Ten high school students from Sderot, a small city that has been bombarded by rockets from the nearby Gaza Strip, traveled to Los Angeles this week to share their heartrending stories at college and high school campuses. They were brought here by numerous Jewish and pro-Israel organizations. More than 60 attendees listened intently at USC Hillel Monday as the Israeli teens spoke about life under constant attack. Among the crowd were students representing pro-Israel groups from USC, UCLA, CSUN, Santa Monica College and UC Irvine.
After showing a video clip titled, "Everyone Deserves to Live in Peace," Tabby Davoodi, director of academic affairs at the consulate general of Israel in Los Angeles, introduced the young students, asking if they were alarmed by the loud sirens in the video. Most of them, looking a bit shell-shocked, nodded their heads.
USC was one of three stops that day on the "The Children of Sderot: In Their Own Words" tour, which also included visits to Beverly Hills High School and Taft High School. At the high schools, the teens spoke to crowds comprised of Latinos, African Americans, non-Jews and others from varying faiths and nationalities. "It is important for the mainstream population to know the plight of Sderot. We want to highlight the celebration of Israel at 60 to the larger community," said Esther Renzer, national president of StandWithUs, noting that the group recently donated a bomb shelter to the rocket-battered city.
For seven years the city has been under siege, and more than 4,000 Qassam rockets have hit Sderot since 2005, according to Roz Rothstein, founder of StandWithUS, a co-sponsor of the event. Between 75 percent and 94 percent of children in Sderot display symptoms of post-traumatic stress, according to the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War (NATAL), Haaretz has reported.
A few of the teen speakers discussed an incident when a 10-year-old boy, Yossi Haimov, was playing with his little sister in the courtyard of their apartment building and was struck by shrapnel, almost losing his arm. "All we want is to live normal lives like everyone else," said Sapir Homel, 15, whose 4-year-old cousin was fatally injured by a Qassam rocket. "Conditions in Sderot are very hard," Homel said. "We won't leave, but it is dangerous. We don't want Qassam rockets, but peace."
At the event, Adi Amzaleg, was presented with a cake to celebrate her 15th birthday. "Despite everything, we stay to live our life in Sderot," she said in broken English.
"We hear Qassam rockets every morning and night. If we don't get hurt, someone we know will get hurt. We have no solution to the security problem. We want to live a normal life," said Yarin Peretz, 15.
"We will be standing with you through this until it is done," Rothstein assured the teens. "We are with you right there and are coming to visit this summer," she said after awarding the youngsters envelopes filled with money.
In the question-and-answer segment of the event one audience member asked, "Would you want to grow up in Sderot and live there as an adult?"
"I was born in Sderot and will die in Sderot," responded Oshar Hen, 15.
Before leaving the room, the crowd and Sderot group burst into song, singing "Shalom, Salem."
For more information on "Live for Sderot" visit http://israelileadership.com/Live4Sderot/.
-- Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer
Pico Business Owners Protest Proposed Traffic Changes
A group representing business owners along Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles is filing for a temporary restraining order this week to protest the mayor's Olympic-West, Pico-East Traffic Initiative.
The three-tiered traffic plan, which would limit parking on Pico and Olympic boulevards during rush hours, synchronize the traffic lights and eventually change the directions of the lanes (three west on Olympic, three east on Pico) is slated to begin implementation as early as March 8 despite a Feb. 13 Department of Transportation meeting on the initiative, which had recommended postponing action on the plan. The mayor ordered the DOT to begin implementation, saying the DOT has no jurisdiction.
Pico-Olympic Solutions, which claims to represent thousands of business owners and residents along the Pico-Olympic corridor, said this week they have retained a lawyer to file a restraining order against the initiative. "Don't force Pico/Olympic on us," said Brandon Silverman, leader of the opposition group. Owners fear their businesses will be adversely affected by the plan, which calls for restricted parking from 7-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. along Pico Boulevard from Centinela to Fairfax avenues. (The original proposal had continued to La Brea.)
"For a project like this, they need to verify what kind of losses would occur, what the financial and environmental impacts are and to get the community input on the solution," Silverman said. "We want the opportunity to be heard."
City Councilman Jack Weiss, who was instrumental with the mayor in pushing the plan, said the initiative would improve traffic in the area, one of the main concerns for his constituents. "We're trying to do something immediate about it that could benefit hundreds of thousands of people," Weiss said. "It would be a shame if someone tries to block that from happening."
-- Amy Klein, Religion Editor
Angels and Interfaith Discussion
"What is the role of angels in Judaism? It's ambivalent," said Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom. Shulweis will be one of the panelists at the fifth annual Interfaith Symposium of Theology, Art and Music on March 9, along with Jeremy Glatstein, an art historian at the J. Paul Getty Museum; the Right Rev. Alexei Smith, director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the Rev. Dr. David Worth, senior pastor at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church. Rabbi Ed Feinstein, senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom, will moderate.
"There are some times angels themselves are considered to be emissaries of good news, and there are some times when the angels themselves are considered to be very jealous of human beings," Schulweis said. "In general, it seems to me that angels play a very minor role in Jewish thinking: They're there, but they're there as manifestations as some aspect of godliness," he said. What is interesting, he said, about this series -- now in its fifth year -- "is that you begin to see the commonalities and divisions in each tradition." Discussions are accompanied by an art exhibit and followed by a concert featuring the Choral Society of Southern California, the L.A. Zimriyah Chorale and the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir.
Angels and Interfaith
The Fifth Annual Interfaith Symposium of Theology, Art & Music workshop will be held on March 9 at 3 pm at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, 505 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. Symposium: $25, advanced reservations required (includes dinner and concert); Concert: $10. For more information call (818) 623-1000.