Making a Difference in Sderot

When I was if I would be interested in and willing to adopt a family from Sderot. I wasn’t sure if I was the right fit. I felt that my life as a mother of three children and away from my own family was demanding enough, and I did not know how I would have time to devote to another family. However, something inside of me felt that this small gesture meant so much.

Living here in this easy and beautiful life would only bring me a new perspective when lending a hand to the horrific reality of terror victims in Israel. I couldn’t say no. When I was given the information about my adopted family, I read it with complete sorrow and pain.

Ella Abukasis, a 17-year-old, was walking home with her young brother, 9-year-old Tamir, after a social activity in the neighborhood. Suddenly code red siren sounded. With no shelter nearby, Ella protected her brother by guarding him from that rocket, on the corner of the street, saving his life and giving up her own. That rocket hit her and pieces went into Tamir’s brain. Days later Ella passed away. The doctors said they were not able to operate or touch pieces of the missile in Tamir’s brain, but he survived. Today Tamir is 18 years old, recently married to a lovely young woman and just recently started his service in the Israel Defense Forces.

On our way to Sderot I was expecting the worst. I have heard of the missiles hitting the town and the horror stories of children running to bomb shelters. I knew the life they lived was very different than my perfect Carmel Valley life, but yet, it seemed quite normal as I was driving through the streets. I did notice many bomb shelters scattered around the town in random places. I also noticed large brick walls with space in between that later I learned was also a place to hide in a missile attack.

My heart was beating and my mind was racing as I thought about how the family and I would react to one another. I wasn’t sure if I should greet them with a hug, a kiss or just a simple smile. I didn’t know if they were very religious or not at all observant. To be safe, I wore my long skirt, the same one I wore to the Kotel the night before and a long shawl to cover my shoulders, just to be respectful. Between my mother, my children and me, questions were asked the whole way there. My eight year old son, Yarden asked, “Ima, what if a rocket hits us now? Where will we go? Will we have enough time to make it to the shelter?” I put on a mask of calmness and assured him we were safe, although, I too, did have the same thoughts just minutes before. I thought to myself how different my reality as a mother is back in San Diego.

We approached the house and were greeted by a warm kind man, Jonathan Abukasis. He smiled at me with such depth, I already felt like I knew him for a long time in that very instance. We have spoken on numerous occasions in the past year, mainly to wish him a “Chag Sameah” and “Mazal Tov” on simchas, but this moment was the moment we came together in some strange way. Then his wife, Sima, embraced me with a warm motherly loving hug that quickly welcomed me into their home. I turned to meet Tamir, the survivor of the missile, the young brother of Ella, who has grown now and become a husband and soldier.

“Please eat something.” Sima took out the desserts, the hand crafted colorful Moroccan pastries.  She insisted I try some, although they looked too beautiful to touch.  As we spoke of life in Israel, my son, Yanai asked them “Why haven’t you left Sderot?” In a quiet moment she looked down to him at his eye level and simply said, “If everyone left because of the missiles, then nobody would live here and then they would win. This is our land and we must not run away.”

Jonathan and Tamir took us to the corner where the missile hit Tamir and killed Ella. The cracks in the cement ground still exist. A bench was built by Ella’s art teacher that was already broken and looked dull. I immediately thought that I would love to fix this bench to make it a beautiful corner that the Abukasis family can visit her memory. They continued to take us around Sderot to show us the schools and areas that Ella used to spend her time.“Ella was a girl that wanted to help everyone. She wanted to do good in the world and help those in need. That was all she thought of, all the time. Her plans in the Sherut Leumi (special service for religious girls) were to work with children in need.”

After she passed away, Ariel Sharon (prime minister of Israel at the time) visited the Abukasis family. Sharon asked Jonathan, “Is there anything I can do?” Jonathan asked one request, to build a recreational center in Ella’s name — a center that would be open to everyone in need, to give programs and activities and classes for the whole community. This was created and Jonathan runs this center daily. As we drove to the center, I couldn’t help but notice the big beautiful tree in the entrance. Tamir told me this is the tree of Ella, in Hebrew, the terebinth tree. This has become her symbol on the shirts they made and on the copper coin they later gave me.

As I entered the center, pictures of Ella were everywhere: as a child, as a student, with friends and with family. Her smile was addicting and her presence was simply so calming and delightful. The large quote from the bible that was displayed in the front door entrance said, “How honorable in one’s health is the one who knows to see the good in the evil.” When I read this out loud, Jonathan explained this was a quote Ella had written in her journal that he found in her room, that night. The journal was open and this quote stood out. He later decided this quote must stand in the entrance to the center.

We retuned to the Abukasis home. Jonathan took me around the house and asked if I would like to go in Ella’s room. Sima explained she was unable to enter the room, as it would be too hard for her. In her room, dust was everywhere. The sheets were the same, the clothes were in the exact position where she placed them before she left her house that evening. “Nothing has changed; we left this room exactly as it was eight years ago.”

As I opened her journal and starred at those doodles she drew and then quotes she wrote about life, I suddenly felt this chill all over my body, realizing the similarities between Ella and me, and why I was here in this home, in her room, all the way from San Diego. This family allowed me to enter its home and life, and we created a connection that made me realize why I did say “yes” to Carine from Adopt a Family Foundation. I was happy to do this. From that moment on, it all made such sense to me.

We said our goodbyes and I told them I hope one day they would be able to visit me in San Diego and that I could show them around as well. Later that night, Yanai, my 10-year-old son said to me, “Ima, I felt like I knew her so well. She seemed like such a nice person.”

To learn more about the Adopt a Family Foundation, visit

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