99% Garden of Eden

The Fellowship  |  July 10, 2023

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(Photo: Yachad for the Wellbeing of Israel's Soldiers)

Miriam Lock, a staff member in The Fellowship’s Jerusalem office, shares her reflections on Israel’s southern city of Sderot and how the people living there are resilient even in the face of rocket attacks.

On Tuesday, June 27, a group from The Fellowship’s Israel office went on a trip to the southern city of Sderot and the surrounding area, a region known as the “Gaza Envelope” (in Hebrew, Otef Azza).

This is the part of Israel that has been most affected by mortar shell and Kassam rocket attacks from Gaza in recent years. People living in Sderot and the adjacent communities are within seven kilometers of the Gaza Strip border, and live with the constant threat of attack. Despite this harsh reality, people who live in the Gaza Envelope say that life in the region is “99% Garden of Eden and 1% hell.”

As we drove into Sderot, it felt just like any other small city in Israel. We stopped to get coffee at Greg’s, part of a popular chain of cafés throughout the country. It was peaceful the day we were there, and the idea of a terrorist rocket suddenly falling from the sky felt about as real as a flying saucer from Mars landing in the parking lot. Yet, this is the reality that the people here have been living with since the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, a plan that was supposed to improve security, but resulted in exactly the opposite.

Even so, the citizens love and take great pride in their community. Shachar, a young father who works as a security officer in the area, said he would not live anywhere else. He grew up here, and today has a family with young children and lives on a kibbutz nearby. When asked by one of the members of our group why he does not move to a safer place, Shachar simply said that this is his home. He explained that if everyone just got up and left the area, the terrorists would advance closer and closer to the rest of Israel – which is what they want. Simply put, they don’t want Israel to be here.

Shachar is happy to live in a place with open space and fields where his children can run and play. He prefers to focus on the 99% Garden of Eden.

We stopped for lunch at Kibbutz Alumim, which I have visited before because my sister lived there in the 1970s. Remembering a weekend that I once spent on the kibbutz, I completely understand what people mean when they say life here is 99% Garden of Eden – it is a lovely, small community filled with greenery and blossoming flowers.

We visited the Eshkol Resilience Center, housed in a building that was a gift from The Fellowship. At the Resilience Center, children and families learn to cope with the trauma of living in the line of fire, how to develop resilience and build coping skills so that they can be mentally and emotionally prepared for the future. The dedicated professionals at the resilience center work long hours to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the residents of the area. In this, as in so many other communities in Israel, The Fellowship is making a difference.

We also visited an army base where The Fellowship’s IDF Vehicle was distributing snacks and cold drinks to soldiers who are defending our nation. Members of our group were happy to get into the vehicle to hand out popsicles, chips, and more to our brave heroes, and have an opportunity to meet them face to face.

Resilience is something every one of us needs, especially in Israel, and especially in the areas most affected by the evil acts of terrorists who do not want our country to exist. Yet, despite their attacks, the state of Israel not only exists, it thrives and flourishes. While we still face many challenges, including the social and economic problems that The Fellowship’s programs seek to alleviate, Israel stands strong. We have something important to learn from the residents of the Gaza Envelope, who continue to build resilience even when the challenges can seem overwhelming: we can all choose to focus on the 99% Garden of Eden – to build, to grow, and to flourish.

Miriam Lock

July 5, 2023

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