Sderot, Israel: If you heard Color Red siren alerts in Sderot on Wednesday night, October 14, it was not because rockets were being fired from Gaza, as the 19,000 residents of Sderot have had to endure during the past eight years.
Instead, the siren alerts were part of a play produced by the Sderot Media Center (SMC) Community Treatment Theater program, called Children of Qassam Avenue. The play, which incorporates both the serious and comical aspects of Sderot life and features a hilariously entertaining Moroccan grandmother, had the audience both laughing and crying.
“The play was a phenomenal success,” stated Sderot child psychologist and recently resigned director of the Sderot Resilience Center, Dalia Yosef.
“The positive impact of the theater therapy process clearly showed in the way these girls performed tonight–full of confidence and assurance,” stated Yosef.
The young actresses performed before a home audience of 200 people, including visitors from Jerusalem, Ra’anana and Efrat. Sderot mayor, David Bouskilla opened the evening, praising the girls and the people of Sderot for their continuing strength and resiliency in the face of uncertain times.
Yosef also noted that the timing of the Sderot Community Treatment Theater was also significant. “It is during these times of quiet when treatment therapy is most effective.
The ceasefires gives trauma victims the opportunity to acquire coping skills in a less-stressful environment, necessary for dealing with future rocket attacks,” said Yosef.
The Sderot high school girls who participated in the drama therapy program are students at the religious AMIT high schools of Sderot. Principal Rabbi Roni said that the Sderot Community Treatment program was a turning point for the girls who participated in the project. “It is hard to believe that the confident and expressive girls who performed tonight were the same quiet and insecure students one year ago,” he said.
The theater therapy program, which began in December 2008, was temporarily halted by the rocket escalation, but resumed after Operation Cast Lead ended. The Sderot students spent ten months in intensive drama therapy sessions, meeting after school with a psychologist, social worker and SMC theater director, Livnat Shlesinger. “In the beginning it was hard for the girls to open up, but after a couple of meetings, the girls began to feel more comfortable,” said psychologist Debbie Gross who worked with the traumatized girls.
“Once the girls began to express their feelings of the fear and loneliness, they began to realize that they were not alone–there were others like them who were experienced the same trauma and panic induced by constant strain of living in a rocket environment,” said Gross.
“Sharing their experiences with each other was the first step in helping them realize how to better cope with eight years of built-up rocket trauma.”
There is a scene in the play that depicts a teenage girl forced to take a one-minute shower because of the rocket siren going off. Leora, one of the performers, explained that in one session, the girls spoke of their fear of not being able to hear the rocket alert with the water running in a shower. “We felt that it was important to show how normal things that make up someone’s daily routine like taking a shower can become a traumatizing experience here in Sderot. We wanted to get across how the rocket fire impacts every part of our life,” said Leora.
The play was written under the direction of SMC theater director, Livnat Shlesinger and producer, Meital Ohayon both of whom live in Sderot and have endured countless rocket attacks of their own. Shlesinger’s best friend, Ella Abuksis was killed by a Qassam attack in Sderot two years ago. “This production was a very personal experience for all of us,” Shlesinger stated. “Each scene in the play is a scene from our own reality.”
Both Gross and Yosef both agreed that the arts of theater is one of the most effective ways to get trauma victims to express their feeling and come to terms with the past.
“The success of this play and the amazing performance that these Sderot girls gave tonight, have provided the girls with a positive experience that will hopefully help them move forward onto more stable ground in the future,” said Gross.
Raya Hanokayev, another performer, explained that the theater project gave her the opportunity to learn how to be in more control. “I learned how to manage the feelings of terror that I experience every time the alert sounds. At the same time, my dream of becoming an actress has also come true.”
Sderot Media Center is fundraising to bring the play to cities across Israel and eventually to the Knesset. One primary goal of the theater therapy program is to share the stories of Sderot teenagers with audiences across Israel and eventually abroad. “The theater program aims to raise awareness to the traumatic to the post-trauma symptoms affecting the youth of region due to years of Qassam fire” said Sderot Media Center director, Noam Bedein.