The Joseph Project partnered with a local humanitarian aid organization in Sderot, less than a mile from the Gaza border, to bring relief and fun to southern Israel’s residents who have been living in a constant state of tension due to sporadic rocket attacks and kite warfare.
“We are happy to be here … to bless the children and to give them a sense that somebody cares for them despite the trauma that they are going through,” said Joseph Project Executive Director Jim Schutz.
Sderot is referred to as the “bomb shelter capital of the world” because of constant rocket attacks between 2001 and 2008 and sporadic attacks since then including skirmishes that led to a war in 2014 with Israel.
In this region, residents have only 15 seconds from the time an alarm is sounded to reach shelter before a rocket lands.
In the midst of high tensions this summer, late last month the Joseph Project and a local Messianic organization joined with the Sderot municipality to distribute gifts for children and host a fun-filled event for them. The all-day event was organized by a Messianic organization in Sderto while the municipality provided the place, water slides, cotton candy and other games. Joseph Project provided the gift boxes for the children.
“This past month we’ve had many problems with rocket fire and with incendiary kites,” Micheal Beener of City of Life congregation explained. “This is very stressful for the residents and the children. Many are unwilling to leave their homes to play outdoors freely.”
In the past few months tensions have escalated again in the Gaza-border region. In addition to weekly protests on Friday, Palestinians have launched hundreds of rockets at Israeli spaced over a few random 24-hour periods.
Beener said that with the aid of the Joseph Project the festival was a success, bringing joy to children during summer vacation and giving them the opportunity to get out of their homes into a protected environment for games and gifts.
The gifts were from a United States-based ministry called Samaritan’s purse which provides shoeboxes filled with a mix of toys and personal items packed according to gender and age for children around the world.
According to a study in 2015, some 40 percent of the children in Sderot suffer from symptoms of anxiety, fear and PTSD. Living in Sderot and the surrounding communities can also be isolating and lonely.
“It’s very nice to know that someone is thinking about us and loving us,” said one resident, Karen, who was thankful for the Joseph Project’s one-day event.
“We have to deal with this hardship and it’s not easy,” said Mark Ifraimov, deputy mayor of Sderot. “Many of our children experience trauma and live in this difficult situation. Some of the children were born into this situation knowing all about ‘red alert’ alarms. This is not a proper way to grow up from infancy.”
The city tries to provide positive experiences such as the Jospeh Project festival for the children to counter the trauma they undergo.
“The work of the Joseph Project allows for an expansion of the fun activities,” Ifraimov said. “We aren’t talking about children who are poor or pitiful, but rather we are giving them the chance to be happy, and to say that life is so much nicer.”
The inflatable bouncy castles served as a positive experience for children who now have to be educated that kites and balloons can be dangerous. Because many of the kites and balloons launched from Gaza have had explosive charges attached to them, police have been urging children to stay away from them.
These seemingly innocuous objects flown over from Gaza have sparked fires that have destroyed thousands of acres of farmland and caused millions of shekels worth of damage over the last few months.
The festival bolstered the residents’ morale and provided day of relief from bomb shelters and constant anxiety.
“The people don’t want to leave the city, they feel like this is home,” Schutz said. “They want to be here, their children want to be here. And so we are blessed to be a part to help encourage them and to strengthen the community.”