Placing his hand on the walls of the Kotel during his short visit to Jerusalem, Sen. Barack Obama shared his hopeful spirits with the people of Israel. In Sderot, the Amar family, the same host family to welcome Sen. John McCain back in March, was impressed by Obama’s optimism and wants to see him as the next president because of a certain promise. “[He] said if he did become president, I would be among his first guests in the White House,” Pinhas Amar said, adding: “Obama has this personal charm, and it looks like it’s going to get him elected.”
Obama reciprocated the warm reception and the gracious remarks of the Moroccan Jewish family, calling them an “example of the resilience of the people of Sderot and the people of Israel.”
The resilience he referred to is unquestionable.
A town of only 20,000 in the Western Negev, Sderot serves as a human barrier between the people of Israel and the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. According to mayor Eli Moyal, the population has declined by 15 percent since 2001 when the first Qassam rockets were fired across the strip, hitting the town and killing 13 people. Ever since then more have died, but even more fled their native adobes in bare desperation for survival.
Sooner or later every Sderot citizen will have to face the decision: stay and rebuild their wounded lives anew or escape, rejecting the old destinies, into the safer future.
In her Israel Diary section of Aish.com, Sara Yoheved Rigler describes her encounter with a few 8-year-olds from Sderot. She was impressed by the ease with which they spoke of their “safe places” in case “the Color Red goes off” and the maturity with which they accepted their lives as given. When asked whether she would like to leave Sderot and move to the safer Jerusalem, 8-year-old Roni said:
“I would like to move to Jerusalem, because it’s the holy city…But I will not leave Sderot. Because if I leave and my family leaves and other families leave, very few families will want to move to Sderot. Sderot will be empty. And then the Arabs will take over the city. And then the Arabs will start shooting missiles at other cities. And then the Arabs will take over all of Israel. So I am staying in Sderot.”
A strong sense of responsibility lies deep within these young Israelis. The understanding that if they leave— who will stay? So they persevere and, as Rigler refers to it, “[hold] down the borders of Israel for the rest of us.”
This brings to mind the Ayalim Student Villages in the Negev desert, the initiative sponsored by the Jewish Agency of Israel that sprung to life in 2006. Driven by the Zionist values of Israel’s founding pioneers, thousands of young post-army college-bound Jewish men and women moved to the Negev and begun constructing and settling in the previously uninhabited parts of the desert.
It also recalls a quote from a Negev native Hagar, an amazing Israeli soldier I was lucky to meet in Israel earlier this summer: “I will never leave Israel. I couldn’t bear to think how much my ancestors went through to make this land ours, so I have to stay and fight for the same cause.”
These are the spirits that make Israel—the country of only about 7,000,000—so incredibly strong, securing the right for Jewish people from all over the world to have a Jewish home.
– Inga Feldi