Thursday, June 4, 2009

From the 'Life is Funny' department...

Back to Sderot again.

I’ve spent considerable time in much-bombed out Sderot, the Negev community that’s borne the brunt of Arab terrorist missiles fired from Aza for the last nine years.

I won’t repeat the whole story of poor Sderot or about its incredibly brave and stalwart residents again. I'm sure most of you know about that beleaguered place by now.

This next week I’m off to Sderot again, on another assignment. But as I gear up to go back, I’m realizing that something very strange has happened. Something I certainly didn’t expect.

It all started many months ago, when I’d been in Sderot writing a piece for BabagaNewz, the premier English-language Jewish-kids magazine in the US. To BabagaNewz eternal credit, they wanted to tell American kids exactly what life was like for the kids in Sderot. No holds barred. “Tell what it's like for the kids who live there. What it's like to have sirens and missiles aimed at you every day,” the editor said. Amazing. Now THAT was a fine editor.

So I went, and became friends with a marvelous lady, mother of six, a beautiful lady named Atara. I interviewed her, her kids, several of their friends and their kids, then went home and wrote the piece. But she was such a nice lady, so we kept in touch – I’d call every now and then, just to see how they were doing.

One time I called it was right around Purim, which is a traditional time for giving gifts of candy and sweets. I was wondering if there was anything I could send that would help make the holiday a little brighter for the Sderot kids, who serve on Israel’s front lines every day of their lives.

Atara laughed, then said that her kids – and virtually every other kid in Sderot – had received enough gift baskets of candy to last for the next three years. They’d also received costumes, she said with a sigh. Many costumes. More than any kid could wear.

“So I guess I shouldn’t send candy, huh?” I laughed. She paused, choosing her words carefully. “I can’t tell you how grateful we are -- how grateful everyone here is – for all the gifts that have poured in,” she said. “People are so kind. But I have to tell you, just the other day, I found myself wishing that they’d given us a year’s worth of dental treatments, too.”

“So what do you need?” I asked. “Is there anything?”

“You know what we really need?” she said. “We need a bookmobile. The thing is, all the kids stay in the house most of the time, because it’s too dangerous to go outside. Many of us don’t have television, so they read. But all the kids I know have gone through every book they have. My kids are constantly begging to go to the library, but they can’t walk there on their own – it’s too dangerous to let them go that far, alone. So they have to wait until I have time to take them. But it we had a bookmobile, a van or something that would drive to the neighborhoods, park, and let the kids come in and exchange their library books for new ones, that would be a really great thing.”

What a marvelous idea! So I sent an email to the BabagaNewz editor, saying, “Wouldn’t that be a great project for the kids of America? To raise money for a van of some kind, fill it with books of all kinds, and give as a special gift of love from America to the house-bound kids in Sderot?”

She agreed – she took it to their Board, and they agreed. It was all decided. When the autumn came, they’d gear up, and make it a BabagaNewz project, nationwide. “A Bookmobile for Sderot”!

What happened then? Economic chaos in the US, plus the Bernie Madoff situation, which meant that charitable donations of all kinds, from almost everywhere, were drying up.

As the economic disaster trickled down, the worst blow of all landed – BabagaNewz, the finest Jewish kids’ magazine in history – was forced to close its doors.

Ah, I wish you could have seen that magazine – it was the best. Just a blast of color, with great stories, puzzles, quizzes, all kinds of interesting things for kids to do and think about, with the best graphics ever. No one could ignore that magazine.

But with financial support gone, it couldn’t keep publishing. After 20-something years in business, BabagaNewz was history.

Whooda thunk it?

It’s kinda funny, when you think about it. To this day, Sderot is still being attacked by the Arab terrorists in Aza, but it’s alive and well.

But American BabagaNewz, which had been around so long it seemed like an institution, was gone. Done in not by terrorists but by a self-centered huckster, with the final blow dealt by Obamanimics.

I sure didn’t see that one coming. Life is a constant surprise.


  1. The ending of the BabagaNewz print edition was not an outcome of the Bernie Madoff “situation.” The Avi Chai Foundation offered to continue its support of the project with the caveat that JFL Media, publisher of BabagaNewz, raise a portion of the financing for the program.

    Unfortunately, the economic situation made reaching that goal unobtainable and the print magazine was discontinued.

    Additionally, the decision to stop printing occurred before President Obama took office. While I'm not sure if it makes sense to pin this on Bushenomics, it certainly had nothing to do with the current US leader.

    Regardless, the loss of the magazine is a terrible blow to the community.

  2. I did notice their web site is still up.
    For those readers this is for you.