Healing the Children of War: The Sderot Story

        13-year old Chanan lives in Sderot. It's a border town, barely a mile from the Gaza Strip. Like most of his peers, he's a grandchild of Moroccan or Tunisian Jews who were resettled where no one would choose to live. On both sides of the fence, Israeli and Palestinian children grow up much too fast.

       On a bad day, Chanan's routine is repeatedly fractured by the siren's wail.  He has only seconds to find shelter from Quassam rockets.  Those too young to run fast enough, or who have confronted death once too often, rarely leave their homes. 

      Every time the rocket attacks intensify, well meaning volunteers rush in to help, pledging  "Never Again."Sderot was once ignored, partly because of its North African immigrant population. Now evangelical Christians arrive to donate bomb shelters. Foreign businessmen put up war-resilient buildings, and American Jews donate social services.

      Psychotherapists, some more effective than others, try talking, art, music, and even animals to reach Sderot's youngest victims. The most successful techniques have also been used in other parts of the world, including Mumbai and the Gaza Strip.

      But Chanan prefers military action to psychotherapy. Shortly after his father was killed in a rocket attack on a factory, he wrote to Prime Minister Olmert to ask, "Why can't my country protect us?" The boy gained a world-wide reputation.   

       In the summer of 2008, an Orthodox Jewish Chabad program brought two dozen of these children, including Chanan, to New England.  For three weeks they lived in desperately-needed peace and had fun. They hiked, rode horses, and watched the Red Sox from box seats. 

       This was a start.  But the rabbis and counselors in the program knew that even feisty survivors like Chanan need much more than a summer vacation to thrive back in the Negev.

        There are more questions than answers. But the hope is that out of Sderot's tragedy will come profound lessons about healing the young and war weary, as well as all those who have experienced tragedy and displacement world wide. 

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