Issue No. 28 – Rosh Chodesh Adar - February 17, 2007
Legendary Mt. Meron,
once verdant and green, now bears the grey-black scab
of the Hezbollah Katyusha hit that
scorched its forests during the 2006 war
with Lebanon. (Rena Cohen photo)
THE IMPACT OF
By Ashirah Yosefah
I am sitting in Tsfat in front of a large picture window overlooking the
lovely redwood deck that is the pride and joy of my friend Rena. From this vantage point, and certainly from
the deck, one can gaze down the mountain into the valley surrounding the Kinneret. The
mystical Mt. Meron rises up
just over the valley and to the right.
It has been raining for a
couple of days now. It began to thunder
during the wee hours of Thursday morning.
The first rumblings resounded off in the distance around 3:00 am. Rena was paying a nocturnal visit to her
computer. Her pulse quickened. Could these sounds in the distance be a rocket
attack? Only when the storm reached Tsfat about 15 minutes later did her apprehensions subside. I had to smile with empathy. Winter’s first thunderstorm in Jerusalem was a real
winner. With the first crack of thunder,
I bolted out of bed “wondering,” and I did not have to live through the storms
of Katyushas that rained upon northern Israel
this past summer. I suspect there were a
lot of quickened pulses in Tsfat in the darkness
before dawn this past Thursday.
Now it’s Friday morning,
the rain has eased a bit and the sun has broken through. Clouds and blankets of fog are tickling the slopes
of Meron, stretching a whispy
veil over the valley below. It's Erev Shabbat, so I take a walk to get flowers,
wine and other treats to honor the Sabbath.
is the burial place of some of Judaism's
most memorable Sages and Kabbalists. It lies at tip of the spiritual
"spine" of Eretz Yisrael: A
distinct line of Kedushah that runs from its base in Hevron, up to Yerushalayim, on to
Tiverias and then sweeping up to its nape in Tsfat. Walking
through the Old City
area, my mind goes back to the recent war with Lebanon. More than 400 Katyushas
rained down upon this holy city. Externally,
the city looks all but untouched now, but the surrounding forests, so naturally
lush and verdant, are pockmarked with large expanses of scorched vegetation and
earth, ashen and gray. On a rainy and
foggy day such as today, it is as if "grey calls unto grey", bringing
to mind the verse from Tehillim 42, "deep calls to deep:"
“O my God, my soul is
downcast; therefore I think of You in this land of Jordan and Hermon, in Mount Mizar, where
deep calls to deep in the roar of Your cataracts; all Your breakers and billows
have swept over me.” (Tehillim 42:7-8)
On the exterior Tsfat looks calm, but beneath this pseudo-composure, people
have not recovered from the trauma of war. Rena tells me that parents hate to let their children
out of their sight. They are afraid to
let them go off to school and need to be in near constant communication with
them. One woman is torn between the fear
of leaving her home and fear to be alone in her home. The lingering effects of the war have cast
many family relationships into varying degrees of duress. Family finances are in ruin for many of those
forced to exhaust their meager savings paying for hotels, for room and board,
during the many weeks they sought refuge in the south of the country. Back in their homes, they are having
difficulty putting food on the table.
This has increased to 140 the number of families fed and clothed by
an organization Rena works with in Tsfat.
A car backfires here and everyone
jumps. Before traveling, people get information on the bomb shelters along
their route. Stressful? To be sure. The residents of Tsfat
are a bit jumpy these days.
The truth is that the
entirety of northern Israel
was the target of Hezbollah warfare this past summer. A close friend of mine in Jerusalem is a trauma specialist. She traveled to Haifa after the war to give regional trauma workshops
to medical personnel and social workers.
She came home in dismay.
"How do you train caregivers to treat trauma," she asked me,
"when the caregivers themselves need treatment for trauma?"
Throughout northern Israel, many families with children fled south
to safety during the recent war with Lebanon. Recently, the Director of the "Home
Command" office (Israel's equivalent to America's
"Homeland Security") advised the people of Tsfat
that heading south to safety will not be an option during the next war. Why? They
foresee the entire country coming under attack from all directions: From Lebanon to the north, Gaza to the south, and even from the Shomron. Terrorists aligned
with Hezbollah are positioned in the very heartland of Israel waiting for the signal to
attack her from within. Time frame? Whispers
of next summer are common in the upper echelons.
As I sit here typing, a
stone's throw below me sits the
neighborhood bomb shelter – capacity 15-20 people. A fanciful mural has been
painted across its exterior. So close a
shelter, "cute" as bomb shelters go, but so inadequate. Rena's
apartment complex is one of several in the immediate area served by this
shelter. In her building alone live 50
families, mostly with children, lots of children. In the 10-15 seconds between missile alert
and impact, residents have to go up two, or down three, flights of stairs, down
a long hall, down three flights of broken concrete exterior stairs, around the
building itself, and across an open field to reach the shelter. Should the
alarm sound at night, can one reasonably expect the parents to be able to
awaken their children, gather them up and get them up the stairs, around the
building, down the stairs and across the field in the time available?
neighborhood bomb shelter.
Sitting behind me, Rena
reflects: "If the alarm does sound… sometimes it doesn't and the only alarm we have is the thud of
impact." It seems malfunctioning
alarms were all too common this past summer.
Let's be positive and
assume these families do make it the shelter in time, what will they find? Conditions in the northern bomb shelters were
horrendous during the war. Another Jerusalem friend of mine made
weekly trips north bringing food and toys to each of the shelters. She is still unnerved by what she
experienced: Poor ventilation,
insufficient facilities and space, no air conditioning, and, in many cases, no
electricity. Thousands of people were
living in scorching, squalid conditions for weeks while the sounds and
vibrations of war closed in on them from beyond the walls of their confinement. Residents were told that televisions and air
conditioners were sent by the hundreds to these northern shelters in order to
improve air circulation and enable the people to have a connection with the
outside world, but most of the equipment never arrived at its destination,
having been "absconded" along the way. Mind you, what good is an air conditioner
This has definitely been
an informative week. The country is
small and the network of friends and acquaintances you acquire can be quite enlightening.
Yet another friend contacted me this past week.
We had not spoken in eight months, when he suddenly called me "out
of the blue." He has a son serving
in the IDF along the Israel-Lebanon border.
Some things cannot be shared.
Suffice it to say, that things are not good.
Another war is
coming. We know it. All of Israel
needs to prepare, but the war-traumatized residents of Israel's north merit special
attention. Despite widespread damage and
indisputable need, most of the "war response" funds contributed to certain
aid agencies in North America have not
materialized or even become accessible to the people in such desperate need of
Israel is, without question, unique
in all the world, and life here can often seem stranger than fiction. It has recently been made public that the
Jewish Agency, in partnership with The Abraham Fund (proponents of Arab-Israeli
co-existence), have allocated in excess of One Million USD to teach Arabic to Jewish
schoolchildren in Israel's northern
rationale? There are now so many
Arabs living in northern Israel
that it is incumbent upon Jews in this region to learn to speak Arabic.
The Government of Israel
has also recently announced that it has allocated an additional One Billion
Shekels for Arab communities throughout Israel. Charity is wonderful, but should not charity
begin at home?!?
If, God-forbid, the world
does not wake up and the Islamic global vision succeeds, perhaps Arabic will
become the next international language of commerce, and the school children of
northern Israel will be ahead of all the rest of us in sailing off into
the fortunes of the future. Then again, maybe not, “infidels” don’t play a prominent role in
the Moslem scheme of things.
My dear friend Rena works
with two local agencies assisting the needy of Tsfat. She knows only too well the gaping holes in
the bureaucratic and foreign aid systems.
She strongly recommends that donors deal directly with Jewish
organizations "on the ground" in Israel to ensure that their donations
are actually used as intended. With all
but unavoidable war in the offing, the existing need is only going to grow.
As I gaze down at the sheet
of fog rolling back into the valley below, I cannot help but think that a
blanket has been pulled over too many eyes, in Israel and beyond.
From Tsfat, a city of
holiness and Katyusha scars …
Postscript: It is now Motsi Shabbat and I’m seated on Bus
982, en route to Jerusalem
Across the aisle sits a young boy, roughly Bar Mitzvah age. A large volume of Talmud Bavli
is braced between his hand and chest.
From the light overhead, I watch his lips move silently as he
studies. Behind me sit a father and
son. The boy is barely seven. He happily sings zimrot
(sacred songs) and chats with his Abba, then asks to call a friend. His conversation is peppered with “b’ezrat
Hashem”, “Baruch Hashem.” The
loudspeaker crackles. His knitted white kippah nodding gently as he drives,
our bus driver davens Tefillah
haDerech (the Traveler’s Prayer) from memory. “Amein” echoes in
unison throughout the bus as we turn onto the highway at Meron
with the war-scorched holy mountain standing watch behind us in the inky black
of the Rosh Chodesh sky. Welcome to the
true Israel. Rosh Chodesh Sameach.