Thursday, January 8, 2009

Update on Keshet's relief work in Sderot

Kayla asked me to post this letter from Yitzhak Sokoloff (executive director of Keshet). He has been spending a lot of quality time in Sderot this past week. Seeing how she just bought me a toaster (belated birthday present) I can hardly refuse. :)


Shalom,


I just returned from a long day in Sderot and the area, where the streets are still largely empty and one can clearly hear the sounds of the fighting in Gaza, less than two miles away. My first stop was at the headquarters of Reut, a group of families who moved to Sderot as a matter of principle in order to make a contribution to a struggling development town fated by its location to absorb thousand of rocket attacks over the last eight years. Reut has set up a food distribution center for about 300 Sderot residents living way below the poverty line, including 150 who received daily meals from the Reut soup kitchen and a few dozen who received weekly packages of diapers until the money ran out last week. Its rather amazing to me that this could happen while Sderot is in the center of attention for Israel and the dozens of foreign journalists roaming its streets, but that is the reality. It costs $2000 a month to serve daily meals to 150 people (less than a dollar per person per day but the fruit, vegetables and labor are all free). During my visit I was joined by my friend Amos Davidowitz from Kibbutz Gezer. Amos contacted friends in the kibbutz movement who contacted a diaper factory which promised to help out, and I spoke with Yehiel Marcus from the Jaffa Institute who offered a shipment of dry goods from their warehouse. But we will also begin supporting this project from the Keshet Israel Relief Fund as of tomorrow.

It was raining and cold tonight in Sderot, and just as I was remembering how miserable those conditions are for soldiers in the field I received a call from the quartermaster of an elite IDF unit which is in the thick of the fighting in Gaza. He told me how proud he is of the young soldiers in the unit, but mentioned that since their job requires them to be out in the open day and night the damp and the cold are taking their toll. He asked us to purchase 150 sets of a windproof fleece, hat, and gloves and promised to bring them into Gaza tomorrow (i.e. Thursday) afternoon. A letter to a group of 10 people who had visited this unit last year produced half the budget for this ($2500) within 2 hours. I am hoping to receive commitments for the remainder by tomorrow morning (Israel time) so that we can purchase the entire shipment. In fact, that is why I am still at my computer at 3:30 AM!

The most encouraging experience I had today was my visit to the volunteer headquarters in Sderot. About 80 Israeli kids- mostly 18 or 19 years old- were meeting to report on their experiences during a week of work in the shelters of Sderot. They came from all over the country, from nearby Beersheva to Rosh Pinna and Moshav Meron in the far north, and they included men and women (really boys and girls) from almost the entire spectrum of Israel- religious and secular, pants and skirts, pony tails and crew cuts, Ashkenazi, Sepharadi and Ethiopian. It was a scene that reminded me of a youth movement get together in Israel or the U.S., except that these kids had just spent a week underground with children who were petrified by all the sirens and the explosions. The organization behind the volunteer project is called Lev Echad (one heart), and it rises like a phoenix every time there is a major crisis in Israel. Just feeding all these volunteers is a major undertaking, and I am proud of the fact that we have been able to support them and hope to continue to do so.


If you are able to help and haven't done so yet, please send your check to Informed Choice for Israel or The Keshet Israel Relief Fund (aka) 244 North Ave, New Rochelle NY 10801. E-mail me that once you have done so. Please indicate the amount of your contribution, and if you would like to allocate it for one or more specific purpose. Passing this letter on with a cover letter would also be very helpful.

We are still awaiting our final letter from the IRS approving Informed Choice as a recognized non profit organization, but we have been in touch with the IRS. Final approvals should come in the next few weeks and all donations will be tax deductible retroactively. Sadly, events in Israel have proceeded at their own pace. Any contribution that you give will be used immediately and all of your money will be put to work.

Yitzhak Sokoloff
Executive DirectorKeshet: The Center for Educational Travel in Israel

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