Israel@60 Mission: Drums along the bomb shelter

Photo by Susie Roy

We could hear the sound of drums from 500 yards. HaMegenim Elementary School in Kiryat Shmona, looks deceptively similar to the elementary school you went to, that I went to. An asphalt playground. Stolid two-story buildings made a bit brighter by kid-painted murals. But this school has something else. This school has a bomb shelter. Make that two bomb shelters. One simply wouldn't fit in all the kids next time the Katyushas fall. Members of the Israel@60 mission toured the school to see federation funds in action. In the wake of the 2006 Lebanon War, JCF helped fund important recovery programs, both to rebuild school facilities and help traumatized children feel safe and whole again. The programs have been very successful, but severe problems remain. Social services here in the Upper Galil remain weak, underserving a needy population. Many kids come from single-parent homes; 80% are recent immigrants (most from the former Soviet Union). But efforts funded in part by federation are making a difference. We saw it today on the faces of the children we met, though we didn't meet them right away. After our morning briefing with school and program officials, we were led to the children. We heard them before we saw them, as it was time for drumming class.

Photo by Susie Roy

The kids were down in the bomb shelter. It's a good place for a drumming class. The 15+ feet of concrete muffles the sound, but not entirely. To a furious beat, we descended down a dark and narrow passageway. The ceiling appeared to be of deteriorating plaster; flex and wiring hung menacingly loose from the walls. And as we walked down the flights, the drums grew louder. We came into a small room, harshly bright with fluorescent lights. On the floor, in a circle, a dozen kids, about 9 or 10 years old, and their teacher sat on their dunbeks, banging in unison. These kids have been here before. During the war two years ago, they became too well acquainted with the dark passage. They knew the terror of bombs falling around them, of fearing for their lives, or worse: fearing for the lives of the parents, their brothers and sisters. Oh, the school tries to make it tolerable. They have games, puzzles, snacks, and even "Devedim" (DVD's). But still it's a bomb shelter. A god-damned bomb shelter. Several among our group wanted to fix the place up, make it appear less dreary. God forbid the shelter is needed again, and should kids find themselves stuck down there for hours or days, it would help to make it more comfortable and comforting. But there is no such thing as "home improvement" when it comes to a bomb shelter. The only way to improve them is to not need them. These beautiful children -- already disadvantaged by poverty and family problems (at least some of the kids) -- have also to cope with that lingering anxiety of being attacked. It must be in the back of their minds everyday, especially when down in the shelter. And so they drum. They drum hard and loud. "Drum it out, kids," I thought while watching them pound their dumbeks. But I know they could never fully drum it out. We were all smiles when we said goodbye. But going up the stairs, I burst into tears. It just hit me: I am in a bomb shelter. A BOMB shelter. These beautiful Israeli kids need a bomb shelter where they go to school. I thought about my visit to Yad Vashem the other day. That was the only other time on this trip I cried. Easy to see why. You can draw a straight line directly from Yad Vashem to the bomb shelter at HaMagenim. A straight line from the crematoria at Auschwitz and the Hezbollah rocket nests just over the border. I wept for these kids, but I was glad the kids didn't see me. They do not need any more tears. Blog b'Omer (Dan Pine)

Photo by Susie Roy
Categories: Israel


May 06, 2008


The Federation