In Sderot

I don’t make a habit of putting myself in harm’s way. I buckle up, I don’t smoke, I’ve started on Lipitor and wherever there’s a town that’s being pounded by randomly fired rockets and mortars each day, I stay away.

But I couldn’t stay away from Sderot.

We’ve been running stories about this town in southern Israel for many years. In March 2001, Hamas terrorists in Gaza launched their first crude, deadly, homemade rocket, called a Qassam, into Israel. It landed on a cowshed on Kibbutz Nahal Oz, between the Gaza border and Sderot.

Since then, some 7,000 rockets and mortars have struck the region. They have killed 16 people and wounded hundreds more. Some days no rockets fall, others several dozens rain from the skies. A siren, which Israelis call a “red alert,” precedes each attack. That gives residents 15 to 30 seconds to run for shelter.

The attacks have abolished normal life for the 20,000 residents of Sderot and the thousands who live nearby. About one-third to one-half of the population has moved out of Qassam range. The people who remain are tethered to their homes, either because they can’t afford to leave, or because they, or their parents, refuse to give in.

I wanted to see for myself what life is like there, in a battle zone that is both active and actively overlooked — even within its own country.

United Jewish Communities (UJC), which funds programs to help alleviate some of the problems residents face in Sderot, offered to fly me over with a bunch of other journalists to take a look. I swallowed and said sure. I told my family I would wear my tennis shoes and sprint for the bomb shelter, no matter whom I had to push aside to get there first. I was kind of joking, of course. But I did pack my Lipitor.