I recently attended a Jewish National Fund talk. Why? Because everything they say and do interests me. As you know, my life changed when we had traveled to Israel on a family vacation in July 2014 and found ourselves in the middle of war. It’s the subject of my book, “Blasted from Complacency: A Journey from Terror to Transformation in Israel,” which I’m currently finalizing and moving through the last stages of publishing.
As I was writing my book, through synchronicities that I can only believe were bashert (destiny), I attended various lectures sponsored by the Jewish National Fund and realized that these were my people. They are fervent supporters of Israel whose entire purpose is to help Israelis have a better life. This completely aligned with my calling, that of teaching about what I learned in Israel…about the hardships, as well as their amazing triumphs. Now I’m proud to say, I’m a member of the JNF Speakers Bureau.
I’ll never forget when we were staying in Eilat in the southern tip of Israel. At 1 a.m. the Code Red Alert started to wail and we ran to the bomb shelter. There was a beautiful Israeli woman in a nightie and her eyes were wide as saucers. This seemed out of place with what I had known of Israelis, who often seem to have become used to living under the continual threats of terror. I couldn’t help myself and stupidly asked her if she was okay? “No I’m not okay! We’re from Ashdod and we came to Eilat to get away from the bombing, but there’s no escape!” All I could mutter was I’m sorry.
Having personally experienced what it’s like running to bomb shelters, having met people from cities like Ashdod and Sderot who are about a mile from Gaza and often get pummeled daily with rockets, I was all ears. The panel that was to be presented was speaking on the “Gaza Border Crisis,” that is going on today. So much of what is happening right now sounds like what happened on our trip. I hope this current crisis is not a repeat of what happened in 2014.
Israelis tragically live under the constant threat of death whether from missiles, terrorist bombings, stabbings, car rammings or now the latest threat—explosive and incendiary kites and balloons.
The films, and true life stories really brought home to us the untenable situation that they live with daily. We saw the interview with a young boy who had had his arm torn off by a Palestinian missile and heard how when a young child was asked by her father if she wanted a balloon from the vendor, that her response was one of terror, “NO! The balloon can explode and kill us!” As her father hears her reply, could you imagine his anguish? As a mother hearing this story, I was appalled. Using kids toys to inflict terror, I’m sorry but that is just too much.
And the damage they cause is equally shocking. Yedidya Harush was the father of the little girl
and he knew the impact of proximity to Gaza too well. His parents had lived in Gush Katif before it was evacuated and destroyed and they moved to Halutza to become the next generation of pioneers.
Did you know there are real life modern pioneers still today? We don’t often think that there are, because we associate pioneers with the “Old West.” But in Israel, in places like Halutzah, they are making the barren Negev desert bloom into viable communities.
During the summer of 2005, due to the agreement by the Israeli government to leave Gaza, the Israeli residents were forced to leave their homes. Most settlers viewed the decree as “immoral and illegitimate,” so many were forcibly evicted. On September 12, 2005, the Israeli Army withdrew the settlements up to the Green Line. All public business and commercial buildings were destroyed or those which could not be taken apart were left intact. The settlement synagogues were left as is due to pressure from religious Jewish organizations.
However, most of the temples were destroyed by Palestinian mobs immediately following the evacuation. Abu Abir, a member of the Popular Resistance Committees terrorist organization, commented that “The looting and burning of the synagogues was a great joy…It was in an unplanned expression of happiness that these synagogues were destroyed.” It hurt my heart to read this quote, at his joy in our pain.
Later, in 2007 it was reported that the ruins of two large synagogues in Gush Katif, the evacuated Jewish communities of the Gaza Strip, had been transformed into a military base used by Palestinian groups to fire rockets at Israeli cities and train for attacks against the Jewish state.1
Israeli sacred Jewish buildings were being used by Palestinians to train the enemy and send rockets to kill Israelis. It sickens me… anguish to my Jewish soul.
Yedidya said that just like Lot’s wife was warned not to look back lest she turn to salt, they chose to look forward instead.
In the meantime, the former inhabitants of Gush Katif rebuilt their lives in an area of the desert that had never been inhabited nor farmed, and took on this challenge with their strength of character for Eretz Israel.
Yet today, because of the egregious use of kites and balloons as terrorist weapons, fields are afire throughout the region.
He told the heartbreaking story of his friend Minchas, a fifty year-old farmer with a wife and three kids, one child who was about to celebrate their Bar Mitzvah as is our tradition…
It was almost time for the big day. Minchas had planted his wheat the prior March and now it was almost ready to be harvested. Farming in Israel is difficult. Minchas had been planning and paying for a Bar Mitzvah celebration which isn’t easy either. It’s a financial investment that we make as parents willing to share our excitement and celebration of our kids’ accomplishment and being accepted into our Jewish communities as young men and women.
It made me think back to our glorious occasion when my son and I shared our B’nai Mitzvah. This was not the usual situation, but when I found out our temple scheduled B’nai Mitzvahs two at a time, I thought why not share this time together as my son was about to become a teen heading for the emotional abyss of independence. It was so much fun sharing our special day and celebrating with family and friends.
But just a week before Minchas’ field was ready for harvest, the not so innocent balloons landed and set his field afire. He called the fire department and was asked if any people were in danger. He replied, “No but my field and my life’s work is.” The harsh apology replied was, “We’re sorry we are taking care of 15 fires right now and we’ll come in two days.” Could you imagine?
Minchas was left with 5% of his field. Sure, Yedida said the Israeli government will compensate him for his field eventually, but what of the Bar Mitzvah and his lost customer who had been waiting for his shipment of wheat? Tragic.
Jordan Freeman, of the JNF pointed out “Ten thousand acres of forest and land have been burned. That’s equal to ten thousand football fields!” Given the fact that many Israelis in the area are farmers, that’s food that won’t end up on Israeli tables as well as debilitating lost wages.
Another significant point the JNF made regarding the burning fields and tires the terrorists set aflame is where are the protests from the environmentalists? This is eco-terrorism. Thousands of fields have been set afire, forests burned, livestock, native animals, reptiles and birds killed or harmed from fire or noxious fumes. Where is the uproar? Is this considered just a Jewish problem because the victim is Israel?
Along with the physical devastation, there is the emotional fallout as well. Michal Uziyahu, Director of Community Centers for the Eshkol Region, shared accounts of the terror that families experience. As a mother, her words tore at my heart. Israeli women’s stories especially move me. They always make me wonder how these women can be so strong. I know I’m not. I like to amuse myself by thinking it’s because I grew up on too much chicken soup, but we all know seriously, it’s more.
They’re raised in an environment where terrorist incidences are often part of their daily life. Nothing that I would want to get used to, but for them these tragic surroundings are the tapestry behind which they grow up and raise their families.
The children’s lives in Gaza’s adjacent neighborhoods are improving in some ways now that they are able to play in decorated indoor facilities called resiliency centers. These are generously built by the JNF because it’s not safe to play outside due to the constant harassment from Palestinian terrorist missiles.
Instead of their children being taught to sing The Wheels on the Bus go round and round, Israeli children are taught a ditty to save their lives. Kindergarteners are taught Hebrew songs encouraging them to go as fast as they can to run for protection because they only have fifteen seconds to reach the bomb shelter safely. I’m sure Israeli parents would prefer that their children could lead normal lives.
She says that even though their continued existence may be a miracle, they are still optimistic. Ninety-nine percent of their lives are wonderful, except for the one percent that is hell. Uziyahu said that they wanted to be perceived as neither victims nor heroes. She felt that the contributors to the JNF were the true heroes who helped save lives and eased Israeli families’ pain. Because of the donations to the JNF, the organization was able to build the resiliency centers for their children to have more normalcies in their lives as well as provide more firefighting equipment to put out the Palestinian fires that have been started.
Uziyahu had been born in 1977 in the Sinai. Her parents had also hoped that by the age when she would have to go to the army, there would be Peace, but it wasn’t to be. They know as they are growing up, that the time for their military service is approaching…in my mind, like the theme music to Jaws. Da duh, Da duh. I wonder how they compartmentalize this impending danger?
This really hit me hard. Three weeks ago we dropped off our son at college. If we were Israeli, instead he would have been sent off to the military to risk his life and most likely see things he’d never be able to erase from his mind. I am so grateful we are Americans and yet have so much empathy for Israelis. Could you imagine living like they do? They seem to have become used to it. Like Isaac presenting his son to God for an offering.
She described how in normal situations alarms like when you get up in the morning can be a calming nudge, unlike the wailing of the Code Red sirens that mean Israelis have 15 seconds to run to the bomb shelter. Their lives far too often are interrupted with this ominous shriek and they hurry to save themselves from harm…even potentially from death.
At one time she had wondered how people could possibly live in places like Gush Katif, but when Gush Katif was dismantled, her home became the new front. She closed her speech with, “We will overcome this because we are together and we choose life. Chazac! (We are strong!)”
Another young Israeli woman who spoke was Sarit Khanoukaev. Her attitude reflected such a strong resilience. She is a brave warrior who grew up in Sderot about a mile from Gaza. They are continuously pummeled with rockets.
Khanoukaey is only twenty-one, yet she’s seen so much in her young life. She works hard and looks forward to a future in public policy. She’s always lived under this terror close to Gaza. Although I’m far from an expert, it seemed like she suffers expectedly from PTSD.
She commented on how “it’s complicated to live there.” Every noise makes her jump and scream. The screeching of car brakes or someone calling out in the grocery store scares her. “I live in fear for my life.”
She described how she is scarred to take a shower with the door locked since she knows she only has 15 seconds to get to the bomb shelter.
One of the speakers, Shirley Eylor Asif, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in PTSD said that sufferers aren’t “refusing to let go of the past, it’s that the past is refusing to let go of the person.” They can suffer with fear, anxiety, the inability to feel or express pleasure, intense depression that can lead to suicidal thoughts, anger, aggression and can even result in detachment from reality. The disease can impact any age and symptoms can rear their ugly head later in life.
Khanoukaey talked about being in a swimming pool in the summer and again running to the bomb shelter, frightened for her life. At seven years old she was running to the bomb shelter with her brother and she fell and broke all of her front teeth. As a teenager, she didn’t play outside because she didn’t want to make her parents worry. She admitted that perhaps this wasn’t the kind of life that you would want for your family.
She described her parents as sturdy, mountain Soviet Jews. All their lives they wanted to live in Israel and in 1993 their dream came true. The only Hebrew word they knew when they moved there was thank you (todah).
Today she lives in a MACOM, an organization that helps grow communities with young people from varied backgrounds, dedicated to develop the Negev.
Khanoukaey is involved with at-risk and young children impacted by PTSD who utilize the JNF Sderot Indoor Recreation Center. The young children enjoy their colorful, safe haven as they play on computers, learn to play musical instruments and hang on their rock climbing wall. Older kids learn leadership skills and enjoy programs that teach our values and traditions.
She said, “It is my responsibility to live here.” With pride, she spoke of the new comers and new parks being built. “We are strong and even when we cry and go through tough times, we know that we will stay. Am Israel Chai!” (The nation of Israel lives!), she stated steadfastly with self-respect that her decision to stay was the right choice for her. Listening to this young woman steeped in Israeli dignity and courage, it made me feel proud too and just a little more secure that they will continue to make it as a nation. They have all these years, no matter how their enemies try to beat them down.
The panel closed the sessions with a song dear to my heart, a song of Peace—Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu. It’s sung in both Hebrew and Arabic, that in itself is an act of Peace. The translation is: Peace will come upon us, yet. A wish for Peace is my fervent hope and is in fact how I end my speeches…Peace, Shalom, Salaam.
As always I invite you to Join Me On My Journey…
1 “Synagogues now terror firing zone,” by Aaron Klein, WND |Published: 02.27.07, 13:28 https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3370395,00.html
2 “Hamas using Gush Katif synagogues to train gunmen,” by Ronen Bergman, |Published: 07.15.08 , 12:16 www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3568336,00.html.