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Netiv HaAsara

12/04/2023 04:23:03 PM


Rabbi Michael

At the beginning of this trip, when we headed South toward the area called the Gaza Envelope I braced myself for what it would be to stand in the midst of what had become a killing field. As it turned out, we were unable to get access to any of the communities in which these sadistic acts of destruction took place, including Netiv HaAsarah, a moshav with which my friend Geoff has close family ties. And it was Geoff who said words that really hit home - whatever we could see in the South was important yet of its own immeasurable importance is encountering those who are the evacuees, some quarter of a million residents of these communities including a few larger cities, whose displacement has become a major area of focus for the whole country showing up to provide their needs. Those who came from more tight knit communities like Netiv haAsara were not only being put up for free by major hotels, but housed in the same hotel, a self-contained community of neighbors moving from the spread of different houses to the vertical assembly on floor after floor of, in this case, the Royal Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv. While a very nice hotel which allowed itself to be taken over as a place of refuge, most residents have stayed inside, both because they have been so shattered by their losses of so many and so much and to avoid fear of being far from a safe room at the sound of the sirens for incoming Hamas missiles which send them back to the morning of October 7th when that sound was followed by the unimaginable.

So it was fitting that the last thing that I did as part of my short solidarity trip was go to the Royal Beach Hotel. While the possibility had existed of meeting Geoff’s brother-in-law and his family there, those plans did not materialize. Instead we decided to visit without an expectation of who would be in the lobby that served as a kind of town square of this community in exile. There were, in fact, several people including kids climbing onto the soft chairs in a way that might have been more discouraged under different circumstances. The scene was not different from any busy hotel, other than a wall with the pictures of those who were murdered at the entrance. It took a moment to sink in that every single person in this lobby had fled from their homes leaving friends and family who fell into cruel hands. Every kid could be one without a parent and every adult could be a parent without a child. All that pain even before dealing with the adjustment of having no possessions with you and knowing that the time away from their shattered homes would be measured in months and not weeks.

Geoff was just as much at a loss as I was to decide if we would just take in the moments and leave for the airport or find a way to gently approach one of the evacuees. It felt right to me to go over. I simply told them in Hebrew that my heart was with them and that I was here as community Rabbi from Atlanta to let them and others suffering in this country know that we are with them to whatever extent was possible.

Yossi and Moshe were moved that we had come to bring this chizuk, this strength and support. Then Yossi surprised me by getting up and leading me to the board with the pictures. And one by one tell the story of how each one was slain.

Who was trapped in their house and hunted, who fell as they fought back letting others escape. Whose house was burned or were in a bomb shelter when a grenade was thrown in. Who was tricked into coming out of hiding by a terrorist pretending to be someone coming to rescue them. And how no one did come to rescue them as they fought, fled, and died.

This encounter was not set up and was completely unexpected. I am not sure how many times Yossi has told this story. I do know that none of the people who managed to escape from Netiv HaAsara have actually escaped from that day and I would imagine most have not put their experiences into such words. Hearing them, as Geoff predicted, was as impactful an experience as I could have possibly imagined when I decided to come for this personal solidarity mission. We left the hotel and headed to the airport with the words imprinted on my heart and that which will never be put into words burrowing into an even deeper place within.

This week we will say kaddish for these nineteen individuals who were slain amongst the 1200 others who were murdered by Hamas and in solidarity with the countless others whose lives were overturned.

May healing come in body and soul, and the memories of all those who were murdered never be forgotten and never be ignored.

Mon, July 15 2024 9 Tammuz 5784