The Roklen Resilience Center Provides Therapy and Protection in Sderot

July 8, 2022
Photo courtesy JNF-USA

Sderot, a city in Israel with 30,000 residents and one of the 10 fastest growing areas in the country, is located only one mile from the Gaza border. When rockets are flying from Gaza into Israel, the people of Sderot are often targets. They have to think fast and find shelter within 15 seconds when the missile alert sirens sound.

Having to flee to a bomb shelter is both disruptive and traumatizing. Now, to address these difficulties of life in Sderot, Los Angeles based philanthropists and husband and wife Evan and Sandra Roklen have dedicated state-of-the-art therapeutic facilities to the town. 

Named the Roklen Resilience Center and built with the support of Jewish National Fund-USA, the two-story building, which also acts as a bomb shelter, offers therapeutic services for children in Sderot. This means that children from the town – 70% of whom experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – can continue to get the care they need even when the missile alarms are sounding.

“We hope it helps the children in this region deal with the realities of living [there],” said Sandra. “[And we hope] that it helps them cope with the ongoing possibility of having missiles and sirens coming at them at any moment.”

“We hope it helps the children in this region deal with the realities of living [there].”
– Sandra Roklen

The Israeli government and leading professionals created resilience centers so that communities could deal with ongoing trauma, according to Yoel Rosby, Jewish National Fund-USA’s project manager in Israel. 

“The Roklen Resilience Center in Sderot is operated by an incredible and selfless staff of true heroes who have shared their knowledge and experience with those working with Ukrainian refugees among others,” he said. “None of it would have been possible without the Roklens’ commitment and involvement.”

Before they decided to get involved in Sderot, Sandra and Evan toured around different communities in what’s called the Gaza Envelope, populated areas that are within 5 miles of the Gaza border and susceptible to attacks. The couple saw shrapnel from missiles in the fields and on the farms. 

“This is Israel’s frontier, and the people living in Sderot and the surrounding areas need and deserve support and care to help make their lives as normal as those who walk along the beaches in Tel Aviv,” said Evan. 

Sandra, who was born in Israel, said, “Being there and seeing with my own eyes Sderot’s proximity to the border was a turning point for me and deepened my understanding of their situation.”

The Roklens have been involved with JNF-USA for 10 years, and Evan, who lived on a kibbutz after college, is part of the Housing Development Fund Task Force, which helps families buy their first homes in Israel’s north and south. 

The couple learned about the Resilience Center when the Mayor of Sderot, Alon Davidi, visited LA. 

“When [he] met with us, and explained that they needed [a center] and why, it really spoke to us very deeply,” said Evan. “The children in this area suffer because of something beyond their or their parents’ control. We realized that these communities can’t thrive if we don’t provide a safe and nurturing environment.”

After visiting the new Resilience Center this past spring and participating in a ribbon cutting ceremony with Davidi, the Roklens were excited about the future of the center, as well as the impact it will have on the city of Sderot.

Evan and Sandra Roklen (left) in front of the Roklen Resilience Center Photo courtesy JNF-USA

“We were both shocked and amazed at how beautiful and spacious it is and how a two-story bomb shelter doesn’t have to look like a bomb shelter at all,” Sandra said. “We’ve never seen anything like it. It really looks like a beautiful building and not like a bomb shelter.”

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