As violence on Israel’s southern border persists and agricultural terrorism burns the Holy Land, tens of Hamas rockets are fired towards Israeli cities from Gaza.
Until now, Israel’s army performed limited retaliation due to the complexity of the situation. However, in self-defense, the Israel Air Force has begun to target launching sites in the Gaza Strip. Responding to this show of force, tens of rockets were fired into southern Israel, triggering red alert sirens and sending Israelis into bomb shelters.
This brings the frightening sounds, smells, and sites of terror back into the lives of Sderot’s citizens, who live just across the border from the Gaza strip. “With war continuing to rage within view of Sderot’s residents, children in this area are already like war veterans,” stated Danielle Rubin, Director of American Friends of Meir Panim. “We must help to keep them safe and hopeful for their future under these very trying circumstances.”
Since April 13th, about 400 kites with burning tails and explosive balloons have been flown into Israeli territories from Gaza. Called “agricultural terror,” these incendiary devices have burned thousands of acres of farmland and caused millions of shekels worth of damage.
“With Israel’s southern border continuing to suffer from terrorist activities, we are grateful that we have been able to help ease the suffering of Sderot’s children,” Rubin said. “Our local youth clubs are providing a safe and comforting place for teens. They are serving as healthy outlets to maintain a sense of normalcy amidst the crisis.”
The youth clubs are located within converted bomb shelters. Should a red alert siren go off while the youth are in the club, they are already safe. “Meir Panim renovated the bomb shelters to make them feel more like relaxing spaces to hang out rather than places to hide from rockets,” continued Rubin. “These clubs provide traumatized teens with a safe place to socialize and expand their horizons.”
Activities Meir Panim provides at the Sderot youth clubs include cooking classes, dancing, laugh therapy, music, and carpentry workshops. In addition, they host fun group activities like barbecues, holiday parties, sports, and important lectures on violence, and risky activities.
Shai Eliav, a 10th grader from Sderot who attends a youth club, said, “This is the one and only best center. Everyone here feels like a family with togetherness. This is my second home. Also, there is a good learning environment here and also a good social environment. The staff helps us with everything.”
One example of the importance of the clubs is the great work being done for 17 Sderot teens through the leadership group, NOVA (Youth for Building the Future). Participants are involved in social action, perform volunteer work, and contribute to the community. They also participate in discussions about social issues such as racism, absorption and acclimation difficulties, the army and national service, working rights of teenagers, education, the security situation, and acceptance of others. These discussions help to strengthen the teens’ communication skills and develop leadership qualities.
An especially moving activity is when participants visit war veterans. The youth listen to the veterans’ war stories, which they now can deeply relate to, and express their appreciation for their service by giving a small gift and a lot of warmth. The group also visits hospitals several times each year to cheer up patients and give gifts.
Meir Panim hopes that youth attending this program will grow to become some of Israel’s greatest leaders due to their compassion and unique life experiences.
Children at the centers have personally requested an upgrade of some of the aging equipment. This includes a ping-pong table, computer games and remote controls, office equipment, yard furniture for a sitting area, and sports equipment – a volley ball, a net, a basketball, and a punching bag.
“Meir Panim is able to continue our network of social welfare programs in Israel only through generous donations from our amazing supporters,” said Rubin. “We are so grateful that we are able to make a positive impact on the lives of struggling Israeli children.”