The town of Sderot has become famous for its status as a terror target. Due to its proximity to Gaza, it’s a favorite destination for the short-range Qassam rockets launched by Hamas and other terrorists living there. Since Israel withdrew completely from the region in 2005, Sderot has been hit by thousands of rockets.
So why, during the intermediate days of the Sukkot holiday, were visitors to an Orthodox Jewish school, Yeshivat Sderot, able to see nearly a dozen construction cranes working on new apartment buildings in the distance, practically a stone’s throw from the Gaza border?
“It’s part of what we call ‘Greater Sderot,” explained Rabbi Duv Fendel, founder of the yeshiva (school) and its program integrating military service with Torah study. “We’re growing — in the city, and in the yeshiva.”
Fendel knows how to cultivate growth: he spent his childhood watching his father, Rabbi Meyer Fendel, create and nurture the growth of the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County on Long Island in West Hempstead, New York. The senior rabbi was on hand this past Sunday to join his son in welcoming a former student — U.S. Ambassador David Friedman — to the campus his son founded 40 after he did the same with HANC.
Mayor Alon Davidi was also there to welcome America’s representative to the State of Israel, as well as Bayit Yehudi Knesset Member Bezalel Smotrich.
Davidi, elected as mayor in October 2013, was a student at Yeshiva Sderot in his youth. Speaking at the welcome for the Ambassador, Davidi spoke of the importance of the symbiotic relationship between the yeshiva and the community.
“During the war,” he said, “when so many people were frightened, there was always a light in the yeshiva. And at the beis medresh, the bochrim (rabbinic students) were learning.
“Yes, there were rocket attacks, and the war was on. But, they said, ‘This is our yeshiva, and this is our Torah, and we’re going to keep learning. We won’t be frightened away by these terrorists.’ And it was comforting to see that, to see the light from the yeshiva. It helped the city a lot.”
The city has fed the yeshiva, said Davidi, and the yeshiva feeds the city. Many students who come to the yeshiva as lone soldiers end up making aliyah, and eventually other family members join them. Other Israeli families are attracted to the city because of the yeshiva as well. And the city provides for the needs of the yeshiva students.
Slowly, the yeshiva has grown from a small building to a bigger one, from one building to a campus. And it has attracted the support of major donors from abroad, including the attention of Max and Ruth Schwartz, who were there from the start to help build the yeshiva — and who have helped it grow ever since.
On Sunday, the people who helped plant the seed for its initial growth gathered again to lay the cornerstone for a new dormitory.
In his typically warm manner, Ambassador Friedman reached for the scoop of concrete, placed it in the designated spot, straightened up, and immediately volunteered to provide the first donation — a very generous one — for the building. Friedman is known as a builder of Torah institutions, with a history of support for others in the state prior to accepting his post as U.S. Ambassador.
“The Jews have had a history as a nomadic people,” Friedman told those gathered. “For two thousand years we’ve been wandering in the face of danger, in the face of challenges — some of us went to North Africa, some of us went to Spain, some of us went to eastern Europe — but in Sderot, there’s a different kind of Jew, one that says, ‘Ad kan. That’s it. We’re done. We’re not moving.’ And that’s a story that doesn’t get told enough.”
Originally posted on Jewish Press.