For 200 children in the Kochav HaTzafon neighborhood in Ashkelon, summer vacation has meant time in the bomb shelters. With no safe rooms in their homes, the kids have been forced to spend lengthy time in the shelters instead of summer camps. In response, Meitrei Ashkelon, in partnership with the Ashkelon Municipality and with the support of NIF, organized special educational activities and respite trips. We spoke with Ilana Gordon, the organization's director, about the initiative:
Shalom Ilana, can you tell us about your organization? "Meiterei Ashkelon builds community for former Soviet Union (FSU) immigrants with Jewish content. Our activities are social and communal, and deal with informal education, culture, entertainment, and leisure."
What does that mean in practice? "We run an after-school learning program, "Academy for Early Childhood," and activities for FSU immigrants to advance their Israeli-Jewish identity. We also help with homework. There are many single-parent families here; when the mother is working, the children are being raised by the grandparents, who don't speak Hebrew well and can't help with homework. We want the children to advance academically and help their integration into Israeli society, and to help close social gaps. Our main activity is in the Kochav HaTzafon School, where there are around 500 FSU students - we work with around 250 of them."
And what about during the war? "During the war there are no activities or summer camps and they sit at home, where there's no safe space. In our neighborhood, Kochav HaTzafon, there are no protected spaces in the apartments or even on each floor. The neighborhood is mainly made up of old buildings. Around 90% of the people living there are immigrants from the FSU. When the war began, we gathered the children together in the morning and prepared activities - on the festivals, games, homework, and joint breakfasts."
Who leads the activities? "Our counselors. We used up our budget during the first two weeks, so we approached the Ashkelon Municipality. With their help, and with the support of NIF, we received additional funding which allowed us to widen our activities to other shelters. Afterwards we began working with the local community center Neve Dekelem, and the municipality sent us psychologists and counselors from the youth movements to help us, especially with guidance about the war and the sirens. Two weeks ago the municipality began organizing trips, accompanied by us and the parents."
What's been the response of the parents and the children? "The parents are really satisfied. They don't have anything to do with the children during this time. Some of them continue to work, and those who are free come and help us. And of course are really satisfied. Unfortunately the children have already gotten used to the sirens, but they are still afraid. The war "finished" and there are still sirens, and there are also booms without sirens."
Do you have anything to say in conclusion? "Yes, I want to say thank you to NIF for supporting our activities, not just in my name but in the name of all the parents, of close to 200 children...We hope that the war will come to an end and that we will no longer need to spend our budget on special activities during the war."