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Today's article is by Rabbi Rachel Blatt


  

In 2018, I visited for the first time Netiv Ha’Asarah, a moshav, which is an agricultural Israeli settlement similar to a kibbutz. A woman named Tsameret Zamir gave us a tour.  She explained that there weren’t enough bomb shelters in their community.  Not that all the people who lived there wouldn’t fit into them, but that they weren’t close enough together.  The moshav is the closest community to the Gaza Strip, about 400 meters to the closest neighborhood in northern Gaza.  

 

Tsameret told us that many of the people in Netiv Ha’Asarah were lovers of peace, and many of them had built relationships with residents of Gaza.   When the fence was built between the Gaza Strip and Israel, it was decided that Netiv Ha’Asarah needed not only a fence, and not just a wall, but rather three walls to separate them from Gaza.  On one of these walls, Tsameret made a mural which said “Netiv l’Shalom” Path to Peace, which was also displayed in English and in Arabic.  The mural is community-made.  Anyone who visits can have the opportunity to add a tile to the wall.

Hamas, however, hasn’t responded with the same feeling of peace.  Over the years, Hamas built a tower that looked into the moshav.  Residents were sent pictures that were taken from Gaza with close-ups through their windows.  And it became apparent on October 7th that they knew exactly who lived in each home on the moshav, with a detailed map and list of residents.  For some time, there was even a large sign hanging from the tower that declared in red letters, “We will destroy you.”

When I visited Netiv Ha’Asarah last week, it felt like an entirely different place.  We were led through the neighborhood by a woman named Hilla.  Hilla is a farmer who grew up in the community.  The very first rocket that fell in the moshav many years ago, fell in the middle of her tomato farm.  They laughed at how the rocket barely made a dent in the ground.  They felt that it was going to be more of a distraction than create destruction.  As the rockets got bigger, faster, and more advanced, however, the moshav began to take them more seriously.  There were shelters and safe rooms attached to every building and placed along the road so that you could run to one within 15 seconds of the siren going off. When we met Hilla last week, she was one of only a few people living on the moshav.  Everyone else had been evacuated.  She stayed behind to take care of her farm.

On October 8, a big art festival had been planned for the community.  Bilha, an artist, had created beautiful artwork to present including signs that said “this is our home” in Hebrew.  As we walked through the neighborhood, Hilla told us of the families who had lived there and some of whose homes still stood, but whose residents were no longer alive.  There was the man who saw terrorists approaching his daughter’s home, which was directly behind his.  He distracted them so they would go away from her home, and they came for him instead.  He was shot, but survived.  His wife did not.  

There was Gil, who saved his two sons, getting them into the safe room. But he was killed when terrorists threw a grenade that Gil jumped on top of to save his sons.  The terrorists then dragged the kids into the house to make sure the father was really dead, drank a soda from the fridge, and left.  The two boys were able to run to their mother’s home where they hid for another 12 hours.

Then we stopped at a home that had completely burnt down.  It was the home of Bilha and Yaakov Yinon.  They had locked their doors and hidden in their safe room.  When the terrorists couldn’t enter, they set the house on fire.  It completely burnt down.  All that was left was a foundation and the beautiful artwork that surrounded their home.  Behind the home were two cars, completely burnt through.  They still haven’t found Bilha’s body, though they are sure she didn’t survive and was not taken as a hostage.

At the end of the day, we got back on the bus and Hilla said she wanted to show us one more place.  I knew she was going to take us to the see the mural, to talk about the peace that the residents of Netiv Ha’Asarah dreamed of.  I wanted to hear how they were going to move forward.  The bus began to pull out, turning toward the front of the kibbutz instead of toward the back, and she said “no, turn left, we’re going one more place”.  The sun had just set.  It was quickly getting dark.  Our bus driver responded in Hebrew, “No, I’m too scared.  We’re not going to the border.”  She said okay, said a quick goodbye, and got off the bus.  

I know that these stories are hard to read.  It was hard to hear and witness.  Each story that Hilla told us was a tragedy and each life an entire world.  She told us that even though they are hard to hear, we must tell every story.  These were her friends.  These were people who were heroes.  I could have asked Hilla before she left about the path to peace, but I’m not sure there is an answer.  The path they take now is peace for themselves, so they can make it back home when they are ready.

 

 

Mon, March 4 2024 24 Adar I 5784