OTTAWA — There is a human face to the suffering caused by the daily barrage of Qassam rockets being launched at Sderot, and three of the town’s citizens were in Ottawa to last week to present that face to Canadians.
Pictured at a March 31 solidarity event at Ottawa’s Soloway
Jewish Community Centre are, from left, MC Jack Silverstone, Donna
Dolansky, vice-chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, Tal Pichovich,
Eeki (Itshak) Elner and George Adjedj.
Tal Pichovich, George Adjedj and Eeki (Itshak) Elner made a two-day trip to the nation’s capital to tell their story to representatives of the Canadian government and media. During their whirlwind visit, they tried to spread their message as widely as possible, visiting with students, politicians and members of the Jewish community.
“We didn’t really come to get answers. We came to tell our story. That is the main purpose of our visit,” Pichovich told The CJN prior to a solidarity evening at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre on March 31.
Israeli Ambassador Alan Baker welcomed the three visitors to Ottawa and expressed his displeasure with how the Canadian media have downplayed the suffering of Israelis while covering the plight of the Palestinians and accusing Israel of using “disproportionate” force in retaliating against attacks.
“We at the embassy felt that it would be very important if we could have people from Sderot come here to speak to the Canadian people, the politicians who determine Canadian policy, so as to give them a better understanding [of the Israeli side of the story,]” Baker said.
Elner has only lived in Sderot for two years, having moved there from Tel Aviv out of a sense of solidarity with its citizens. “I moved to that town because I felt that it was a mission and I felt that it is a community in need of support,” he said.
“Ten years ago, Sderot was one of the jewels and one of the most prosperous towns in Israel. There was culture, commerce, factories and plants. Great teachers came to teach, but they left… How much can they suffer and endure the threat?”
Describing the daily life of Sderot’s citizens – highlighting the constant interruptions in their daily lives as they run for shelter with each “red alert” for incoming missiles – Elner told of children not being able to play in parks; of people celebrating weddings and bar mitzvahs without family and friends from other parts of the country who are afraid to travel there; and of walking the streets of Sderot after an attack and “smelling death.”
“I am not here to cry about our suffering. I am here to tell you that first of all we will survive,” Elner said.
“With your support, we feel stronger, but most of all we would like you to carry our message to people that are not involved with Israel…we would like people to see the faces behind the headlines. We are people like everybody else.”
Pichovich owns a bar in Sderot that was hit by a Qassam missile only three months after it opened in 2007. She immediately re-opened for business, in a deliberate a show of resiliency and determination.
“There is mostly anxiety in Sderot. There is no normal life,” she said. “I won’t give up. It is hard for me to say that I believe in peace, but I still hope for peace and quiet.”
Speaking in French, Adjedj described the lives of the town’s children, who are growing up in an environment of fear.
Before 2001, there were two psychologists in Sderot. There are now 27 psychologists and three psychiatrists working with citizens to deal with the effects of trauma, he said.
Only time will tell how the young people’s lives have been affected by this daily terror, Adjedj added.
While in Ottawa, the three met with Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier and student activists, and they attended a dinner with members of the House of Commons and Senate foreign affairs committees. They also attended a press conference hosted by MPs Irwin Cotler, the Liberal human rights critic, and James Lunney, the Tory MP who chairs the Canada-Israel Inter-Parliamentary Group.