Sderot Hesder Yeshiva students
Sderot Hesder Yeshiva studentsCourtesy

During the October 7th Hamas massacre, the western Negev border town of Sderot, just a mile from Gaza, was infiltrated by Hamas terrorists. Hamas began their murderous rampage targeting civilians throughout the city, and deliberately laid siege to the local Sderot police station. 

The brave men and women of the local police department, along with the IDF, stepped in to defend the city. After a 20-hour gunbattle, dozens of civilians were killed, along with at least 20 officers, according to ZAKA. Towards the end of the fighting, authorities decided to demolish the police station with terrorists inside. Finally, the terrorists were liquidated, but the community, like many other communities in southern Israel, paid a steep price.

Rabbi David Fendel, the Dean of the Max and Ruth Schwartz Yeshivat Hesder Sderot, told Arutz Sheva-Israel National News that most of the 600+ students of his institution, located just down the street from the scene of the battle at the police station, were at the Yeshiva to celebrate Simchat Torah together. 

He said, "Miraculously, those students and staff members who remained on campus were spared, as the terrorists somehow failed to target us at the Yeshiva, even as they were so close to our campus."

Fendel explained that with the launch of Operation Iron Swords, dozens of students and staff of the Yeshiva, along with former students, were called into battle to defend the State of Israel. He said, “Unfortunately, three brave Yeshiva alumni were killed HY”D (may God avenge their blood) while others were wounded.”

Due to its proximity to Gaza, the town of Sderot was evacuated, and the Yeshiva students were warmly welcomed at Yeshivat Shaalvim in the center of the country, as a temporary home to continue their intense Torah learning until it was deemed safe to go home. 

Two weeks ago, after nearly two-and-a-half months away, around 300 students returned to Sderot, picking up where they left off, singing and dancing with the Torah scrolls in the study hall, to make up for the "Hakafot Shneyot," which never happened after Simchat Torah due to Hamas' barbaric attack.

Upon returning to the Hesder campus, Fendel said, "The trauma experienced by some of the students and staff is unimaginable, but the Hesder is here for them.At the same time, the institution is preparing to play a key role in assisting in the rehabilitation process of the residents of Sderot once they return." 

He added vehemently, "Our enemies time and time again try to hurt us, and try to turn Sderot into a ghost town, but the power and light of Torah and chesed as personified by the Yeshiva will win out over the darkness."

Rabbi Fendel and the Yeshiva are no strangers to terrorism, as Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza have been launching rockets at Sderot for over 20 years.

Rabbi Ari Katz, the Yeshiva’s director of PR, told Arutz Sheva-Israel National News: "In all the rounds of fighting over the years, our students volunteered to help our neighbors in the community.That is part of our mission, and this time is no different.We will help rebuild our beloved town utilizing any and all of the resources at our disposal."

Katz explained that an ongoing fundraising campaign has generated substantial funding thanks to donors and partners, in order to assist in procuring the funds necessary to help students, staff, and local community members alike recover from the stress-inducing ordeal.

He said, "Many of our students are still in their army service or reserves, and the community hasn't come back yet, but when they do, we will be ready to direct them and assist them in getting the support they need."

Katz said it has been inspiring to see Jewish missions from abroad arrive in Sderot nearly daily, to visit the city and the Yeshiva in order to give strength and show solidarity."War is raging very close to us in Gaza, but friends from around the world have been visiting us to show us that we are not alone. The unity and brotherhood we are experiencing now is unprecedented."

Katz added he is confident the Yeshiva will return to full capacity very soon, and the residents of Sderot will come home shortly. The young women at the Hesder's Midreshet Ma'ayan post-high school program will be coming back to Sderot very soon as well.  

"We are a resilient people," he said."The Jewish People suffered tremendous losses on October 7th and in the days since, but I'm confident that Sderot will bounce back like never before"