Thursday, 15 January 2009

Life In Israel During the War in Gaza

Recently I was asked what life is like in the war zone or during the war currently taking place in Gaza. I was asked as to whether I live directly in the war zone. The truth is that if you live in Eretz Yisrael, when a war occurs in any part of the country, all are affected. In this article, I would like to illustrate just a few ways in which my own life has been and is being impacted.

My husband and I are Olim Chadashim, currently living in Beitar Illit. We often hear planes flying overhead, but usually, Shabbos is quiet, except of course for the children and Shabbos Zemiros. Just two weeks ago, we were woken on Friday night by a strange sound. The planes were flying overhead, very low, very loud and at an unusual hour. Unable to switch on lights, we wondered what best to do.

We recited a few Tehillim, learnt a little Torah, and returned to sleep. The rest of Shabbos for us seemed like just another Shabbos, but no sooner had we completed Havdala than we discovered those planes were for a reason. The war in Gaza had begun.

Yes, we are in Beitar Illit and the war is in Gaza, but our lives too are directly affected. Firstly, I have a first cousin who some 20 or more years ago was stationed in the army on Kibbutz Nachal Oz. When she got married to a childhood sweetheart who had also been stationed on the same kibbutz, they decided to settle and build their home on Kibbutz Nachal Oz. If anyone knows the geography of Israel, this kibbutz is right there just near Gaza.

Although my cousin returned her soul to Hashem a few years ago, her widower still lives there and hears every sound of missiles and other events taking place. Thank G-d their three children are currently elsewhere in Israel, but each weekend, should they wish to return home for Shabbos, they have to consider whether it is wise to, or rather wait till after the war.

My aunt, my late father’s only sibling, lives in Ashdod. For quite some time we have been trying to work out when to visit. Of course now is not the best time. When I called her after the first rocket hit Ashdod, we talked about the situation. The rocket hit just 5 minutes away from her home. As the siren went off and they had seconds to run to their bomb shelter, they discovered that a neighbour had used the area for a storeroom. Rapidly they returned to stand in their passage, the only area free of windows, and hope for the best.

Winter had begun. It is really cold, and yet my aunt and uncle, pensioners who need to keep warm, were suddenly without electricity. True to the Jewish attitude, my aunt responded, “We will put on an extra jersey and wait for the electricity to be restored.”

A day later, again there was something in Ashdod. This time I asked my aunt what she would do when she needs to do shopping or run an errand. “Life goes on”, was her reply. “Yes we have to be aware of where we can run to shelter if we need to, but if you have to go out, you go out. On the good side,” she continued, “One of the best things of a stressful time is that everyone in Israel comes together.”

Being prevented from visiting family is just one area that affected us. However, our work too has been affected. Since I am in the process of setting up a private practice, a colleague suggested that I meet with someone who is needing an experienced OT for an expanding private practice in Ashdod. When I discussed with a friend the pro’s and con’s of considering working a few days a week in a position that would require 2-3 hours of travelling each way, her response was, “You CAN’T go now. No you can’t go now. Wait till the war is over and if the position is for you it will still be there.”

In addition to occupational therapy and alternative therapy, my husband and I are also involved in photography of Smachot. Just a few months ago, I gave a massage to a Kallah the day before her wedding. This Kallah happens to live in Beer Sheva and we have been working on how to meet up so that she can have another massage and consult with us regarding setting up a beautiful album of her wedding photographs. When the war in Gaza began to affect Beer Sheva, my first thought was of this Kallah.

We know others in the area too. To each of them we offer that they can come to stay with us if they wish to have a break from the war zone. Thus far their response is, “Thanks for caring, but life continues. We are OK. Yes there are a few rockets going off each day, but life continues.”

A few days ago, I had occasion to go into Yerushalayim. Travelling on the Egged Bus, two scenes caught my attention. The bus driver had the radio on, and the news began with a report of something taking place in Beer Sheva. Someone called out for everyone to keep quiet, and everyone did. There was absolute silence as a bus load of Jews listened to what was happening to our brethren in another part of Israel. As the report came to an end, those who had Tehillim out continued to recite Tehillim, others reached into their bags for Tehillim to say, some just sat quietly.

Later that day, on another bus, a comment caught my attention. The bus was crowded and one person shouted at another for wanting to get by to sit down. The response was not an argument, but rather an observation and request. “There is already a war in Eretz Yisrael, let us be peaceful.”

Each day I am sent names to add to my international Tehillim-group list – names of soldiers who have been injured together with names of others who need our prayers during this situation in Israel. Each day I hear another mitzvah project being set up to increase merit for Am Yisrael. Each day I hear of updates of the soldiers who have been brought into hospitals in Yerushalayim for medical attention.

A very beautiful project began to partner with a soldier and do Tehillim and Torah learning in their merit, davening to Hashem to keep them safe. We too, have joined this project and set aside a little time each day to daven for our soldier.

Each day I am sent stories of something taking place. Just yesterday a friend in Tzfas shared a story from an Oleh Chadash who made Aliya to Ashdod. One of the cutest has been the introduction to a shiur by a rabbi in Yerushalayim. This particular shiur is heard world wide via the internet. His shiur began: “Welcome from Yerushalayim and another typical war day.” My husband and I smiled at the irony with the expression and the reality.

The war might physically be taking place in the South of Israel and that is typically regarded as the war zone. However, a war in Israel affects all of Israel and so it should. Together we stood at Sinai and received the Torah. Together we unite to fight each war. Just as an entire body is affected when a person is ill (G-d forbid). The immune system sends out little soldiers to fight an infection or other ailment and the whole body is affected in some way or another. So too, during each war in Israel, no matter what part of the geography, we are all affected in some way.

Those outside of Israel think that only Israel is affected. Those in Israel may think that only Gaza is affected. The truth is, we – Am Yisrael, are in actuality all affected – by events happening even thousands of miles away.

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