A Former California Congresswoman Brightens Lives of Sderot’s Children with Music
In the southern Israeli city of Sderot, a new music room was officially dedicated in the Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA) Indoor Recreation Center. Sderot, a town with a population of 25,000, has over the years become the symbol of resilience and living life on the Gaza border, withstanding heavy rocket fire for the better part of the last 12 years since Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza.
“When I was here in Sderot 11 years ago, there were no kids outside,” said JNF CEO Russell F. Robinson at the ceremony marking the opening of the C. Hugh Friedman Music Room on an afternoon in late May. “The people of Sderot have just 15 seconds to run for cover when the alert is sounded for an incoming rocket attack,” Robinson added. “No parents let their children outside to play, but today, you hear a sound that once was missing from Sderot: The sound of children playing,” he said, pointing out the noisy indoor play center full of children at play.
Since the center opened its doors in 2009, the sound of children’s laughter can be heard throughout the 21,000 sq. ft. converted warehouse, which is complete with multiple bomb and rocket shelters. The center has areas geared towards children of all ages, including ride-on toys, a basketball court, climbing walls, and more. All parts of the play center are within reach of one of the many shelters. The new music room, which is also located within a bomb and rocket proof area of the building, provides music lessons for Sderot’s children, many of whom unfortunately suffer from emotional trauma due to years of living under rocket fire.
The purchase of the musical instruments for students is made possible by generous financial support and scholarships from JNF donors and the dedication of the new C. Hugh Friedman Music Room was held with a few dozen of them in attendance, many of whom are friends and family of the late Friedman, that traveled from different parts of the U.S. to Israel just to mark the special occasion.
“My husband was a lawyer and a professor of law for over 50 years,” recalled Lynn Schenk. “But his real love was music.” Schenk and Friedman, who were married for over 40 years, lived in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla, where she represented California’s 49th Congressional District from 1993-1995, and where he was a long serving law professor at the University of San Diego School of Law. “Being passionate about music and Israel all of his life, I felt that dedicating this room in his honor was the right thing to do,” she added.
“For a child to play an instrument who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity—that’s what we are doing here,” Robinson said. “All our projects are amazing, but this one is a favorite for many people because the difference it has made for the families of Sderot is so evident.”
A longtime personal friend of Schenk and Friedman and JNF’s incoming president come October, Dr. Sol Lizerbram—also from San Diego—was proud to see the dedication of the music room. “What we wanted to do was to replace the sound of rockets with the sound of music,” said Dr. Lizerbram.
The dedication ceremony included a brief photo montage of Friedman, a poem read by Marcia Penche, also of San Diego, the daughter of Friedman and Schenk, as well as a tour of the music room. Schenk thanked the many extended family members and friends that came to Israel to be a part of the dedication. In remarking on what this project meant to her, she said, “This project was so meaningful for me to support. I know that Hugh would have loved this—to create a space for kids in Sderot to have the chance to step away from the stresses of where they live and to develop a love of music.”