With schools in Be’er Sheva closed since the city came under missile attack from Gaza, NIF grantee BINA Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture has taken responsibility for 40 children whose parents are out at work each day. BINA volunteers provide care and informal education for the children, aged four to 14, in two bomb shelters in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
"This morning we were feeling relaxed," said Idan Richman, coordinator of BINA's social action and community program in Be’er Sheva. "But a few hours ago we heard missiles falling nearby and suddenly everybody is on edge. The children are very anxious. When their parents come to pick them up after work, you can see the fear in their eyes at having to go outside of the shelter. They feel safe here."
A volunteer coordinates educational activities for children in a Be’er Sheva bomb shelter.
Richman leads a team of eight BINA volunteers who are working in the bomb shelters in Be’er Sheva's Shkunat Dalet neighborhood. They spent last week cleaning out the neglected shelters together with the children and making them suitable for long-term use.
"We have been playing games with the kids," explained Richman, "and have now also started to introduce educational material about Jewish identity and culture."
Meanwhile, another bomb shelter in Shkunat Daled has become a haven of coexistence. Many Israeli Arabs rent accommodation in the neighborhood and several years ago NIF grantee Negev Coexistence Forum renovated a local shelter for its Multaka/Mifgasim (Arabic and Hebrew for Encounters) Club, where more than 50 local Jews and Arabs regularly meet to discuss how to live together. There are also cultural exchange activities and an emphasis on bringing Jewish and Arab children together.
Dr. Avner Ben Amos has helped bring Jews and Arabs together.
Dr. Avner Ben Amos, one of the leading activists running the Encounters Club, observed that over the past week the shelter has been staffed by activists around the clock. The shelter has been packed for much of the past week by Jews and Arabs seeking refuge from the missiles. "The fact is that most of the shelters in the neighborhood are neglected so that our well-decorated shelter is all the more attractive."
Many phone calls have been made to Gaza to hear how civilians have been faring across the border. In one conversation with Dr. Iyad Saaj, Head of Mental Health in the Gaza Strip, the Be'er Sheva residents heard about the traumatic effect of the conflict on the region's children.