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Looking to bring a little joy to the children in Ashkelon, a city just north of Gaza that has been ravaged by Hamas rocket attacks since 2005, the Israeli Center at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades recently collected board games, books and arts and crafts kits to donate to the children. The effort was coordinated by community member Sofia Rozenberg, a resident of Fair Lawn, who lived in Ashkelon for many years, and Sharon Goren, a Demarest resident and a marketing manager at the JCC. Concerned for the welfare of the children, they met with the JCC Israeli Center Director Aya Shechter to discuss ways that our community could help.
“We decided that one way we could really make a difference would be to send books and games and toys that could keep the children occupied while they were in the bomb shelters,” said Sharon. “Since Sofia had personal connections with her former home, she was able to contact the Mayor’s office in Ashkelon and when we spoke to his office manager, he was thrilled by our ideas and our desire to help.”
The plan was set in motion and donations began to pour in from JCC members and people in the community. A large assortment of new toys was also gifted by the Glen Rock Jewish Center. Preparations were then made to send the shipment to Israel, and to make the experience extra-special for the kids of Ashkelon, the JCC decided that each gift should be accompanied by a personal note from their friends in America. Kids from the JCC Teen Adventures travel camp wrote letters to the children and helped assemble all the packages, including 70 goodie bags that were packed on behalf of children who participate in EMEK, a Hebrew Language and Israeli Culture program offered at the JCC.
“When the shipment was ready to send, every package was paired with a personal letter from children at the JCC, sending them our love and encouraging them to stay in touch with the children here in America who were thinking about them,” said Aya. “Sending the gifts was an incredibly rewarding experience in and of itself, but it was made even more special because it has provided us with a way for children in our community to create long-term friendships and bonds with their Israeli counterparts and there is nothing more rewarding than that.”
“I am just overwhelmed by the love and generosity that the Bergen County community demonstrated for these children in Israel,” said Sofia. “When we put our mind to something as a community, we achieve so much, and the JCC is always eager and to serve as the perfect liaison for ensuring that we succeed in efforts such as this. Our packages are now making their way to kids in the shelters all over Ashkelon and I am just so proud.”
Ashkelon, about an hour from Jerusalem, is the southernmost city on Israel’s Mediterranean shoreline. In recent years, its 12 kilometers of beautiful beaches have attracted both Israeli and foreign tourists, but it is one of the cities that has suffered most from Hamas attacks. Dating back to the Neolithic Age, Ashkelon is named after an ancient city and is referenced in the Bible several times.