Sderot and Ofakim
August 4, 2005
I usually look forward to Shabbat. It's the end of the week, a good time for a break, meaningful Sabbath prayers, usually at Ma'arat HaMachpela, tasty meals, a little more sleep than usual, some time with the family – a spiritually fulfilling experience.
But this week, I'm not so sure – no, I'm sure Shabbat will be all of the above. But it's going to be difficult to compete with last week's Shabbat. Early last week our good friends, the Sudris, Noam and Tali, invited us to spend the weekend with them. "Sure," we answered, "why not?" We really wanted to go. The Sudris live in Kfar Darom, in Gush Katif.
They began the process of obtaining the despicable 'permits' necessary to get into Gush Katif. But it quickly became clear that it wasn't going to be so easy. For it was decided that only 'immediate family members' would be privileged to receive the 'prized' "OK- you're allowed in." The community's general secretary kept calling and sending faxes to the 'permit office,' but was consistently refused. Thursday night, Friday morning, still no permits. What should we do?
Following an informal family consultation we decided. We are going, permits or not. My wife cooked extra food (we were taking some with us), just in case we showed up back home at the last minute. How were we going to get into the Gush? We didn't know. But we didn't care. I called Noam and set up all sorts of contingency plans (take a neighbor's car, bring your wife's ID card, and try to get my wife and kids through the checkpoint). And we were off. Three kids in the back, me and my wife in the front, one thirty in the afternoon. About a half hour later Noam called back. They finally granted us the permits. We wouldn't have to play 'let's pretend' to get into Gush Katif. We just had to promise to leave Saturday night. The community general secretary promised. (I think we were a little disappointed – it would have more fun to get in fooling them.)
The checkpoints really are despicable. There used to be three of them, but one was removed. A soldier or policeman demands a picture ID, looks you up on his wireless computer device and then does a head count and calls roll of everyone in the car. We just ignored him. Not really. We tried to make him feel guilty. And I thing he did.
(This is the place for a 'short story.' I know someone who drove down to the Gush with several of his children (all of whom had permits), and another passenger who didn't have one. When they were stopped, and a soldier began checking the permits, a policewoman looked into the car and asked the driver, "who's that in the back seat?" He answered, "my children." She said, "yeah, I know, but who's THAT," pointing at the other passenger, a thirty year old man with a big beard. Without turning around, the driver responded, "my kids are in the back." The policewoman smiled and continued, "I know, but him, by the window, THE ONE WITH THE BEARD?" The driver looked at her, and said, "how old do you think I am? I'm really much older than I look." With that, he put his foot on the gas and drove off continuing to Gush Katif.)
The second checkpoint is at the entrance to Kissufim, and it's also really disgusting . You go through the same thing again. (However, here too, all sorts of interesting games are played. I heard from a pretty good source about how a soldier stopped a full car, looked inside, and just checked the driver's ID, without asking who everyone else was. Then he looked in the back and said, "Wow, you've got a lot of bags back there." Then he opened the car's trunk, glanced inside and exclaimed, "Will you look at that – there's a child back here!" He then closed the trunk and told the driver to go ahead, into the Gush.)
When we arrived in the Gush we first went to collect my son, who is studying at one of the Yeshivas in the area and then went to visit friends from Hebron who are living in several of the Gush Katif neighborhoods. One house has six or seven families living in it. At Shirat HaYam, about fifty families live in tents, on the sand, about 20 meters from the Mediterranean Sea. They all share a small communal outdoors kitchen, burner, sink, refrigerator and a couple of bathrooms and showers. During the day it is very hot, so the tents are virtually off-limits. They all perch under a huge black awning which offers protection from the sun and 'houses' picnic tables which serve as a place to eat, play, sit around and chat, etc.
Late in the afternoon we made our way to Kfar Darom. We were lucky enough to receive an apartment for Shabbat. After settling down and getting ready for Shabbat, we walked to the new synagogue, a few minutes away.
What can I say? The place was packed. The synagogue was dedicated only a few months ago, and has room for many more people than then lived at Kfar Darom. But last Shabbat there wasn't enough room for everyone to sit. Several yeshivas have made Kfar Darom their new home. And there must have been well over 100 guests, like us, just for Shabbat. And Kfar Darom has a new 'tent neighborhood' too. There must be at least 25 to 30 families living in tents, on the lawn, on the north side of the community. How they do it, I don't know. Living in one of the Kfar Darom homes for a day, without an air conditioner is almost impossible. It gets really hot there. Living in a tent, in that kind of weather? For two, three, four weeks? Unbelievable dedication.
Friday night Shabbat services in Hebron, at Ma'arat HaMachpela, are usually really special. But these prayers, a Kfar Darom, were about as spiritually uplifting as you can get. What would you expect to hear from people at a community due to be booted out of their homes in a couple of weeks? Funeral dirges? Well, I'm just sorry I couldn't record the singing last Friday night. And in truth, a recording wouldn't due justice to the spirit. It was something from another world. Words that you say week after week, year after year, take on a wholly new significance. From Psalm 92: "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the L-RD, and to sing praises unto Thy name…To declare Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness at night."
Why faith at night? It's no real test to speak of faith when all is rosy, when the lights are shining. But when all is dark and black, when it seems all hope is lost – that's when we sing songs of praise of faith to G-d.
"When the wicked spring up as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they may be destroyed for ever."
No commentary is necessary.
The joyous singing continued on and on, a subliminal expression of unshakable faith, reaching the very foundations of our being.
The rest of the Shabbat continued in the light of those evening prayers, a tremendous manifestation of belief and trust in the Divine. It was an extraordinary spiritual high, a perhaps once-in-a-lifetime lesson in commitment to a sacred ideal.
Later, Shabbat being over, we plummeted rather fast, from the holy to the profane. It's not enough to get checked entering Gush Katif. You also have to identify yourself as you leave. One poor woman was standing in the midst of officers and police, crying, saying that she wanted to go home. But they WOULDN'T LET HER OUT of Gush Katif. It seems that her name didn't appear on the magic screen list. Unbelievably amazing.
This week, as not too long ago at Netivot and Kfar Maimon, we went to Sderot and Ofakim. The scenes were pretty much the same: Tens of thousands of protesters and tens of thousands of police and soldiers, speeches, sleeping in tentS, in cars, on the ground, sweating in the sun, listening to instructions, 'what to do next,' confrontation with the security forces, going back home. This week's adventures. Another week to go. What will next week have in store for us?
Sderot, site of this week's huge protest rally, means in English, 'avenues.' Ofakim, site of the park where we slept and spent the day, means 'horizons.' Different people have different avenues – roads which lead in different directions. So too, it seems, with horizons; we each see something else at the end of the rainbow. Every once in a while you might wonder what the other side experiences, which road they take, and what they see, far in the distance, what is in their horizon?
I know, for sure, that there are some walking backwards, heading into a dead-end. They have no horizon, for in order to view a horizon, you must look forward. They are looking in the other direction, down and back. Our 'sderot' are lined with roots reaching into the depths of the earth, into the depths of our essence, individually and as a people. Our 'ofakim' are white lights so pure, so bright, that they are all-encompassing, embracing us with warmth, hope and love.
These are our sderot and our ofakim - our true life, in our true land.