::::::::[Sderot, Israel June 8, 2009] Less than a five minute car ride from the Erez Checkpoint, lies the settlement of Sderot, where bomb-shelters are more common than gas stations.
Across from the cinema lies the crowded open air community center that is furnished with bean bag pillows and padded benches; and as I pass by many people make eye contact and smile.
A plump 53 year old Russian immigrant who did not want to give her name smiled all the time as we conversed via my English-Hebrew-Russian speaking translator who introduced me as an American reporter wanting to know about life in Sderot.
She tells us, "America needs to we want peace on this planet. My destiny brought me to Sderot fifteen years ago and I don't feel much different except the quassams make me nervous and anxious, but this is still a great place to live. I couldn't find an apartment to rent anywhere when I arrived except in Sderot. There had been a huge Aliyah and only in Sderot could I find a place with an apartment to rent. The important thing is to have a roof over my head."
During this reporters first trip to Jerusalem in 2005, I learned about Aliyah from an American who informed me, "My friends got so tired of me complaining about my political frustrations over the last election; they said, 'If you don't like it here, just leave!' I had already been considering joining the Peace Corps, and when I got turned down because of a medical problem, I explored the possibility of going to Israel. I learned about, Aliyah, which means 'going up,' and the deal was hard to pass by. I get fifteen hundred shekels or about thirty-six hundred dollars a year in increments to help with my expenses. I can apply for unemployment benefits after seven months, as long as I look for a job. I just completed Ulpan, which was five hundred hours of Hebrew language immersion studies that took five months, five hours a day, for five weeks. I get subsidized rent and just moved out of the Absorption Center Projects. All the new immigrants get room, utilities, and three meals a day for the first five months in Israel. We also receive free medical care and all the doctors here are dedicated. We can go to the university with 100 percent of the tuition paid by the government. College is much cheaper here; it's about three thousand to four thousand dollars a year. Until I am thirty years old, I can receive up to three years of education for my master's degree."
Fortuna, an affable widow with four children who have all moved away, migrated from Tunius to the colony in 1956, "It was all desert here, just a few mobile trailers were here. When I first came here there was nothing at all but sand and a few cheap house trailers, one medical clinic with one doctor, but no shopping at all.
"Eight years ago the quassams began coming and all I could do was think about the next one. Two years ago while I was in my bathroom one exploded in front of my house and I thought I was dieing. The explosion broke the glass windows but the municipality repaired it quickly.
"I am always waiting to hear 'Zeva Adom-Zeva Adom' [red alert-red alert] announcement that warns the rockets are coming at us. I am nervous all the time, I never leave my home and am only here today because my neighbor took me shopping and then brought me here. I am always afraid to go out of my house, but days like this it is like a party, everyone comes outside. The last rocket came over about a month ago and I am out here now only because my friends give me courage to come here and sit.
"I have not met any Arabs but there are a lot of them here. They are lucky the municipality lets them live and work here. There is an Arab neighborhood close by, but I do not know where it is and I never talk to any of them because I am afraid of them.
"The only way to stop the rockets are to annihilate all the Arabs in Gaza."
With a broken heart and a deep sigh, I thank Fortuna for her time and wish her many more days like today. She smiles broadly and hugs me good bye.