My name is Mechi (Friederwitzer) Fendel and I am 39-years-old. I moved to Israel 20 years ago from Staten Island, NY. I have 6 children ages 18,16,14,12,10,4 - ages 10 & 14 are girls.
In 1994, when I moved to Sderot with my family, the city had just doubled its population from 11,000 to 22,000 residents. In the 1990s the great influx of FSU immigrants - mainly from the Asian Buchara and Khafkas (Caucaus) areas - changed the small Negev development town to a city with over 60% speaking Russian.
The reason that the former Russians numbered more than half of the city's population is that many veteran Israelis left Sderot after the city's demography changed so dramatically. The town, consisting of immigrants from Northern Africa, Persia, Yemen, and Romania was already struggling with high unemployment and now was supposed to absorb these new immigrants.
We moved to Sderot as part of the Sha'alei Torah movement to strengthen development towns. My husband, David (formerly of West Hempstead, Long Island, NY) came to be the head of a learning academy (kollel), and I came along with our 4 children. When we came to live in the city, I took a group of NY-UJA representatives on a tour of the town. "We are the Kiryat Shmona of the Negev," I said. I meant that since Sderot is the closest city town to Gaza, we're similar to the city near the Lebanese border. Never, in my wildest nightmares, did I imagine that Sderot would start being bombarded like its Kiryat Shmona counterpart!!!
We came to Sderot with 3 other families to try to rehabilitate a development town strategically located in the Negev (1 hour from Tel-Aviv, 1 hour from Jerusalem, and 45 minutes from Be'er Sheva) but ignored by all Israeli governments. The educational and welfare systems were in bad shape and the people of the town were depressed.
Even though most of the original residents were religious when they were brought to Sderot (no one decided to live here, but instead were sent in groups when they came on aliyah in the 1950s and 1960s), their children and grandchildren had lost interest in religion. The FSU immigrants were, of course, very far from religion, also. We tried to add as much as we could to Sderot's educational, religious and welfare frameworks.
Every year more families joined our "garin" (lit. seed). Afikim BaNegev ("Horizons in the Negev") - as our community is called - now numbers over 100 families and young couples. In our 2nd year in Sderot, my husband decided to start a Yeshivat Hesder in the city. The post-HS youth learn Judaic subjects (Talmud, Bible and Jewish philosophy) while also being active in the town and enlisting in the Israeli army. The original student body of 9 grew in 11 years to 400 students, half of whom are in the army while the other half live, learn and contribute to the city.
Five years ago in May, the first Kassam rocket fell in Sderot. Since then over 600 rockets have fallen in and around the city with another 400 in communities around the area. We have been living in a traumatic situation for so long; we've forgotten what normalcy is like. People have tended to ignore the threat of these rockets as a survival tactic - otherwise, we'd all be going crazy.
For five years terrorists in Gaza have seen Sderot as an easy target - only 800 meters away (less than 1/2 a mile). We were promised that the disengagement from Gaza would allow the army to use stronger force in bombing Gaza and therefore in stopping the rockets. This did not happen. We are all frustrated and don't know to whom to turn. Most Sderot residents walk around depressed - "No one cares about us", "Nothing will help", "Where can we go?", "Where's our army? Who are they protecting - the Palestinians or the Israelis?"
The students in the Yeshivat Hesder have currently begun a campaign of uniting the town. They split up into groups and go from door to door encouraging the residents and strengthening their faith in G-d. They offer help and try to identify situations where professional social workers may be needed.
We are experiencing miracles daily, but how long can this situation last? Each Kassam missile is stronger than its predecessor. In the past 2 weeks over 100 rockets fell in this well populated city. It's a miracle that so few have been injured.
One man, a guard from a school is hospitalized in critical condition. 5 people (4 children) have been killed and one lady had a leg amputated. We pray to G-d constantly that some sense will be knocked into the government and the army will do its job so that we can live normally…