These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Sderot, USA

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Derek Kwait

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On the Sunday of Chanukah, I went with the Social Justice class to Sderot. You really can’t appreciate what it’s like there until you experience it for yourself. For those who have only heard of Gaza, Sderot is a small working-class city in southern Israel in view of Gaza made up of mostly immigrants. For the past 12 years, it has been the recipient of literally 1,000’s of qassam rockets from Gaza. These incessant attacks were the primary motivating factors behind Operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense, which had just ended when we were there, meaning all was quiet for the time being (though according to the Sderot Media Center, Israel has received 19 rockets since the ceasefire was signed). Some of these rockets are kept on display outside the Sderot police station, so we were able to see some of them with our own eyes. Huge rusty bullets made of pipes and nails and power lines and other infrastructure for life Israel has invested in Gaza over the years so that Hamas can spit it back in its face as a tool of death.

Rockets that have fallen on Sderot

Fun Fact: Hamas‘ headquarters is in a bunker under an Israeli-built hospital.

When the siren goes off, Sderot residents have 15 seconds to seek shelter (by contrast, when the sirens went off in Jerusalem during Operation Pillar of Defense, we had a luxurious minute-and-a-half). Thankfully, shelter is not hard to come by in Sderot, since everything there, from bus stations to outdoor staircases, to strip malls, has a roof of reinforced concrete, and even those few areas that don’t have a roof of some sort have one at most a 50-yard-dash away. We saw a playground featuring a giant caterpillar play area that doubles as a bomb shelter.

When you hear about Sderot, it’s mostly as a talking-point, like then-Senator Obama’s statement during a visit there on the campaign trail in 2008 that, “Israelis must not suffer a threat to their lives, to their schools. If missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.” But until you actually go there, it’s hard to remember that non-hypothetical, real-life daughters and sons really live there, people just like everyone else: The kind couple that run the Moroccan restaurant we ate at. The family that doesn’t use the top floor of their home since from there it takes too long to run to the shelter. All the stories of parents who have to decide which child they will grab and take to the bomb shelter in the 15 seconds they have and which they will leave behind. The mother keeping an eye on her children playing in the bomb shelter caterpillar while speaking with another mother doing the same, as we walked between them taking pictures, slack-jawed at their courage for not only living, but reproducing here, as though they had any other choice. This trip taught me that Sderot has cats in its dumpsters and Shufersals in its shopping centers just like every other city in Israel, and when the city’s denizens aren’t running for their lives, they too wince at the former on their way to the latter. It never ceases to amaze me what can become the status quo.

Less than a week later, the tragedy at Newtown happened and I learned that safety is all relative. In the wake of the tragedy, it occurred to me that maybe America has a lot to learn from Sderot. If, God-forbid, a rocket would come near a school in Sderot, the children would know exactly what to do and they would all go to the bunker and be safe. But when a madman enters a school in America, there is chaos and death. Israel has fought two wars and invested heavily in building bomb shelters in response to the impossible situation of having to protect Sderot on the one hand and being responsible for the lives and well-being of the people of Gaza on the other. The shelters have saved countless lives and, unfortunate as the situation is, it’s honestly beyond me what other solution there could be at this point in time. Having effectively solved this problem has freed the Israeli government to focus its attention on more pressing threats to the State like women wearing talitot at the Western Wall.

The American government likewise has bigger fish to fry than protecting the lives of its citizenry, so I’m suggesting a plan to solve this problem once and for all: Given that we are caught in an impossible situation of our own—a Constitutional right to form a militia on the one hand, which clearly renders any and all attempts at gun control an assault on our God-given basic personal liberties, and the need to keep our citizens safe from sociopaths on the other, it seems to me that the only feasible solution is bullet-proof shelters in every house, every building, every bus station, every park, and within 50 yards of any outdoor place people gather.

I know other solutions have been posited, but I think they all fall short on many levels—if you put an armed guard at the entrance to every building, the gunmen will just go around to the back entrances, and the thought of having an armed guard at every door to every building is just absurd (though it might be a good way to create jobs). A national registry of mentally-ill people leaves too much room for debate and unfair persecution—who gets to decide who is mentally ill? Were it up to me, anyone who invests any amount of mental or emotional energy in the lives of the Kardashians would make the list. The media could stop turning killers into celebrities, but that’s obviously a violation of its First Amendment right to sell advertising, and two wrongs don’t make a right. We could improve services for the mentally-ill in America, provide subsidies to make it affordable and available to all who need it, work as a society to remove many of the stigmas attached to it, and educate the public on warning-signs that may suggest a certain individual might need help, but that’s just way too hard.

So clearly then, we have no choice but to build shelters, and lots of them. Obviously, though, you can’t just build shelters, you must also teach people how to use them, so I’m further proposing that in addition to fire and wind drills, every school and office in the country should be required to have maniac-with-a-gun-drills at least once a year so that they are ready for it should it happen. Like fire routes, maps to the nearest shelter should be clearly posted in all public spaces, such as movie theaters, houses of worship, and malls. Public service ad campaigns should further encourage families to map out the route to their nearest shelter and have a plan should catastrophe strike. Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘If the routes to the shelters are clearly marked, what’s to stop the madman from running inside it before they close the door?’ I have anticipated your question, and the answer should be obvious: Each shelter would be guarded by two men with an assault rifles (two in case one gets shot) and each shelter would contain a hidden arsenal of automatic weapons that only select individuals would have the keys to. Similar to fires or earthquakes, or other unstoppable freak occurrences, we may not be able to do anything to prevent mass shootings, but we can at least take smart actions to reduce the number of causalities. Bold action for the sake of freedom, that’s the American way!

Noam Bedein, our tour guide through Sderot and Director of the Sderot Media Center said that when a Sderot grade-school teacher asked her class why snails have shells, they immediately answered to protect them from rockets. He told another story about a boy who showed him his new stopwatch, boasting how he can use it to time himself getting to his shelter. Not used to having to constantly fear for their lives, American kids have become spoiled, selfish, and soft. An unexpected silver-lining to having to constantly be on guard against lunatics exercising their Second Amendment rights is that it will teach our children to think in a practical manner like the children of Sderot (or to use an American example, they don’t call the generation that grew up with the Depression and World War II The Greatest Generation for nothing) so they will be mentally and emotional prepared to live in the free country our Constitution unequivocally guarantees them. Thus it can be seen how these shelters will save countless innocent lives and prepare future generations of Americans to make the necessary sacrifices for their freedom. I look forward to watching my country’s progress from afar, because in spite of what I said earlier, I’m actually thinking of staying in Israel now. America is a dangerous country.