Friday in Sderot

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On Friday morning, we took the bus from Jerusalem to Sderot. We were seeing a private screening of the new film "Rock in a Red Zone" by documentarian Lauren Bialis. On the bus ride over, some people were asking why we were driving for an hour and a half just to see a movie, but by the end of the day we all agreed it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Sderot is a city that bore the brunt of rocket attacks from Palestine for years. The people who live there are predominantly minority immigrants, in other words, non-Ashkenazi Jews. They were brought to Sderot by the Israeli government in the early years of statehood, when they needed people to establish a presence along the borders of the country. Originally, it was built as a transit camp for Persian and Kurdish Jews. The film explains how new immigrants were basically tricked into moving to Sderot; they would board buses that were supposedly bound for a developed city, and the bus would drop them in the middle of nowhere, or what would become Sderot. 

The city is not built up like other parts of Israel; actually, it looks like South America. We drove to a small cineplex, and we were ushered into a theater. One of the managers there explained that if a rocket came into the city while we were watching the film, we would have 15 seconds to get to the shelter in the room next door. With that, the movie began!

The film tells the story of Sderot, with a focus on the music scene. The documentarian is an American who moved into the city, and she follows a few musicians as they rehearse and perform, in addition to showing how the rockets regularly disrupt everyday life, and the toll that it takes on people's health. 

For me, seeing the movie was eye-opening. Prior to this Summer, I had always thought of rockets in terms of injured and fatalities. Since we had family in cities that were under attack during the Summer, I began to think about the psychological toll of constantly running for shelter. Still, being in Sderot and growing up with rocket fire as part of daily life must introduce a level of psychological stress that I had never considered. 

Seeing people produce music despite, or maybe because of, the dangers of daily life was really inspiring. I used to wonder why people in Sderot didn't just move, but seeing the documentary made me better understand how closely the community is tied together, and how difficult it would be to leave those friends, neighbors, and family behind. 

After the screening, we drove around to look at the buildings. There's a new law that forces every building to have a shelter, here's an example:

I may be getting this wrong, but if memory serves, the building in front is a shelter that was tacked onto the pre-existing apartment complex. 

We also drove to a field where we could see Gaza. Although there was no security where, the feeling of being so close to such a dangerous foreign place reminded me of visiting the DMZ between North and South Korea. 

We continued on to eat a delicious lunch with Lauren Bialis, the filmmaker, at a local restaurant. I shamlessly took a selfie with her:

After that, we had to rush back to Jerusalem because there were some observant Jews on our bus that needed to be there before Shabbat started. 

Back at the Inbal, we had a short break before going downstairs to light candles. The setup at the hotel is like a Catholic church where you can leave candles out for saints: there's a whole tray of tiny candles and a pack of matches so everyone can do their own. I got in line and said the blessing quickly in order to make room for the other women. I've never done candle-lighting that way, it was kind of a nice feeling for it to be so communal!

We went downstairs to a private room to make kiddush, where they had some Kosher wine and challah waiting for us. Rabbi Steve Gutow had a long drash prepared, but it had to be shortened considerably because he had lost his voice during the trip. 

The drash was actually concerning the Torah portion for the prior week, because this was the place in the Torah where the word "Israel" is introduced for the first time, obviously an apt word for our trip! Rabbi Gutow explained that Israel means to wrestle or to struggle, and that part of our job as Jews is to struggle with the questions that we are faced with. I'm very proud to be a part of a religion that values questioning, thinking, and more questioning. I think that it's impossible to live well without living thoughtfully, and I'm glad that at least within Jewish culture, my "overly-analytical" mindset has a comfortable home. 

There was a short break before dinner at the hotel, which was a delicious buffet featuring some of the best fish I've ever eaten! It was tender, juicy perfection. Dinner was optional, so it was a smaller group than usual, but those of us who did come thorougly enjoyed ourselves, thanks in no small part to the excellent wine that the Gross's provided. Thank you, Jeff and Laurie!

Afterwards, four of us took a walk to the Kotel, which was nearly deserted. There was one other woman in my section but then she left, so I was completely alone for a few minutes at arguably the most important historical site in Jewish history. Gender politics aside, it was a powerfully peaceful moment. 

Back at the hotel, we missed last call, which was much earlier than anticipated. Some of the guys went to try to buy drinks, but no one was selling them on Shabbat, so we had some sober good times before saying 'lila tov' and heading off to bed. 

Marina Gafni

Marina Gafni is a 28-year-old speech pathology student. She lives with her husband in San Jose, CA.


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