On Wednesday, 6,776 people attended “Empathy with Sderot Day.” This wasn’t a march or a gathering in a specific town; rather, it was a Facebook event linking people all over the world in an act of solidarity with a beleaguered city. Participation included: changing the profile picture on your Facebook page, wearing red, or just joining the group. With no infrastructure or overhead, and in about a week’s time, 20,000 people were invited and about one-third took part!
Why Sderot? On and off for the past seven years, communities in Israel proper that lie close to the Gaza Strip have been subjected to almost daily Qassam rocket attacks. Since the withdrawal from Gaza, rocket attacks have increased significantly and Sderot is targeted on a near daily basis. While most of the rockets land in open spaces in the Western Negev and cause no injury or damage, a growing number of Qassams are finding their way onto Sderot, causing damage to homes and injuries to Israeli citizens. And even when they fall in open areas within residential areas and cause no physical damage, the mental stress caused to residents of Sderot and other border towns is immeasurable.
At a time when the general consensus is that the government here in Israel is not doing enough to support and protect the residents of Sderot, when there is general lack of faith in the government on this issue, two young Israelis decided to step in and make a difference: Udi Ben David, a shaliah at Camp Ramah Darom and a personal friend, and his friend Yonatan Saban. They created the Facebook event that raised the attention of Sderot in the virtual world. Theirs is not the only Facebook group for supporting Sderot, but it has garnered media attention here in Israel on the website of Yediot Acharonot and other Israeli newspapers, and on one of the morning news shows here. Moreover, their virtual event inspired others to create real world events to take place in Toronto and other cities starting next week. On Friday, the two friends will lead a group to Sderot in a demonstration of support.
Among the key themes in parashat Ki Tissa is a message about leadership vacuums and lack of faith. In the absence of leadership, people will fill the gap: sometimes well and other times, as in the case of the Golden Calf, poorly, focusing energy on the wrong things or acting narcissistically. At a time when there is little faith in either short or long-term solutions, where there is a perceived or real leadership vacuum in Israel on this, and other, issues, people like Udi and Yonatan are filling the vacuum in the most positive of ways: looking beyond themselves, reaching out to the world, supporting those who need to be supported, and hopefully restoring a modicum of faith to the residents of Sderot. Yasher Koach Udi and Yonatan and thank you for inspiring us and so many others to stand in solidarity with Sderot.
- You can watch Udi on Israeli television by going to http://video.nana10.co.il/?ArticleID=538954&pid=1 and you can read the article in Yediot Acharonot, in English, at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3509028,00.html . Hebrew readers can see the article on the event at http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART1/699/558.html .
- Limmud Southeast + Atlanta is right around the corner. The Limmud phenomenon, which started years ago in the UK, is a gathering of Jews of all flavors who spend one to four days together engaged in Jewish learning. Limmud is expanding across North America and this will be the first annual Limmud in the Southeast. The program takes place March 1-2 in Atlanta. Among the many volunteers coordinating the effort are Jodi Mansbach, a Ramah Darom parent, and Anna Robinowitz Hartman, a long-standing member of the Ramah Darom family and a master educator! Rabbi Aaron Alexander is among the many presenters. Surf to http://www.limmudse.org/mc/page.do for all of the information.
- And for those of you who get hooked on Limmud, you can attend Limmud Colorado at the Keystone Resort May 23-26 which is being coordinated by executive director Beth Steinhorn, a classmate of mine from Willowbrook Elementary and Maple Junior High School. Thanks to Sue Parker Gerson for making the reconnection. More information on Limmud Colorado can be found at http://www.limmudcolorado.org/.