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Israeli Guests Enjoying New Jersey Summer of Peace

Friday, 18 June, 2010 - 11:35 am

 Israeli Guests Enjoying New Jersey Summer of Peace

The warm summer sun shining as children take part in outdoor activities is something that some people may take for granted. For 10 girls from Israel who are currently visiting Monmouth County‚ experiencing summer fun is something they are doing for the first time in a long while.

Rebecca Morton - newstranscript

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 Young women from the town of Sderot‚ Israel‚ are visiting the area this month as part of a program sponsored by Chabad of Western Monmouth County. The youths are spending their days at the Gan Israel day camp in Monroe Township‚ Middlesex County‚ and living with host families.

 

The warm summer sun shining as children take part in outdoor activities is something that some people may take for granted. For 10 girls from Israel who are currently visiting Monmouth County, experiencing summer fun is something they are doing for the first time in a long while.

 

 

The girls, who are between the ages of 12 and 15, are from the city of Sderot, which is less than one mile from Gaza. For the past eight years, according to the girls, their community has been under a constant barrage of rocket and mortar fire from the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip.

But for now the girls are enjoying a New Jersey summer. They are Yarden Ohana, Noa Amsalam, Shani Sara, Ofir Biton, Eden Sabag, Sarit Ben Hamu, Stav Cohen, Lior Azran and twins Bar Ben David and Meitar Ben David. Chani Piamenta and Sara Mauda are their chaperones.

As part of a group of 112 children from Sderot, the 10 girls are attending the Chabad of Western Monmouth County's Gan Israel day camp in Monroe Township, Middlesex County. The rest of the children are visiting day camps throughout the United States and Canada. Another group of 30 youngsters was sent from Sderot to Belgium.

Rabbi Boruch Chazanow of Chabad of Western Monmouth County greeted the group at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on July 2 and brought the girls and their chaperones to stay with host families in the Manalapan area.

"We want to give the kids a worry-free summer in a loving community," the rabbi said.

Rabbi Chazanow said the grassroots effort was developed among 11 camps across the United States that worked with a rabbi in Sderot to locate children who were interested in leaving their country for a month.

Summers in Sderot are usually spent indoors, since residents of the town must be near shelter at all times. Rabbi Chazanow said that when an attack siren sounds, residents have about 20 seconds before the incoming rockets strike their target. It is because of that short response time that many families spend their nights sleeping in a bomb shelter.

The rabbi explained that Eden, 15, was not going to make the trip to Manalapan, but after her home was hit by a missile a few weeks before the girls left Sderot, her parents wanted her to travel to American and to get her mind off the troubles at home. Eden's family was sleeping in a bomb shelter and no one was seriously injured during that attack.

An April report released by the U.S. Department of State stated that from mid- June through mid-December 2007, a total of 428 Qassam rockets and 590 mortar shells were fired from Gaza toward Israeli civilians and soldiers. A majority of the rocket launches from Gaza toward Israel were targeted at Sderot.

It is estimated that one out of every three children in Sderot suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder, according to a press release from the Chabad of Western Monmouth County.

The Israeli girls are spending their days with other children at Camp Gan Israel taking part in activities such as swimming and making friends with their fellow campers. Rabbi Chazanow described the camaraderie that can be seen among all of the campers and said many children will now have pen pals from the opposite side of the world.

In the evening, members of the Chabad of Western Monmouth County have volunteered their skills and are helping their guests from Israel craft items such as jewelry, tote bags and scrapbooks. On the weekends, special trips keep the group busy.

One of the girls' first trips was to Manhattan, where they were treated to a ferry ride and a close look at the Statue of Liberty, as well as a trip to the top of the Empire State Building. Of all the sights they saw, the girls were definitely impressed by Times Square and the wide array of stores for them to shop in. The Israeli teenagers do not speak a lot of English, but they have quickly learned the word "shopping."

The girls eagerly spoke about the items they bought for themselves and for their loved ones back home, including New York City memorabilia. Manhattan eateries Mr. Broadway and Kosher Delight provided the group with meals during their visit to the city. In Manalapan, local kosher restaurants have donated lunches and dinners to the group during their stay.

Ofir, 14, said she enjoyed a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure theme park in Jackson. She said she wanted to get out of the day-to-day life she knows in Israel, meet new people and enjoy a calm summer.

The Israeli teens described the life they lead, one spent mostly indoors. Going to dinner or spending time at the mall like many teenagers do is not something they can enjoy.

"We live from rocket to rocket," said Shani, 14, who went on to say she is happy to have met good people and was able to see more than four walls.

Despite the safety the girls feel in New Jersey, they have expressed homesickness and have wondered how their families are back in Israel. Rabbi Chazanow said that when the girls ask about how many rockets have gone off since their departure, their families at home assure them not to worry themselves and to have fun.

The girls will return to Israel at the end of the month.

All of the young women unanimously agreed that they would love to visit the United States again to continue their sightseeing.

"We hope to raise awareness of the plight of the families living in Sderot. This is not just newsprint," the rabbi said, noting that the young women are the faces of children who are affected by what is happening there.

This is not the first time the Chabad of Western Monmouth County has supported the people of Israel. During two visits in 2004 and 2005, $50,000 was distributed to residents of Israel who lost loved ones due to terrorism.

When asked if Chabad will open its doors to more children from Israel next summer, Rabbi Chazanow said, "I hope by next summer their city will be safe (for them)."

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