September 11, 2006 / 18 Elul 5766
On a balmy September afternoon, Pnina Levy breathes a sigh of relief. The 27-year-old social worker from the recently bombarded northern Israeli city of Acco is enjoying a day of fun and outdoor activities with her two young children, sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel.
“It feels so good to take the children out to something cheerful and festive," says Pnina. "The children in the north did not have any summer vacation at all. These activities give them a feeling that maybe the holiday hasn't quite yet finished."
Anis Ali, a Muslim resident of Acco, also breathes a sigh of relief. He is enjoying the Jewish Agency's "Children's Village" with his three small children. Employed as a welder in the city of Haifa, Anis was without work throughout the war.
“My wife Rozette is a care giver in a senior citizens home, so she worked throughout the war," says Anis, as his son pulls him to a carousel. "I was at home taking care of our three young children. We only left our small apartment to seek refuge in the communal bomb shelter. Even today, my eight-year-old daughter still jumps at the sound of loud noises and my youngest son points to the sky as if expecting a missile to fall.”
Anis Ali and his son clowning around
Looking around him Anis continues “its just nice to be here and forget everything for a while. The fact that all the attractions are free is an added bonus. The war left everyone with little money for luxuries like entertainment.”
For an entire week, the Jewish Agency provided tens of thousands of children and their families with fun and relaxing activities in major northern cities. Clowns made traumatized children laugh. Well-known performers encouraged people to sing and dance. Rides, complete with cotton candy and popcorn, and adventure sports gave the event a carnival-like atmosphere. All was free of charge for residents of the north.
Referring to the Jewish Agency's partners around the world who made the week possible Anis says, “it's unbelievable that people who live so far away can be so kind.”
The Jewish Agency played an essential role in supporting Israel's citizens during the war, most notably providing 40,000 children with safe summer sleep-away camps. Now, the Jewish Agency's energies are fully invested in returning life to normal and rebuilding the North. Recreational and entertainment activities give people like Pnina and Anis the chance to forget, at least for a while, the traumas that the war brought them. For some, even the chance to leave their apartments brings a sense of relief.
Kids of all ages enjoy the entertainment
"Every time the sirens sounded my husband, myself and our two children crowded into our bathroom for shelter. Since then, every time I use the bathroom I remember the terrifying hours we spent there and a sense of fear wells up in me.”
Guy Shlezinger, the well-loved DJ for the event, spent the war dodging Katyusha rockets in his native Haifa. As Guy sagely notes, “the hardest week of the war was the week after. Going back to work and doing even the most mundane tasks like driving to the supermarket was difficult. We had to convince ourselves that it was safe to venture out. That's why events like this one are so important, they give a feeling of returning to normalcy."
Guy performed on a large stage, where children took part in a spontaneous talent contest
organized by a local dance troupe. Other features for the week include an appearance by stars of Israel television children's channel and a pop concert performed by well-known Israeli singers.
During the war, the Jews and Arabs of Acco passed the terrifying days together in community bomb shelters. The Jewish Agency is now giving them, and other northern residents, the opportunity to experience happier times together.
Photo Credit: Naftali Hilger