Nestled in the picturesque Ella Valley about a 45-minute drive from Tel Aviv sits the quiet town of Ramat Beit Shemesh. It is neither “over the green-line,” nor in the direct line of rocket fire. As Palestinian rockets pound the earth 30 minutes to its south, the general feeling in this central part of the country is that it’s a relatively “safe” place to live.

For that reason, teams of volunteers on Wednesday ran a family-fun day at a local community center so that Israelis living with the threat of rocket attacks could seek some solace.

Speaking from the small town of Nitzan in the sand dunes south of Ashkelon, Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yigal Kirschenshaft said that “the families here are very appreciative” of such efforts. Like the families he serves, Kirschenshaft once lived in the Gaza Strip, but was forced to relocate in 2006 when Israel unilaterally decided to pull its citizens and troops from the territory.

“The fact that cities throughout Israel have not forgotten about them,” said Kirschenshaft, “gives them a positive outlook.”

Like many residents in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Judy Clark, a children’s music teacher, was looking for something to do to help during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s renewed offensive against Hamas targets in Gaza, now 13 days old. She responded to a post on a local e-mail list requesting community help to sponsor families affected by the war down south, specifically those removed from Gaza only to be once again in the direct line of fire, but this time, without the protection of proper bomb shelters.

“They’ve been given such a raw deal,” said Clark. “They were forcefully evicted from their homes in Gush Katif and were relocated to caravans in Ein Tzurim. Now, with the rockets falling, they’re totally unprotected. There is no safe zone where they live.

“On top of that, all the schools in the region have been cancelled, so the families are left to entertain their children for days on end,” she continued. “These people need respite, and they need activities for their children.”

The family-fun day allowed residents from targeted towns to enjoy some peace and quiet. (Photo: Yissachar Ruas)
The family-fun day allowed residents from targeted towns to enjoy some peace and quiet. (Photo: Yissachar Ruas)

The Power of Touch

With the help of tens of volunteers from several area neighborhoods, Clark spearheaded the full day of programming for more than 100 residents from the south. Approximately 20 adults and 85 children as young as three months participated.

“We arrived at 10:00 a.m.,” Dorit Tenenbiem, a former resident of Gaza who now lives in Ein Tzurim, said in the middle of the day Wednesday. “The bus is scheduled to take us back at 5:30 p.m. I’m not sure if the kids are going to want to leave. This day has been such a blessing for all of us.”

“Because of the age ranges, programming was a bit tricky, but it worked out so wonderfully,” said Clark. “We were able to provide something special for each age group.”

The day’s activities included a full-day gymboree for babies and toddlers, a bike trip for the teenagers, a professional juggling show, creative dance and movement classes for the girls, and karate and soccer for the boys. There were ceramic workshops, music classes, puppet shows, arts and crafts, massage therapy for women and a drum circle. Further entertainment included a professional magic show and a music performance by a local band. There was even a cotton candy machine.

Throughout the day, volunteers offered rides to and from the local shopping center.

“The programming was geared specifically for the kids,” said Liora Davids. “But Judy thought of everyone. She even brought out massage therapists for the moms. It was such fun on all levels.

“For me, to see people giving what they could give,” continued Davids, “was such a beautiful thing.”

“These women are so in need, and they were so appreciative,” said Devorah Fish, one of the volunteer massage therapists. “We were acknowledging something by our touch. It was minimal, but it filled a need.”

“It was a really good day,” said Noam Levi, a mother of two from a small town outside of Ashkelon. “The kids have been climbing the walls, my daughter missed her usual nap, but I guess nothing is really all that usual these days. This day was amazing.”