Jerusalem – Most people who follow the Israeli news of the missiles that fall in southern Israel would know the toll that it has taken upon the people there. What you often hear on the news is that a missile fell and that no one was hurt … physically. The mental damage is another story in itself.
The working class city of Sderot (est. pop. 20,000) , in southern Israel, is possibly the first city since Sarejevo to live under constant bombardment of its civilian population for a sustained period of time. Sderot has been under missile attack from Gaza for more than six years, and it has been hit by more than 1,400 missile attacks since Israel pulled its civilians and soldiers out of nearby Gaza during the summer of 2005, which includes more than 100 missile attacks since Israel declared a cease-fire on Nov. 26, and stopped any real military response to these attacks.
One by product of this situation is that the small mental health trauma unit in Sderot was simply no longer able to meet the needs of the situation, with more than 3,000 people in Sderot in treatment for the after effects of shock, anxiety and stress.
And so, in late December 2006, Israel’s daily HaAretz newspaper broke the story that Sderot’s mental health trauma unit was going to be forced to close in a few days with the beginning of the calendar year, for lack of funds.
Almost immediately upon hearing the news that Sderot’s mental health services were collapsing , some American prominent philanthropists wrote to the UJC, the New York-based umbrella organization that helps Israel and other Jewish causes, and asked what the UJC was doing about providing emergency mental health assistance to the already distressed city of Sderot and other communities under fire in Israel’s Western Negev region.
The immediate response that these donors got was a letter, dated Dec. 28, from the public relations department director of the UJC, which delineated the generous allocations to Sderot and the Western Negev that the UJC was planning for the region . These letter spelled out the following allocations:
* “$1.5 million has been allocated to provide 20,000 Sderot-area children ages 5-16 post-trauma counseling/therapy; school-based afternoon enrichment activities, study time and meals for two months;
* $997,500 has been allocated to provide 35 psychologists to complement the 110 already in place, to provide therapy in Sderot-area schools for six months;
* $956,640 has been allocated to provide 3,000 of the 37,000 students in ORT schools who suffer from trauma with counseling/therapy;
* $700,000 has also been allocated to provide 4,000 kids in 1st-6th grades with one- to three-day field trips in the center of Israel.
* $150,000 was allocated for the Yuval program, which helps support front-line emergency response personnel, specifically in four locations in the Sderot/Gaza region.”
However, on Jan. 8, when Dr. Adriana Katz, the head of the mental health services for Sderot saw a copy of the letter, she laughed and commented that “this is the greatest piece of science fiction that I have ever read”, and went on to say that while the six psychologists working in Sderot would be pleased to welcome 35 more psychologists who would indeed be needed to provide follow-up services to 3,000 people in Sderot, there was no indication from the UJC or anywhere else that these allocations were en route to Sderot or to the Western Negev.
Throughout January, calls to the UJC in New York about the emergency allocations to the mental services of Sderot went unanswered – until this past Wednesday, when a UJC donor received a letter from the UJC in New York which spelled out the way in which $3 million had been spent by the UJC in the Sderot area during the calendar year 2006, yet with no mention of what would be provided for Sderot in 2007.
A source close to the UJC reported that the UJC would indeed hold an allocations meeting some time in March.
What about the $4 million that the UJC promised for Sderot mental health services in the UJC letter of Dec. 28?
No comment about that commitment was forthcoming from the UJC.
At this point in time, the commitment of the UJC philanthropy to provide $4 million in aid to the mental health services in Sderot is only on paper.
Simply stated, the people of Sderot would like to know if the Dec. 28 commitment made by a respected American philanthropy will be fulfilled.
The answer is that they will have to wait until the UJC allocations meeting , to be convened sometime in March.
©The Bulletin 2007