This column was written by Dan Brown, founder of ejewishphilanthropy.com, and is crossposted to that esteemed Web site. Dan wrote the columns during and after participating in UJC's Next-Gen Breakththrough solidarity mission to Israel's Gaza perimeter region.
For the communities in the South, life is slowly returning to some semblance of normal. Students are back in school; outdoor playing fields once again are home to children of all ages, whether with a basketball or on the swings. Those who went to stay with friends or relatives elsewhere in Israel are heading back -- especially to the kibbutzim which largely emptied due to a lack of adequate shelters.
The stories will remain with all of us. Meeting with a Sderot family who actually were in their home's uncertified safe room as a rocket came crashing through the living room ceiling is very different from seeing pictures on the evening news. Examining the souvenir piece of shrapnel a teenager took out of his family's television casing speaks multitudes about what residents in the Gaza periphery dealt with every day.
Though visiting a kindergarten program in Sderot was a highlight for many on our mission, I was particularly impressed with the high school students I met at the Volume Center in Netivot. Here, in a joint endeavor funded by Israeli philanthropist Avi Noar and mobile phone provider Cellcom, programs are being developed to bring music to the periphery. And while many of these teenagers left the community during the recent war, they told us they had no intention of losing their passion to live in this country or in its South. They felt like a slightly younger version of the Ayalim pioneers we met earlier the same afternoon.
Netivot's Volume Center is the first in the South and also one of the most active. The programs, funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, are a hit among the high school crowd who treated us to some of their music.
Where do we go from here? This site is not the place for politics, but I will point out two observations from meeting with local residents during our travels. The first: long-time Shas supporters indicate that in the upcoming election their votes will, in many cases for the first time ever, go to parties with strong security agendas. Second, and with more implications for the long term, former participants in Seeds of Peace indicate their Palestinian friends -- with whom they were in contact during the war -- have new-found hatred and would like to kill them (cleaned up a bit for publication). Even with a ceasefire that holds, there will be scars, and damage to be repaired -- for a long time to come.
As for the mission itself, the participants and the UJC consider it a success. Individuals were given, and took advantage of, the opportunities to learn firsthand what is happening in the periphery and equally important to network with others who share common goals. It will now be up to the individual Federations -- with assistance from the UJC -- to connect to this next generation of potential mega-donors and continue to educate, inspire and motivate them.
- Dan Brown