Interview with Rabbi Moshe Zev Pizem

“Red Alert, Red Alert,” the amplified voice is heard throughout the town. I jump as I hear first the alert and thirty seconds later a boom, and then another one as I go down on the floor seeking shelter. It’s terrifying. I’ve come to Sderot to interview the Pizem brothers, Rabbi Zev and Chananel. Together with the their wives Tzivia and Sima they are the Chabad Shluchim in Sderot. I didn’t expect that we would be part of a kassam attack.

Rabbi Zev Pizem came to the city some two decades ago with his wife Sima. They started Chabad program in Sderot. Just over a decade later they where joined by his younger brother Rabbi Chananel and his wife Tzvia (make a link to the blog) Both couples have dedicated their lives to the welfare of the Sderot.

The Pizem brothers ask me to join as they travel around town in the wake of the attack. They are out meeting the families, whose homes have been damaged, putting out their helping hands just moments after the missiles have landed.

“It’s a War” I tell Rabbi Pizem. “Its part of daily life” he says with a bittersweet smile.

“You never get used to it” he replies. Only to have his answer interrupted by a series of cell calls. One family was injured in an attack, another is simply stressed out. Pizem is like the Western Wall of the community. Its residents showering him with their concerns and anxieties.

Finally we arrive at the Chabad Center and for a few a quiet moments began to talk.

I am a human being, when rockets come down its scary. But I constantly aware of the fact that I am the Shliach of the Rebbe. The Rebbe said repeatedly that he takes responsibility for the welfare of the Shluchim and their children. This gives me the inner strength to persevere.

We are in a daily war. One day I went to the cemetery for a memorial service, minutes before I arrived a missile fell there. Afterwards I went to the local community center with the family, and then another missile fell nearby.

Is today a regular kind of day?

“Today is relatively quiet. Some days the attacks fall throughout the day. You walk out of the house and you constantly think where will you take cover is a Red Alert is sounded.

The kids are used to it. Missiles have been falling on Sderot for seven years. Lately the attacks have increased. When the children see that the parents are not afraid then they have the same attitude. When a Red Alert is sounded we move the kids into a secure room. We make every effort to take their minds off what is happening.

Jews are in crisis, our mission is to help. We spend a lot of time meeting with the residents and trying to keep their morale up. It’s not easy, the strain is great. On the holiday of Shavuot, just recently a number of missiles fell as the holiday began. All the towns synagogues closed, most people stayed in their homes. We decided we can’t capitulate to terror. The Chabad House remained open. We had services, a program for kids. Not many children came since they where afraid. But afterwards the fact that Chabad did not close its doors was the talk of town. We are a symbol to the residents of commitment and faith that Hashem will protect us.

On a recent Friday we visited over 1200 families. We bused in volunteers from Kfar Chabad and went door to door bringing food packages including Challot, sweets for the kids, and Shabbat food. Most important was the warmth that the rabbinical students brought to the families. A knock on the door and warm smile can strengthen a family sitting in terror in their home, afraid to go out. The Chabad sprit uplifted the city.

Some have been hit by missiles and shrapnel, but many more are emotionally wounded. Some people are in shock, children are under great psychological stress. When you hear in Tel Aviv on the news “three missiles fell today on Sderot,” its sounds distant and not so threatening. But when you live here, you live under constant fear of the next missile and where it will strike. We are city at war.

We need to do much more. We must fortify the Chabad Center so we can do programs for kids during the attacks. We are going to expand our crisis intervention and financial subsidies to families in need. This summer we are planning on sponsoring a day camp where we will bus the children to nearby town away from the shelling.

Our mission is to stand with the residents of Sderot. We are going to continue to expand the work of Chabad, we are committed to this community.

Courtesy of Kfar Chabad Magazine.

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