From 30,000 to 5,000: Sderot in the midst of war

Article courtesy of the Jerusalem Post

KKL-JNF is Reviving Hope in a Shattered City
The bustling western Negev town of Sderot is one of Israel’s fastest-growing cities. In recent years, its population has exceeded 30,000. Yet today, in the midst of the Israel-Hamas War, the vast majority of the city’s residents have been evacuated, and the town is but a shell of its usual self.

Keren Kayemeth-LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) has a long-lasting relationship with Sderot – supporting various educational, environmental, social, and security projects and programs. The city gets its name from the boulevards (“sderot” in Hebrew) of eucalyptus trees that KKL-JNF planted in the area in the 1950s, when Sderot was just a transit camp.

For over 70 years, KKL-JNF has considered the safety and quality of life of the residents of Sderot a high priority and, together with its friends worldwide, helped develop and strengthen the city.

Just two years ago, KKL-JNF announced the establishment of the “KKL-JNF House of Excellence” in Sderot in an effort to provide future generations with the necessary tools and skills for academic and personal success – empowering the youth of Sderot to achieve their goals and dreams.

Due to the proximity of Sderot to the Gaza Strip (less than 1.5km/0.9mi), KKL-JNF saw the need to aid in the protection of the residents, who endure life under constant rocket fire and who only have 15 seconds to find shelter and provided the city with dozens of bomb shelters and protected spaces.

Moreover, KKL-JNF initiated the “Security Planting Project” – a major safety and environmental initiative to plant hundreds of lifesaving trees as a way to shield people and communities from gunfire coming from Gaza. Over 10,000 trees, spanning 20,000 km (12,400 miles), have been planted near Sderot and throughout the western Negev, allowing residents to feel safer and more protected in times of security tensions.

Following the horrific events that took place in Sderot on October 7, 2023, KKL-JNF is now increasing its support of the Sderot Resilience Center. The Center, which KKL-JNF has been a proud partner for many years, ensures that residents have access to essential emotional and mental health care, catering to their specific needs and helping people cope with the trauma, pain, and devastating loss. The professional and dedicated staff are working round-the-clock, treating both those who have evacuated and those who have decided to remain in the city.

Avner Chai, a social worker in Sderot who heads the municipality’s unit on community activity, says that today, there are approximately 5,000 people living in the city. Of that number, approximately 1,200 are elderly. Very few families with children have remained. Others who chose to stay in the city include Holocaust survivors, the homeless, those suffering from complex illnesses, and people with mental health concerns.

The people of Sderot have a long and hard road to recovery ahead of them, but KKL-JNF is standing strong and united behind them, just like it has for the past seven decades, ready to face the upcoming challenges and ensure, once again, the safety and quality of life in Sderot.
Published January 4, 2024