IsraelSeen Exclusive – Bombed Out Building Becomes Beacon of Hope in Sderot
As the veil of conflict once again falls on Israel’s southern area and the city of Sderot, United Hatzalah of Israel has refurbished an abandoned building that had been hit and partially destroyed by a Qassam rocket more than a decade ago. 11 years ago, on August 6th, 2007, in the middle of Shabbat, a Qassam rocket had a direct hit on a kindergarten in Sderot. Thankfully it was Shabbat and the kindergarten was closed and there were no injuries. The building suffered heavy damage and remained empty from that point onwards until it was refurbished by United Hatzalah to serve as their new volunteer headquarters and educational center for the organization’s first responders in the city and region.
A celebratory opening event was held this past week to inaugurate the new home for the organization’s volunteers who are tasked with providing first response medical aid and psychological aid and stabilization for any who need it in the area. The building, which was reinforced and now is capable of withstanding a rocket attack, was remodeled with help from Amdocs and contractor Sharon Lisha. Aside from being used as a cultural center and a volunteer drop-in center, the building will now serve as a home for all educational courses offered by the organization in the area, whether they are EMS training courses or Psychotrauma and Crisis Response training courses.
Chapter Head of United Hatzalah in Sderot, Nehorai Darshan spoke about how important the new building is for the volunteers as well as the residents of the city who have suffered intermittent rocket attacks since 2001. “We took this burnout shell of a building and turned it into a center for lifesaving. That sends a message to all the residents of this city with regards to hope and the future. We hope to open new training courses in the near future to increase the amount of trained first responders in our city and lower response times.”
Founder and President of United Hatzalah Eli Beer said: “It is very important at this time of heightened tension and conflict in the area that we show the people of Sderot and the Gaza periphery that not only do we support them in their struggles, but we are investing the best kind of resources that we have, human resources, into making sure that they have as fast an emergency medical response time as possible. That means we need to train more volunteers, send more equipment and build more infrastructure here in Sderot. That is exactly what we are doing.”
The building was inaugurated in the presence of family members of Effy Gadassi, the United Hatzalah volunteer ambucycle driver who was killed in a motor vehicle accident last June on his way to provide aid at a medical emergency. The new building houses a wall of remembrance for Effy including a quote from him about the importance of volunteering which reads: “We sacrifice of ourselves so that others may live.”
In addition to the new building in the city, United Hatzalah recently graduated a new group of psychological first aid responders who will become part of the national Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit. The unit is tasked with providing emotional and psychological first aid stabilization to anyone who is suffering emotional or psychological shock or distress following a traumatic incident. “Our unit is comprised of a two-tiered system,” explained Avi Steinherz, the Training and Education Director of the Unit. “We have regular EMTs or paramedics in the field who are trained to provide a psychological response in the field, and we have a second level, our ALS level responders made up of professional psychologists, therapists, and social workers, who head to emergency scenarios that have been pointed out by our EMS responders as being traumatic scenes in which a person is suffering severely from emotional or psychological distress. In places such as Sderot, that have a long history of general trauma due to continued rocket fire and accompanying Red Alert sirens, the trauma from each individual situation can be compounded tenfold and the work of our volunteers in this area is of utmost importance.”
Steinherz added that even in cases where no physical injuries occur, such as a rocket attack where the explosion takes place in an open area, there can be significant emotional trauma caused by the siren and the emergency run for shelter that residents need to undergo. The 14 new Psychotrauma responders hail from as far south as S’de Boker and as far north as Ashkelon. They will be providing coverage for the entire region.
“It is with the memory of Effy in mind that the organization makes the commitment to do everything in our capacity to provide the vital emergency medical and psychological response that is needed for the residents of this area,” Beer said. “Every person, no matter where they live, or what they may be facing, needs to know that they are not facing it alone. We will be there for them during the worst of times and give them all the help that they need to get them through it,” he concluded.