The last time I was in Sderot was in the summer of 2005, only weeks before the Gaza pullout. What remained in my mind were images of freshly installed and painted missile shelters. This week, in Teaneck, I spent some time at Gotham Burger in Teaneck with Rabbi Dovid Fendel, the founding Rosh Yeshiva and dean of what is formally known as the Max and Ruth Schwartz Yeshivat Hesder of Sderot.
Rav Fendel gave me the update on how far the yeshiva and the city of Sderot have come since that fateful summer. A West Hempstead native and the son of founding HANC (Hebrew Academy of Nassau County) principal Rabbi Meyer Fendel, he was in Teaneck as part of a whirlwind trip that culminates with their big gala on Monday night.
His American Friends Executive Director, Yossi Baumol, is working on ensuring the dinner’s success, while Rav Fendel speaks to garner support from groups and individuals. This weekend will be very special because he will be joined by the newly elected mayor of Sderot, Alon Davidi, and by the head of Bayit HaYehudi, Naftali Bennett, who is also Israel’s economic minister. The three of them will be speaking at shuls and organizations throughout the tri-state area.
Their goal is to raise funds for the yeshiva and for the city. The yeshiva is now one of Israel’s biggest hesder yeshivot with over 500 students, and the school and the municipality work very closely on many issues, including housing and security. There is a desperate need for scholarship subsidies for the students and for capital projects. A number of buildings have already been built to contain the burgeoning student body with help from abroad, the municipality and the Israeli government, but more is needed.
Rav Fendel is especially concerned over the latest budget cuts that have impacted the yeshiva, and said that 2014 will be a very challenging year, with further cuts expected. He said although the hesder yeshivot were promised additional funds that the haredi yeshivot might not be eligible for, this was not a positive position. “It takes away from our unity,” he said. “Cuts that fall only on the haredi yeshivot and not on the hesder/dati leumi yeshivot drive a wedge in the Torah world’s unity.”
As we ended our schmooze, he noted that despite the approximately 10,000 rockets flying out of Gaza over the past decade, Sderot has recovered and gotten stronger than ever. There’s a booming real estate market with strong growth prospects. “The Palestinians have to know that if you start up with us, we will only grow stronger….that was a mistake they made,” he said.
You can still register for the dinner on Monday night (Nov. 18th) at the Marriott Marquis in New York. To sign up or make a donation, call Yossi Baumol, 718-673-4945, email info_sderot.org or visit their website, www.sderot.org/english.
By Moshe Kinderlehrer