Last night I attended a reception given for Yafa Arberboy about the plight of Sderot, Israel. She is a spokesperson for Paamonim, an organization that helps Israelis who are in financial trouble, and need loans and help in budgeting. Paamonim loans people money without interest and they learn to help themselves. When she moved into her office in Sderot, she saw that the situation was completely different there, as they have sustained rocket attacks since 2001, and were suffering from more than financial problems. She told us what life was like there.
Yaffa was born in Morocco and moved to a Moshav near Sderot when she was two years old. After marrying, she attended Sapir College which is at Sderot and was hired by Paamonim. She said that 30,000 people live in Sderot, and since 2001 they have lost less lives than the Palestinians, but are suffering in other ways. They have 15 seconds after a warning to get to shelter. Running is what they all have to do at any moment, and this causes injuries. A lot of glass is broken. People have to be taken to Barzelai Hospital, and an ambulance costs about $200. An operation can cost about $1,200. Even though they have socialized medicine, people need these things immediately and cannot wait, and evidently their medical insurance does not cover these things.
When a siren goes off, you run to a shelter, even if you are in the middle of a road in your car. You leave the door open, your purse and purchases on the seat, and run. Afterwards, you come back and nothing is missing.
The area has had cold winters this year. Rockets have hit so many places. One family's hot water tank was hit and they had no hot water. People are terrorized. Some cannot leave their homes out of fear. The exploding rockets are extremely loud and have affected many with hearing problems. They need hearing aids and cannot hear the sirens to know when to go to safety.
The alarms sometimes have had to warn people every 5 minutes. They have experienced 60 rockets a day, and that they rain on the city day and night now, whereas in the earlier years they only came during the day.
She told us the story of Evan, a Moroccan friend of hers. He and his family were at his mother's house, about 5 minutes away from his having dinner one night. He was ready to go home and go to sleep, and his mother said they were to stay with her that night. She said he must, even if she had to lock the door and keep him there. They didn't argue and stayed with her. In the middle of the night they had a phone call from the police. A Kassam rocket had fallen on his bedroom and they wanted to know if he had been home, and were greatly relieved to hear that he was with his mother that night. The family felt they had been through a miracle. Evan usually took their two-year old son to bed with them after visiting, and they all would have been killed, but for his mother's premonition.
One man didn't have a job, and was offered a chance to make some money by climbing up on the roof of a business and was promised the material up there that he could salvage. As he got on the roof, a rocket was shot and he fell off the roof. Yaffa said that the earth also trembles when the rockets land. Some families have had multiple injuries, and have needed help such as this man, whose daughter was also injured.
One fellow told Yaffa that he couldn't give up his cell phone when making out his budget. He needed to contact every family member when a rocket landed just to make sure they were all right. He'd rather give up meat on the table than his cell phone.
Parents take their children to school in a car and tell the child to run to school. That is, when they feel they can go to school. Yaffa said that everytime she sat down at her desk, the alarm would go off. Even if children got to school, they'd probably spend most of their time in a shelter in a fetal position. They're all pretty much in a state of trauma. No one sleeps. Some take turns. Children don't even know what it is to play outside. They are now conditioned to 2 minutes of movement.
One family was able to leave for two weeks and go north in Israel for a mental health break. Their children asked if they could play outside for 3 minutes. When told they could for an hour, they couldn't believe it.
One time Yaffa took her car to a car wash in Sderot. She could not stay in her car. You have to be ready to run to a shelter, and you can't hear the siren in the car in that place. The people are constantly hearing sirens; fire trucks, ambulances and rockets.
She told of a family whose 15 year old was wetting the bed due to trauma. The mother couldn't even wash clothes due to being in the shelter so much. Families get sick and cannot afford medicine. In one household, a father took medicine for one week and then his wife would take hers for the next week and so on. Of course this wasn't helping them at all, but they couldn't afford medicine for the whole family. I was shocked at this since medicine was so cheap when I was there. These people certainly are bad off.
She saw a home without a door, without roofs. One-third of the people have left Sderot, but the rest are remaining. They cannot afford to leave. They cannot sell their homes or apartments, or even find jobs elsewhere.
Yaffa is the person they turn to for help. She signed on as an advisor for financial problems, but has become their mental health counselor as well. So her visit to Portland was as an emergency appeal. I donated through the Jewish Federation and by writing: for Paamonim on my check. All the money will go directly to Sderot. You can also call 1-866-435-2200 to donate.