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Sirens, Loud and Close

May 9, 2009 | by Sara Yoheved Rigler

My night of despair and tragedy, and their only antidote.

The night started in depression and ended in tragedy.

Dahlia N., who lost two teenaged sons in a terrorist bombing at a family Bar Mitzvah three years ago, told me on the phone that her husband has been out of work for months. He suffers from depression and insomnia, and after being awake all night, was simply incapable of reporting for work in the morning.

"Has he tried anti-depression medication?" I suggested.

"Several different kinds," Dahlia replied. "Nothing helps."

Disheartened, I hung up the phone and checked the news. The lead article reported that Israeli intelligence experts are predicting a new wave of terrorism in the wake of the Disengagement. A related article reported the fortification of school buildings in Ashkelon and Ashdod, Israeli cities north of the Gaza Strip which are now expected to become targets for Kassam rockets fired from Gaza.


I was interrupted by a knock on the door. Eli, a friend from the Golan Heights, and his family stood there looking tired and discouraged. Over apple juice in our living room they told their story:

Since Eli is a builder, they had made the four-hour journey to Nitzan, where 320 "caravillas" [mobile homes] were hastily thrown up to accommodate families evicted from Gush Katif. Having heard harrowing news reports about the state of the caravillas (not enough access roads, no shudders, no air-conditioning, thin plaster-board walls incapable of holding cabinets or shelves), Eli volunteered his services.

One man told him that his Gush Katif home, presently being bulldozed, was 300 sq. meters. His large family was now cramped into a 90-sq. meter caravilla. "This whole house is the size of my kitchen in my home, I mean, what used to be my home," he corrected himself. Of course, only a fraction of the family's furniture fits into the caravilla. The rest sits outside, an easy prey for thieves and weather damage. Two displaced Gush Katif families in Nitzan have already had their belongings stolen from outside their caravilla.

Another family, whose daughter is due to be married next Monday night, told him that they had been required to lay out 21,000 shekels [about $4,800], to be eventually reimbursed by the Israeli government, to pay for the containers and the moving van. Now they have no money to pay for their daughter's wedding.

And these families are the fortunate ones. The residents of Netzar Hazani are camped out in tents in a Tel Aviv park. The Tel Avi municipality has informed them that they'll be evicted immediately after this Shabbat.

Even those "lucky" enough to be housed in hotels for the first ten days of their "exile" wander around shell-shocked. "They're war refugees," Eli says, "Jewish war refugees."


A half hour after we saw Eli and his family off, we heard a loud cracking sound. It sounded like a bomb. A few minutes later, we heard the sirens, loud and close. Was it a suicide bombing? We ran to the radio and the internet, but there was no news yet.

Some 15 minutes later, my daughter got word from her friend whose father works for the Burial Society: Two Jews had been stabbed by an Arab in the shuk [Arab market], a three-minute walk from our house. Frantically, we checked the news again. This time it had it: one Jew was in serious condition, the other in moderate condition.

One Old City rabbi said that we couldn't simply stand idly by the blood of our brother.

We stopped and recited Psalms especially for the recovery of the young man in "serious condition." Later we found out that it wasn't true. The first paramedic to arrive on the scene told my friend that by the time he reached him the young man was without a pulse. Heroic efforts to resuscitate him failed.

Then the phone call came: an impromptu demonstration would be held at 10:15 near the spot of the murder. One Old City rabbi said that we couldn't simply stand idly by the blood of our brother.

A small crowd of our neighbors gathered at the entrance to the shuk. There we heard the story in bits and pieces: two young yeshiva students had been walking toward the Kotel. An Arab had stabbed them both with a large kitchen knife and fled. Although two nearby Arab stalls, with telephones, were still open at that time, neither shopkeeper moved to help the wounded men nor even to telephone the police. The wounded friend had to run to the police station, some 40 meters away, to get help. One policeman belatedly gave chase and fired his gun into the air. That was the loud cracking sound we had heard.

One of the Jewish Quarter residents lit memorial candles, and we stood there, 50 distraught, heartsick Jews, and recited psalms in unison for half an hour. We did not know whether to be more angry or frightened.

The Zaka vehicle arrived to soak up the victim's blood with a special sawdust-like substance so that it could be buried with him.


We then got word that the murdered young man was due to be married soon. It was more than I could bear. I broke down and cried.

My friend Penny put her arm around me and took me aside. Her daughter had returned from a harrowing month in Gush Katif with a story that Penny shared with me:

A woman in one of the Gush Katif communities had lost her son in a terrorist attack. He was buried in Gush Katif, and his remains would have to be moved as part of the evacuation. This, and starting her life over again in a new place with new people, was too much for her to face. She told the soldiers who came to evacuate her that she was going to kill herself.

Rabbi Motti Alon arrived on the scene. He said to the woman, "You can kill yourself, and then you'll lead us all into despair. Or you can go forward with courage, and then you'll lead us all into hope. Which do you choose?"

The woman stood up, gathered up some of her belongings, and got onto the waiting bus.

Every single Jew, Penny told me, is that woman. If one of us gives in to despair, that one leads others into despair.

I wiped the tears from my cheeks, went home, and even at that late hour, called Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller. "How do I ward off despair?" I asked her.

"The only solution is unity among Jews. Our salvation will not come from any other place."

She told me that the only solution to Israel's terrible predicament is clearly stated by the prophet Zephaniah, in the very same chapter where he prophesizes: "Gaza will be deserted, Ashkelon will become a wasteland, they will drive out Ashdod's residents at noon ..." [2:4] The chapter begins with the admonition: "Gather yourself together and gather each other."

"The only solution," Rebbetzin Heller asserted, "is unity among Jews. Our salvation will not come from any other place."

Where to begin? I think I'll go bake a cake and take it to the Gush Katif evacuees being housed in a cheap downtown Jerusalem hotel.

Any other ideas for hands-on Jewish unity?

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