While no one can adequately steel themselves for the emotional trauma of terrorist missile strikes, the residents of Philadelphia's Partnership 2000 communities in Netivot-Sedot Negev were better prepared for the impact of Israel Defense Force's Operation Cast Lead than many of their southern Israel neighbors. Federation's strong support of projects that enhance security and upgrade emergency communications systems throughout the region has helped make the difference.
"Over the past two years, Federation has approved more than $750,000 in requests for volunteer security and communications enhancements," said Jeri Zimmerman, director of the Center for Israel and Overseas. In Netivot, surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the city. The emergency warehouse is well-equipped with a generator providing ample power in the event of a total electrical blackout, a mobile lighting unit, water containers and portable drinking units.
City schools are safer, thanks to the installation of perimeter fencing that enhances security.
In Sedot Negev, bomb shelters in all 16 agricultural settlements were renovated, air-conditioned and fortified with emergency equipment essential for extended stays.
Volunteer first responders — who visit the impact site of each rocket site to check for unexploded material and shrapnel, as well as assist the wounded — have been outfitted with flak jackets and multi-layered helmets.
Sedot Negev's emergency headquarters now has an upgraded communications system. Volunteer security personnel on each settlement now have state-of-the-art MIRS phones.
Enhanced security measures have also been implemented at school bus stops.
Although classes have temporarily been suspended in the region due to the military operation, students can keep up with their studies thanks to another Federation-funded initiative, The English Distance Learning Project. The computer-based platform — originally used as a vehicle to improve English language and math skills — now functions as a virtual classroom for students.
Teacher/soldiers visit the public shelters and spend time with students, many of whom spend a great deal of time there, watching television or playing games on computers. Yet boredom and a lack of privacy are major challenges for residents who may share space with 10, 15 or even 20 families.
'The Real Reason'
Adina Young Swissa, the program chairperson for the Jewish Agency for Israel's Gesher L'Kesher program, lives in Netivot with her husband and young children.
"Our 1-year-old daughter, Oreya, is just a baby and is unaware of the situation. Yet Shachar, at 21/2, fully knows the real reason that we quickly move into the bomb shelters when the siren rings," she said, explaining that the family has made up their own song that they sing while they get ready.
"We try to make a game out of the process to make it less frightening," she added.
Yet despite emergency preparedness efforts, many residents are deeply frightened by the barrage of rocket fire and shrill sound of the sirens that signal that they have 15 seconds to find shelter.
To help them cope, the Saligman Center for Child Development in Sedot Negev is now also functioning as a resilience center. Trained staff provide trauma therapy and counseling services for children and adults at the center or in area residents' homes, if needed.
Despite the tensions, life goes on in Netivot-Sedot Negev.
Swissa concluded her phone call with apologies, explaining that "my friend is waiting for me to drive her to pick up her wedding dress."
The ceremony is scheduled for this week.