Backpacks for Kids reach Sderot Children
By Anav Silverman
As the start of the school year draws near, Sderot kids are getting ready for classes and tests, accompanied by the expected routine of ‘red alert’ alarms and rocket explosions. Although it is uncertain whether Palestinian rocket fire will cease so that Sderot children can begin the year in peace, there are people outside working to help to ease the beginning of the school year for Sderot children in other important ways.
Mati and Malcolm Feuerstein initiated Backpacks for Kids two years ago when the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 financially crippled many families in northern Israel. Purchasing backpacks, notebooks, and other school material for kids in the war torn region became even more difficult for already low-income families. Consequently Backpacks for Kids, a volunteer-driven initiative, raises money to purchase backpacks and other school supplies, along with clothing and toys, for kids in need of them. Older children volunteer to pack the backpacks.
In the summer of 2007, Jewish, Druse, and Christian Arab children received the first batch of school backpacks from the Feuersteins. The couple, who live in Zichron Yaacov traveled to Metulla, Kiryat Shmona, Tzfat, and Dalyat Cramel, as well Haifa, Atlit and Sderot in the south, to deliver these backpacks to kids in regions traumatized by war.
With help from Sderot Media Center, Mati and Malcolm contacted the Dahan family of Sderot whose home was hit twice by Qassam rocket fire. The Dahan’s daughters, 11-year-old Morag and younger sister Zohar, happily received their new backpacks. Morag was injured in a Qassam rocket attack on a Sderot synagogue, which left part of her face paralyzed a few months before.
This summer, the Sderot children who received backpacks from the Feuersteins included seven-year old Noam Malka, whose home was hit by a Qassam back in April. The Malka family has been forced to leave the house that Noam and his younger brother have called home since they were born. Repairing the damaged structure could take up to a year and until then, the Malkas have rented a smaller house in Sderot.
The Feuersteins also paid another visit to the Dahan family, laden with backpacks and games for the Dahan kids, as the parents shared their difficult experiences this past year. The family suffered a tragic blow when the mother, Yehudit Dahan miscarried because of the stress and trauma of living under Palestinian rocket fire. The Qassam rocket fire became so intense that the family decided to leave.
“We had days where 50 Qassams pounded our city,” said Yehudit. “There was a point I could no longer bear to have my family living in this danger. We picked up and moved to Netivot, leaving our home here in Sderot.”
Netivot is only a few minutes away from Sderot but experiences rocket fire much less frequently. “We spent over 30,000 NIS from savings and loans on renting this apartment in Netivot, said Meir, Yehudit’s husband.
“We couldn’t afford to finish paying for our kids’ education this year because of all the costs,” said Yehudit, “so they completed school without receiving their graduation certificates.”
As an elementary school teacher, Yehudit understands the value of an education but said that, “the safety and peace of mind for my family came first.”
Meanwhile the Dahan family has moved back to Sderot since the ceasefire with Hamas went into effect back in June.
“We missed home and I felt that it was safe enough to return,” said Yehudit.
In typical Sderot fashion, Yehudit and her family warmly thanked the Feuersteins for coming to visit and for giving the kids the backpacks. “ More important than the backpacks, it is uplifting to see people visiting from the outside who care about us,” said Meir.
“We believe that it is the least that we can do to help,” replied Mati as she shows Zohar the goodies and surprises in her new pink backpack. “Sderot is always on our minds and in our hearts.”