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JewishJournal.com

March 8, 2008

From red alerts to the red carpet—a teen from Sderot speaks

http://www.jewishjournal.com/israel/article/from_red_alerts_to_the_red_carpet_a_teen_from_sderot_speaks_20080309

Vitolda Nahshonov at Universal Studios. Photos by Peter Halmagyi

Vitolda Nahshonov at Universal Studios. Photos by Peter Halmagyi

Vitolda Nahshonov, 15, is one of 10 teens brought to Los Angeles from Sderot by the Israeli Leadership Club and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles to share her story of what it's like to live under constant attack from Qassam rockets. Nahshonov has lived in Sderot, near the border of Gaza, since the age of 2, and was chosen to be part of the group's weeklong visit by the Israeli Leadership Club on the basis of her academic record and her ability to speak English. Nahshonov's dream vacation/humanitarian tour was her first visit to the United States, and she took time to talk during a dinner at Universal CityWalk's Hard Rock Cafe on the night before she and her group returned home to Sderot. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

Jewish Journal: Why did you want to become a part of the "Live For Sderot" project?

Vitolda Nahshonov: To raise awareness. To tell people what is going on in our town. When I go out in Israel, outside of Sderot, people ask me where I'm from, and when I tell them Sderot, they ask, what's Sderot? That's where the Qassams fall. Oh, really? Yes. So if people in Israel don't know what Sderot is, then what goes on outside of Israel?


The kids from Sderot -- in their own words

JJ: Why do you think people don't know about Sderot?

VN: Because I don't think the media makes it public enough. Maybe they'll mention here and there that a rocket fell on Sderot, and that's it. Even in our city, when I watch the news after an attack, they'll say that a Qassam fell and then they move on. I haven't really felt that anyone has told our story and the real situation.

JJ: What is it like living in Sderot?

VN: I feel like a soldier fighting every day for my country.

JJ: How have the incessant rocket attacks changed your daily life?

VN: I don't remember what life was like before them, but I can give you my 5-year-old sister as an example. I never take her outside to play in the playground. She's always inside the house. It hurts me to see my sister who was born into this situation acting so maturely for her age. Instead of crying when she hears the "red color" alert, she comforts the adults around her who are terrified.

JJ: What do you do after school and in the evenings?

VN: Five days a week after school, I drop my backpack at home and go straight to the community center. I participate in three activities: I help the director of a tutoring program that helps kids with their homework and in preparing for exams. There's also a nationwide program called Afuch-al-Afuch, where young people can go to talk to someone, to get advice. I'm one of the volunteers, and we bring people drinks and snacks and talk to them, just to get their minds off things. There is also a young leadership council that organizes all the youth activities in the city -- trips, parties, whatever is missing. I'm so busy that when I hear an alarm, I don't even run to take cover; I just keep doing what I'm doing like nothing is happening. They told me that's one way to cope. But other people panic and run and some kids at school still faint from terror.

JJ: How are the schools equipped to deal with Qassam attacks?

VN: Our entire school is surrounded with thick walls that block all the windows -- there is absolutely no sunlight. You don't see a school; you just see a white wall to block the Qassams. Whether it blocks them, we don't know yet. On each floor, there's also one classroom designated as the safe room.

JJ: Do you have friends who have left Sderot?

VN: I have a friend who moved to Ashkelon. She's not very happy there, because she misses Sderot, but she feels better. Actually, even Ashkelon is now being hit by Qassams. It was hit today [Wed., Feb. 27]. So you see, there's the evidence, you leave one place, and you get attacked somewhere else. There's no escape.

JJ: Why won't your family leave Sderot?

VN: My parents just finished building a large house two years ago, from nothing. I asked my mom once, she was working at a hospital in Beersheva, if she wanted to live closer to her work -- not related to the Qassams at all -- and she said, 'Why should we leave Sderot? It's good here.' Then she asked me, 'Would you want to leave Sderot?' I said, 'Never in my life.' This is my home. If I ever leave Sderot, it won't be because of the Qassams. It will be because I want to live in a different city. Like if I marry a guy who lives outside of Sderot and he wants to be near his family. I think if I left, then my friends would leave, and everyone would leave, and then what did we accomplish by doing that? We let them win. We need to fight for ourselves.

JJ: What do you think the State of Israel should do to stop the attacks?

VN: That's a political question, and I don't know the answer. That's why we have the government; that's why we have people there, so that they can find the solution. I shouldn't, as a girl, need to find them the solutions.

JJ: What do people in Sderot want the government to do?

VN: Truthfully, everybody wants us to go into Gaza. But they don't think about the people there in Gaza that are innocent. If we went in, we would be doing to them what they're doing to us. Look, I also say when I'm angry that we should go into Gaza and kill everyone, but there are innocent people there that would get hurt, so it's hard. It's a tough question. JJ: Let's move on to a more cheery subject. Tell me about your week here in Los Angeles.

VN: Wow. We did a lot. Too much. We went to Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Hollywood, The Grove, Beverly Hills. We went to a hockey game. We also went to an Oscar party. Yesterday we went to Kadima high school, then the "Live for Sderot" concert. On Monday we went to two schools, Taft and Beverly Hills high schools. And then USC. Every one of us got a chance to read something personal we wrote about ourselves. I spoke about why we want to stay in Sderot -- what we have there worth staying for. I told them about my activities at the community center because I knew everyone else was going to talk about the negative things in Sderot. And what people really want to know is why we're still there.

sderot teens visit universal studios
JJ: What did you most enjoy about your trip to Los Angeles?

VN: The people. They were incredible. I mean, I expected them to be warm, but not like this. At the concert, when Ninette called us up on stage, I was shaking. Not because I was scared to go on stage, but because I was overwhelmed with emotion. Also when I was sitting in my chair, I started tearing up because I felt that people really cared, and they came for us.

JJ: What was it like spending time with Ninette?

VN: I thought because she's famous and a big star that she wouldn't really care about us, that she would say hello and goodbye and that's it. But when I met her, she amazed me. She sat with us, had breakfast with us, talked with us, gave her all. In my life, I will never forget what she did for us. I have her phone number, and we'll meet up in Israel. After what she did for us, there's no way I'm not keeping in touch with her.

JJ: What would you say to the Jewish community in Los Angeles right now?

VN: A huge thank you. From me and my family and my friends and all the people of Sderot. They did something that we will never in our lives forget. They did a huge thing. Thank you.



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