Tuesday, February 5, 2013

It was destiny


To be a Jew is a destiny.


About 5 years ago, my daughter began studying in Sapir Academic College, in the small town of Sderot, in Southern Israel.
Sderot had long been the target of Hamas Kassam missiles, with thousands having been shot into the town since the 2005 Israeli ‘withdrawal’ from the Jewish towns of Gush Katif.

We are a Zionist family, and it would never occur to any of us not to do something, or not to go somewhere, or not to travel anywhere in our wonderful Land because of the fear of terrorist attacks. Sapir College offered a course that my daughter wanted to study, and no Kassam missiles  were going to stop her. (Kassamim Shamamim our illustrious President once said.)
 
However, I, being a good Jewish mother, couldn't help but worry. Many people had been hurt in Sderot over the years, and a few killed. Only by the grace of G-d and His miracles had more damage not occurred. But, I realized, since the kid had cost me two good years of sleep as a baby, I couldn't afford to lose another three. So, early on, I determinedly decided that I wouldn't worry. I wasn't going to ask her not to go to college, the situation was not in my hands, I put my trust in G-d and went about my daily business.

And I didn't worry. Really.

Until one day, shortly after she began her studies, I received an SMS from her. “I’m fine, don’t worry”.
And that was the end of my not worrying.
So much for determination.
(A Kassam had landed in the parking lot of the college – no injuries, but a car had been hit)

The remains of a Kassam rocket at Sapir
Over the last five years, we have gone through hundreds of sirens, thousands of rockets, and two wars. Through it all, I did my absolute best not to worry about the daily reality of the danger she (and the other thousands of students, and indeed all 30,000 residents of Sderot - imagine it!) faced, not only at the college, but on her half-hour journey there and back from Beer Sheva in an unprotected car or bus – really a travelling coffin if hit.

Sapir was originally established in 1963 as a night-school for the local residents of the new development town of Sderot. Classes took place in an old army base left over from the 1956 Sinai campaign. Eventually, the school was relocated to a high school, established links with the Open University and the newly-established Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, and expanded to having classes during the day.
Despite the need for certified colleges in the periphery areas, the Council of Higher Education in Israel did not look kindly on establishing new institutes. Throughout the 70s, the Jewish Agency worked hard to establish new schools, and in 1975 the School of Practical Engineering and Technology and the School of Communications were established.

Today, 50 years after it was initially established to help new immigrants retrain, Sapir is the largest college in the country with more than 8000 students in 15 departments, awarding technical diplomas and both first and second degrees. A Law School has recently opened, and Sapir has spearheaded studies in Water Technology. Their Department of Art is one of the highest in demand throughout the country.
Sapir today


Sapir College has been in the news for other reasons also. In 2007, a lecturer refused to teach a student who arrived to the college in army uniform after returning directly to class after an extensive period in reserve duty. 'I do not teach soldiers, policemen and officers in uniform,' the lecturer reportedly asserted. The lecturer, Nizar Hassan, was eventually ordered to apologize and make clear that he respected the IDF uniform or be terminated. Despite the almost 40 Jewish and Arab lecturers who signed a letter supporting him, claiming that Hassan "is a talented and courageous artist whose only sin was his attempt to maintain universal civic values, and whose action pointed to the serious phenomenon of the great involvement of the army in campus life," the college indeed fired him after he refused to apologize.


Despite all that, and what the Sapir website doesn’t mention – and I don’t know why – there is a strong family atmosphere that pervades the college. Classes are relatively small and the students seem to have a close relationship with their teachers and each other. Perhaps, living with the daily tension of missiles facilitates the feeling of unity.

Like all of Sderot, the college – which is actually situated on the outskirts of the city – is dotted with shelters so that one is never more than 15 seconds from safety (the time it takes for a Kassam to arrive from Gaza). Most of them are cheerfully decorated in bright colors with pictures of flowers, balloons, cartoon characters, and the occasional Charlie Chaplin (a cooperative effort, I suppose, of the Department of Art and the Department of Cinema and Television – both widely popular). Some of the buildings – certainly the newer ones such as the library – are simply very large shelters. When the ‘color red’[1] warning is heard, students simply stay where they are.

A concrete bullet-scarred shelter decorated with a rose 
Charlie Chaplin




Last night, my daughter officially received her diploma (with honors) in Architecture and Design in a modest graduation ceremony at the college. A few hundred people – mostly students but a few parents and children sprinkled here and there – gathered in a hall where signs explaining that students were required to stay where they were in the event of a ‘color red’ warning were prominently posted.

There’s an old Hebrew children’s song that goes:

My Land of Israel is beautiful and blooming!
Who has built and who has planted?
All of us together!
I planted a tree
In Israel
So we have a Land
And we have a tree
In Israel.

My Land of Israel is beautiful and blooming!
Who has built and who has planted?
All of us together!
I built a house
In Israel
So we have a country,
And we have a home
And we have a tree
In Israel.


Etc. etc. (it’s a lot cuter in Hebrew – believe me. For the words in Hebrew see here)

When I was 18, I was a volunteer on Kibbutz Maale Gilboa. There, I helped plant 100s of trees and flowers. It was a lot of fun. I thought then how Zionist I was being; planting trees in Eretz Yisrael!

And now my daughter is building houses in Eretz Yisrael.

Miracles occurring before our eyes! For this is our miraculous destiny. 

In the words of the Prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel):
Thus says the Lord G-d, When I shall have gathered the house of Yisrael from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the nations, then shall they dwell in their land that I have given to my servant Yaakov. And they shall dwell safely there, and shall build houses, and plant vineyards, and they shall dwell in security, when I have executed judgments upon all those that disdain them round about them; and they shall know that I am the Lord their G-d.  (Yechezkel 28:25-28)




[1] In the town of Sderot (unlike other places in Israel), the words ‘color red’ are heard rather than a siren when a kassam is incoming. Originally, the warning ‘red dawn’ were used, but the parents of a little girl named Dawn complained that their daughter was being teased. According to psychologists, hearing words rather than a jarring siren is less traumatic. My daughter verifies this.