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Sheltering beneath the Hodaya Community Center

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13 Jul 2021
Sheltering beneath the Hodaya Community Center

Hodaya is among the 21 villages situated within the Hof Ashkelon region in southern Israel, which is home to around 20,000 people. At the heart of Hodaya is the Community Center, surrounded by kindergarten playgrounds, sports fields, and synagogues. Both young and old gather there to simply enjoy life together, but sadly this community’s life is often traumatized with rocket onslaughts from nearby Gaza.

The Community Center recently saw a face-lift and now welcomes a variety of activities within its walls, like music and cultural events, theatre plays, sports and exercise classes, and creative handiwork, among others. But one very important aspect of the center was missing – a proper bomb shelter! Situated beneath the community center was an old underground shelter which, until recently, was in very bad shape. The room was totally unusable, dark, and lacked proper ventilation, while the pipes leaked, and the floor was covered with standing water.

Itamar, head of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, saw the potential for this shelter to be refurbished to serve the whole community.

“After the last Gaza crisis, we saw that many places lacked shelters. However, we really value the ability to continue our community life. In a large shelter like this, people can come and sleep there in time of emergency, if they do not have a place of safety at home,” explained Itamar.

When the ICEJ heard about the need to refurbish this dilapidated underground shelter, our immediate response was “YES!” and the work began! Not only can this shelter serve as a place of safety, but it will provide an additional space for community activities. The transformation began right away as the stairway leading to the shelter was retiled, the water drained out, extractor fans and air conditioners installed, the ablution facility renovated, new piping installed, a new electrical box and lighting added, and the walls painted, among other improvements. Much to the delight of the community, the room is now fully functional!

On 2 July, Moshav Hodaya residents warmly hosted ICEJ staff to dedicate the newly refurbished underground shelter. Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID and Aliyah, attached the dedication plaque to a wall near the entrance and shared with community members how the renovation of this shelter was made possible through the love and support of German Christians.

“Just as there are those against Israel, there are those who are for Israel,” assured Nicole. “Many Christians love Israel. They pray for you, they demonstrate on your behalf, and they also give generously to support you in many ways. They may live far away, yet when they heard through the ICEJ of the challenges you face along the Gaza border, they chose to give a practical expression to that love.”

Indeed, the dedication plaque will serve as a constant reminder to the Hodaya community of this Christian love and concern.

Amnon Ziv, security chief for Hof Ashkelon, related how this area has under 30 seconds to seek safety when the red-alert siren sounds the alarm of incoming rockets from Gaza.

“Only new houses have shelters, but older houses, which make up about 50% of the community, do not,” Amnon noted. “With 2000 rockets landing over 10 days in this area – the situation was very tough. Now that we have begun, we will be looking to renovate and reclaim other old underground shelters that have fallen out of use. In fact, we’ve already selected the next project!”

He also wanted to express his appreciation for the ICEJ’s help, adding: “I just want to say thank you for all that you do for the region. It is a lot!”

Shlomit, an old-timer on the moshav since 1951, was eager to tell the ICEJ team about the history of the area and proudly shared about her decades as a teacher in the local kindergarten. In fact, looking around with satisfaction, she pointed to the many community leaders she instructed as children.

“I am excited about this renovated shelter,” Shlomit added. “All my grandchildren can come here for activities – it’s going to really do a lot of good.”

During the recent Gaza war, Shlomit did not have it easy. She had to undergo surgery and without a shelter in her home, was left without a safe place to recover.

“The older people also want to get out of the house,” she said. “Even during corona, we came to the community center for different activities.”

Simcha Mizrachi has lived in the area for 45 years, yet for her this recent Gaza war was extremely frightening.

“It was even worse than the Operation Protection Edge war seven years ago,” she explained. “This is because more rockets fell in a shorter period and many of the families in this community do not have shelters. A lot of people had to have treatment for trauma. Some had panic attacks, but you carry on. Now you see the people are happy and are coming back to themselves again. It is very important to get back to a normal life and not to remain in the crisis and stress. That is why we make sure that there are sports and activities, and a reason to get out of the house to feel normal again. We use this center all the time!”

After the Gaza crisis, a ‘medical clown’ made an appearance at the center for activities with the kids to give them some stress relief.

“Now, the shelter downstairs will enable two events to take place here at one time” said Simcha.

For most residents of Moshav Hodaya, this shelter project represented their first personal introduction to the ICEJ. Encouraged by what she heard, Shlomit summed up her feelings when she whispered approvingly to the local rabbi, “Listen, I am very impressed, these are very special people!”

Thank you for your generous giving! Your donations assist in meeting one of life’s basic needs – safety and security – for the vulnerable Israeli communities living near the Gaza border. Please continue to support these efforts.


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