was founded. He says that his volunteers were extremely busy doing last month’s military operation.
Pachima explains that, “it is crucial to go door to door to check on those who might be in shock, and call in the appropriate professionals to assist. We had many such cases last month during the attacks." "Who would do the work of identifying those in need of help if not us?,” he asks.
Pachima says that without his team, many people, the elderly in particular, would be left with no choice but to suffer silently at home.
He adds that, “in addition to finding those in need of help, we also go a step further, cleaning up the damage from rocket attacks near people’s homes.”
Pachima says his team often checks in on residents, even after things quiet down, getting them medicine from the pharmacy or helping book doctors' appointments for those unable to do so on their own.
Rabbi David Fendel, the Hesder’s Rosh Yeshiva, is proud of his volunteers. “We are a thriving Torah institution in the Western Negev, but it is our responsibility to contribute to the community of Sderot,” he says.
Fendel adds, “This special team of student-volunteers which goes door-to-door ensuring the wellbeing of local residents is a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name), and demonstrates that we are an integral part of the fabric of this town.”
Eckstein says that she does not know what the future holds, or when the next flare-up will occur, but that, “We are always ready for what might come.”