“I don’t feel safe.”
A young Ethiopian-born elementary school child said this to a group of visiting journalists from Anglo-Jewish newspapers between the two Gaza wars of 2008 and 2014.
We were visiting the Southern Negev development town Sderot. We met with this child, Devorah, in a school room appointed with squashy bean bag chairs and colorful mood-setting lights, all behind a door with a sign that read, “Chedar Shalom” or peace room.
Devorah seemed hardly at peace. Her face was simply sad. Her eyes looked as if she’d been crying. On the wall behind the journalists was “artwork” done mostly in markers. The white pieces of paper hosted black marker rockets with spewing red or orange flames flying over a barbed wire looking fence.
Devorah was staring over our collective heads at these drawings while she was talking to us.
She would tell us that she loved to jump rope on the playground, but she couldn’t lately. Code red alerts kept her in her apartment building near the shelter.
Perhaps her point was best made to us when she was handed a poster board “rocket.” The whiteboard, cut in the shape of a rocket, was divided into stages, one through five. Devorah was asked to point to the numbers on the rocket and tell us what kind of day she was having. One was the best day, five was the worst day. She pointed to the number three. Devorah was having a three rocket day.
Later that afternoon, the lights would blink on and off and the boys and girls would scream in fear while inside a bombproof auditorium. Another rocket from Gaza. The teachers took over in the room, playing music and getting the children to sing. If ever a happy song could be introduced into a war zone-like setting, this was it.
I wondered what number Devorah was feeling at that moment. I felt I knew what a “five rocket day” felt like. But I got to leave on a charter bus with the rest of the journalists, sleep in a nice hotel, comforted in the knowledge that my children were safe in America.
After Shabbat and Pesach like the rest of the world I “met” Noya Dahan, an 8-year-old Sderot native, who along with her uncle, was wounded at the Chabad of Poway synagogue by a white nationalist terrorist, whose name is not worth the price of ink here. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was wounded in the hands. Congregant Lori Kaye, 60, was murdered by the gunman, may God avenge her blood.
Noya and her family came to suburban San Diego expressly to get away from terrorism’s threat.
Of all places, the child experienced a threat on her life in a synagogue. In America.
Noya seems much like Devorah, the Sderot elementary school student I met several years ago.
Fact is, they have something in common.
And it’s not necessarily Sderot.
Sadly, they said the same comment.
They both don’t feel safe.
By Phil Jacobs