In Israel's South, Focus on Community

Yael Ben-Nun and her family take a respite trip to Jaffa.
Yael Ben-Nun and her family take a respite trip to Jaffa.

It is three in the morning, and the sounds of the siren blare through your home. This is nothing new to you, as you often hear multiple sirens throughout the day. This time, however, it is the middle of the night and you only have a few seconds to gather your small children and bring them to safety. Which child do you run for first?

Unfortunately, this has become the helpless reality for many living in Israel's South. Some mothers have to go through it all on their own -- single mothers and those whose husbands are army reservists called up to active duty.

Yael Ben-Nun, a JDC employee living and working in Israel’s South, is experiencing this firsthand. In the village where she lives, the stress of the situation is affecting everyone.

“Even the dogs,” she jokes, “we have to give them Rescue Remedy medicine to relax them because they are afraid of the sirens and the booms.”

But it's even worse to see the effects on her children.

Yael, a mother of four with her husband just returned from reserve duty, sees the effects most strongly in her youngest child, her 3-year-old daughter: “She no longer wants to sleep in her own bed, and is even afraid to go to the bathroom alone now.”

Due to safety concerns associated with the ongoing conflict, summer camps and activities for children in the southern region are no longer running. Many parents now have to stay home with their young children, which means they cannot go to work and are finding it difficult to support their families. Some single-parent families, which make up about 30 percent of the population of disadvantaged neighborhoods in the South, are even beginning to struggle to put food on the table as a direct result of the crisis.

So what is pulling them through these hard times? Community, Yael explains. As regional director of Better Together in the South, Yael knows a thing or two about the power of community support. Better Together is a JDC program working in more than 40 struggling neighborhoods throughout Israel to empower communities to develop programs for children and youth at risk that will contribute to meaningful and sustainable social change.

During the ongoing crisis, Better Together has helped facilitate the conversion of public bomb shelters in the South into friendly environments for children. Volunteers are helping these shelters by providing activities, playing games, and putting on performances. In Netivot, where a neighborhood home sustained shrapnel damage last week, a clown volunteered to visit local shelters to make children laugh. In Kiryat Gat, volunteers are doing yoga workshops to help children and their parents relax.

Better Together has coordinated activities for 900 kids and 500 parents in 30 shelters across six cities. One thousand parents and children have participated in respite activities in quiet areas, and more are planned for another 800 Israelis.

"The daily fun activities in the shelters and the respite trips not only helped the kids pass the long days together, but also built solidarity among the families," Yael said. "The sense of community in the Better Together neighborhoods allowed parents to share their fears and worries with each other, which relieved some of the stress. They worked together to channel their energies into positive activity for their kids and for other neighbors in need."

When visiting various shelters throughout the South, Yael noticed the hard work and dedication of Better Together local coordinators.

“It is amazing to see. Even if they are sitting in the shelter with their kids, they are still doing the work and thinking about what else can be done – planning respite days and special activities," she said. "They care about others the same way they care about their own family.”

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