ALEH: Response Under Fire
Car of Aleh Negev employee which was hit on her way to the village
With Operation Pillar of Defense no longer a major focus in the headlines, it seems that life has returned to normal. However, for those who were injured or who suffered damage, the battle has not ended – as they fight to recuperate, to clean away the shards and ruins, and to receive the compensation they deserve.
Miriam Fuchs, a member of the Shuva community located next to Netivot, speaks about the rocket that hit her car on November 18, while she was on her way to work as a therapeutic gardening counselor at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, a rehabilitative village for severely disabled children and young adults.
We spoke with Miriam on her first day back at home, a week and a half after she was injured. Today she is trying to continue her life from the point where it froze in place a week ago.
“The rocket hit you on the way to ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran.”
Miriam: “Usually I get to ALEH Negev via a hitch or public transportation, but because of the constant barrage of rockets my husband offered to drive me to work that day. Joining us was our neighbor – the only one who remained in the community with us. He wanted to air out a little from the constant sirens.”
It was 4:00 p.m., according to the MDA reports. The Fuchs’ car was just at the Ofakim junction when the Red Alert siren sounded.
“We acted according to Homefront Command instructions,” says Miriam. “We stopped at the side of the road and lay down next to the car. I quickly grabbed my 2-year old baby girl from her car seat and laid her down on the street while I covered her with my body.”
The explosion was heard from afar. Afterward, the travelers stood next to their car and waited a few minutes before continuing their journey – as per instructions. (Miriam points out that during the final days of the war the Homefront Command issued a new instruction to remain lying down even after the sound of the explosion since Hamas sends 2 rockets at once, to kill the onlookers who spring up immediately after the first blast ….)
“We heard another explosion. This time it was very close. A rocket fell in the field right next to us, about 30 meters from us, and its shards flew at us. The car’s windshield shattered and the car itself was crushed completely from the strength of the shock waves in the wake of the blast. Compared with the complete wreckage of the car, we were lucky to come out of the experience with only relatively light injuries.”
As mentioned, the rocket fell right near a central junction, so emergency services were able to get there very quickly and provide first aid to the family. “It was our neighbor who was injured seriously,” says Miriam. “When we first saw him we thought he wouldn’t make it. In the end they took us all to Soroka Hospital and we were there for a week, where they cared for our injuries and removed tons of shards from our bodies. Our neighbor still has difficulty breathing and walking, and has quite a number of shards remaining in his head and ribs. He was hospitalized again yesterday to undergo treatment.”
Looking back, what caused you to risk traveling to work? A lot of people opted to take time off because they were concerned about a potentially life-threatening situation. And it doesn’t sound like your job working in therapeutic gardening falls under the category of a lifesaving position or emergency care during wartime?
“It’s true that I also considered those points. But when I thought of the ALEH Negev residents waiting for their gardening activity I wasn’t able to give up.”
Miriam describes how she had spent the previous weekend in Israel’s North, to escape somewhat from the heart of the danger. But immediately afterward she called ALEH Negev’s director to determine the work status at the village, and to ask if she should come into work the next day as part of the effort to maintain routine and normalcy for the residents.
“She told me that everyone had come in, and how important that was for things to function. I also felt that it’s important to go for the residents of the village. They don’t understand what’s going on, they hear the booms and feel the fear and it’s really scary for them. If there was something that I could do to help, I wasn’t going to hesitate,” says Miriam.
“In fact, thinking about my residents within the context of the war – both the kids in school as well as those in the assisted-living homes – filled me with compassion for them and the desire to be there for them as much as possible. I felt it was extremely important to keep up the routine of gardening therapy, especially for people who don’t understand what’s going on in the outside world. They hear the noises, they are witness to the booms, they feel the confinement of spending so many hours in the sheltered rooms. They absorb the fear that envelops the staff, and therefore it’s so important to give them the opportunity to release their tension. They understand that something happened and they’re also under stress. I wanted to go to work just in order to help.”
What does your work entail?
Miriam explained that the therapeutic gardening program incorporates elements of creativity and nurturing, and helps enable a deeper connection with residents. “We bring the saplings, flowers, earth and seeds, and the residents are encouraged to use their senses to feel, smell, plant, see, and feel. It is wonderful symbolic of the growth and development we hope the residents will experience. Everyone, no matter the degree of disability, has the ability to communicate on some level. In this program, the residents learn to connect to the progress of the plant. As they water it and tend to it and even shower it with love, they are essentially taking care of something, just as they themselves are cared for by others.”
Do you have any moments of regret?
“I still flash back to the trauma, and have nightmares, and I am certainly left with some fear, and plagued by ‘what-if’ scenarios. But one can never know. There are so many possibilities… What if I had already arrived at work? But fragments of rockets after a blast struck and fell in the village only one hour later. I feel that if it had to happen for whatever reason, it would have happened anywhere – even outside of my own house. Who knows – perhaps in the merit of taking care of ALEH’s children, I emerged relatively unscathed and with minimal property damage.”
Miriam and her husband have been released from the hospital, albeit with traces of shrapnel still embedded in their bodies, and fragments of traumatic memory still fixed in their minds.
“The doctors did not want to let us out of the hospital since we are at risk for infection, but we are already limping about and moving much better, and with G-d’s help, I plan to go back to work already tomorrow.:
When you return to work at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, will there be a different atmosphere?
“There may be a bit of residual fear, but I know that everyone will feel a renewed sense of purpose. Along with that, the dedication and willingness that pervades the village will surely help encourage all who care for the children so devotedly.
And we are certain that our special residents are in their own way looking after Miriam and all the people who care for them so devotedly.
Nov 22, 2012
A Personal View – Looking Back at Life in the Negev Under Fire written by Einav Monoshov: resident of Tifrach [in the Ofakim region, under the Merhavim regional council]
I am grateful for many things.
I am the mother to four wonderful children, and I have a job where I feel that I can really make a difference – working for the past 6 years as an early childhood teacher at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, a rehabilitation village for children and young adults with special needs. The rehabilitative kindergarten where I work includes children ages 4-6 years old, with moderate mental disabilities as well as difficulty in concentration, listening and in motor function.
Now that the war is over, thank G-d, I wanted to share with you my personal perspective of the atmosphere in the village all during operation Pillar of Defense.
As residents of the Negev, we are used to hearing the sound of sirens, ‘booms’, explosions, and rockets landing all around. We have all experienced life as though we are directly under fire in the heart of the battlefield.
My children, however, reacted with great fear and were very stressed by the code red sirens that sounded and even more so when the ‘Grad’ missiles fell in our vicinity, close enough to see and hear. I stayed home with them, to comfort them and keep their minds off of the events. Then my mother-in-law kindly offered to look after the older children in her home in Rehovot until the conflict died down, and we gladly took her up on her offer.
This allowed me the option of returning to work at the kindergarten at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran. [I should note that the village is also a home for these special children. Some were abandoned at birth and some require hospital care on a daily basis in the high dependency wing of the village.] I decided that I needed to make an effort to get to work, despite the fact that I was leaving my youngest child, aged 1 ½ at home (sometimes with his father, sometimes with my neighbor and friends).
I thought about the children of ALEH and what they were experiencing – how they must hate bring crowded into the sealed rooms, how they could not take part in their regularly scheduled morning activities and workshops since the educational framework they were used to was not open as usual. I thought of the children in the hospital ward all day – no one taking them for walks, telling them stories… no one to give them the semblance of a the routine they are used to, and I knew my heart – and my place – was with them.
That is why I made the decision to come to ALEH Negev Nahalat Eran every morning, during every day of the conflict, in order to open the kindergarten and help fill the void. We tried to make the children smile, or laugh – any way to bring them joy. We played music and danced with them; we had morning gatherings with everyone all around; we did our best to maintain a sense of normalcy as much as possible – interspersed with the code red alarms and sirens that interrupted the continuum much of the time.
The atmosphere in the village was largely positive. A great many of the workers felt the same as I did, so they came to work despite the difficulties, to help care for the residents. You could feel how everyone pulled together, and tried to cooperate as much as possible to make things easier and smoother and as pleasant as possible. We all pitched in to help the caregiving staff, providing a holistic care response to all the residents.
Along with others from the educational staff, I made the decision to come to work with a specific goal: to keep the residents and my students busy and occupied, as well as looking after the children from the community whose parents sent them to the school on premises. We came despite the fact that there was an official decision not to keep educational facilities open while there was any danger. We did not ask for any thanks, but we definitely felt how much the directors and workers appreciated our dedication and the fact that we came to the village during this critical time.
Many workers were afraid to travel using public transportation for fear of a rocket attack on the way to and from work. Workers who needed it were provided with transportation to and from the village. A day care was opened for their children so they could bring them in, and workers were provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Just as importantly, they received the warm thanks of the administration, who were so clearly appreciative and grateful to those who braved the outside and the danger and come to the village – despite the distance to travel, despite having small children at home, and despite the very real fear and panic that accompanied everyone all along the way.
Speaking for myself, and on behalf of many of the workers – we did this all out of belief that we were being watched over and protected from above. Not for our own merits, but because of the help and assistance that we were giving to children who had no other hope, especially now. That is what propelled us to come in under emergency conditions and the threat of a war, despite the fact that we did not have to come in and that we would have been compensated anyhow for these days.
Nov. 18, 2012
Although it has not received as much press, ALEH Moriah in Gedera has been laboring under an inordinate amount of pressure and anxiety as rockets have been striking the region with increased frequency.
Nearly all of Moriah’s staff of caregivers, administration and maintenance workers come from Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi – neighboring towns that lie directly in the line of fire and have suffered direct hits.
The workers have been leaving their own families and children at home so they can travel to Moriah to look after their charges. Their commitment and dedication are heartwarming, providing a ray of light in the otherwise very difficult situation. They have enabled us to carry out ‘business as usual’ and maintain routine and as much normalcy as possible, given the frequency of air raid sirens, which alarm the residents greatly.
Moriah’s residents do not understand the situation, but they do know that their living situation has changed – they are not going out to school or for outings in the community, as they generally do. They are not going out to their vocational workshops. They only see that they are being kept very close to home, near the sheltered rooms, and the reality is that most of them are sleeping inside those rooms.
As troubling as the situation is for the community at large, it is doubly so for the residents.
We are seeking ways of entertaining them, and keeping them busy, calm and relaxed.
ALEH Moriah is actively seeking donations of toys, games, television sets or sound systems, computers games – anything that can help occupy residents during these turbulent times.
Likewise, we would be grateful for sponsorship of live performances, musical shows, artists, etc. If you have any ideas or want to offer direct assistance, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations may be made online at https://www.aleh.org/Donate.asp?CC=ALEHUnderFire12
With thanks for your care and support – it is truly an inspiration to us all.
ALEH Jerusalem Readies Their Defenses
Timeline: Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), November 17, 2012
Last night sirens were sounded for the first time at ALEH Jerusalem, when after reaching the Tel-Aviv metropolitan area, the missile range extended to Israel’s capital as well.
Because it was Friday night, after the Sabbath had begun, staff were unsure as to what had happened, and whether there had been a direct strike. Nevertheless, they calmly began preparations to be ready for the worst case scenario.
Volunteers were rounded up to reinforce the staff, especially during night hours. 8 dedicated volunteers slept over in the residence floors of ALEH Jerusalem, in readiness in case there was a need to help evacuate and move the children to the sheltered rooms.
As of now, a list of volunteers has been compiled, with youngsters offering to sleep in the residence throughout the coming week. We very much hope that their stay at ALEH Jerusalem will be an adventure, where they are helping in spirit, rather than through any practical necessity!
Staff, parents and volunteers alike all agreed that feeling even a tiny fraction of what their peers in the south must be experiencing has given them a keener awareness and understanding of what they face on a daily basis. This only strengthened the resolve of everyone at ALEH Jerusalem to offer a hand, stay strong, and redouble their prayers for everyone throughout the country.
Donations may be made online at https://www.aleh.org/Donate.asp?CC=ALEHUnderFire12
Friday, November 16, 2012
Even Under Fire, ALEH Negev Open its Doors to the Community
While life at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran continues to be nerve-racking, with sirens sounding continuously, the village has proven to be a safe haven for a number of people from outside.
A 26-year old woman from Beer Sheva and her mother have moved in to ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran ‘for the duration’. The young woman is categorized as ‘dependent’ and cognitively impaired, and the apartment where she lives with her mother does not have a secure room to accommodate them. At ALEH Negev, in addition to sitting out the ‘code red’ alarms in safety, the two are also receiving emotional and physical support they need in the company of caring people, in a place designed to enable access and comfort for the disabled.
A man from Thailand, who was injured in a rocket attack near the Kissufim Crossing in October, was moved to ALEH Negev to receive rehabilitation therapies to help with his recovery. While staff are doing their best to make him feel as comfortable as possible, the man – a Thai guest worker who was severely injured when a chicken coop he was working in took a direct hit – is understandably traumatized and agitated whenever the sirens wail. We wish him a speedy recovery.
Following a meeting with Homeland security, the special education school on premises was opened ‘as usual’ on Thursday, with all village residents attending. The evening before, a chain phone call was set up, reassuring all staff, parents and external students – those from the outlaying communities – that all precautions were being taken, and asking them to come to school the next day. The student body from within ALEH Negev was joined by a handful of community children, while the school functioned amazingly with a reduced staff, including the principal, head teacher, 6 assistants, communication therapist and 2 physiotherapists. The school day ended at 14:00, but achieved an air of normalcy and calm under very trying circumstances. Our deepest gratitude to all those who attended for their bravery, dedication and commitment.
We will continue to update you as events warrant, and hope for quieter times very soon.
Donations may be made online at https://www.aleh.org/Donate.asp?CC=ALEHUnderFire12
November 15, 2012
As rockets continue to fall throughout the south of Israel, including the Ofakim region, we want to reassure you that all necessary precautions are being taken at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran.
The entire village has been at high alert since Wednesday afternoon, when air-raid sirens began sounding with increasing frequency. The staff has been briefed with clear instructions on what to do when the piercing sound of a siren is heard, and how to act quickly and efficiently to ensure the residents’ safety at all times.
The shelters are all equipped with vital medical equipment and supplies. Since Operation Cast Lead back in January 2009, when ALEH Negev was bombarded, and again last summer and earlier this year, when the village was in the line of fire, the level of preparedness has been upgraded and the rooms reinforced for protection.
ALEH’s cadre of devoted caregivers have been working under extreme and difficult conditions. Many have left their homes to spend extra hours at the village taking turns in shifts to ensure that everything is under control; others have brought their own children to ALEH Negev to ensure their safety. The group of Sherut Leumi (National Service) girls have demonstrated dedication above and beyond the call of duty, choosing to sleep overnight in the village to help residents.
How do you prepare scores of youngsters with severe disabilities for spending the night inside a shelter? It is impossible to explain to a cognitively disabled child that he must take refuge. Because they cannot comprehend the situation, it is very important that as much normalcy and regular routine is maintained for residents. The dedicated staff has mobilized to preserve an air of calm, making the residents as comfortable as possible from the moment they are wheeled into the sheltered rooms.
Although the highly-dependent residents have spent the last several nights within the safety of the sheltered rooms, last night the entire resident population slept in reinforced shelters, and are being kept indoors for most of the time. Vocational workshops and leisure activities are taking place inside the residence houses, and the Hydrotherapy Pool has been closed for the time being.
We will continue to update you as events progress.
Thank you to our many friends and supporters who have shared their concern about the safety and welfare of ALEH’s residents during this difficult time. Your encouragement gives us strength to carry on!