“Who would have believed that hundreds of Kassam rockets would be fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli towns all the way up to Beersheba?” Shlomo asks rhetorically. “Who would believe that our best youth, expelled from Gush Katif, would have to return there to fight in Operation Cast Lead? My own son was drafted into one of the elite units and entered the Gaza Strip during the war. After returning unharmed, he told us, ‘I got a “whiff” of our old home.’ ”
* * * * *
Two years ago, on Chanukah, the late Rabbi Menachem Porush, who had been a long-time Knesset member, visited the museum. He was 95 years old at the time and in a wheelchair. As he was led through the rooms, he burst into tears. After his two-hour visit, he wrote in the visitors’ book, “What can I say or speak? The feelings experienced in this museum, which commemorates the life of 25 flourishing Jewish settlements in the land of Israel, are indescribable. The houses destroyed, the families expelled, the life shattered for thousands of wretched families who have been cruelly plucked from their communities and land, and thrown into mobile homes until today – without livelihood, homes, or the wherewithal to support their families as they had until this cruel expulsion.”
My visit is coming to an end and I ask Rabbi Wolpo what the museum is doing now to help the evacuees.
“Many of the expelled families have already used up all the compensation received from the government,” Rabbi Wolpo replies. “They’re paying the bank a mortgage for their destroyed home in Gush Katif, together with high rent for their present leaky mobile homes in Nitzan or Yad Binyamin. Many simply don’t have money to buy bread.
“That’s why we established a Kindness Center to supply food baskets for these families for Shabbat and Yom Tov. It also helps their children get school bags and other school supplies.”
On a table I notice an eight-page multi-colored bulletin under the name Eretz Yisrael Shelanu – “Our Land of Israel.”
“Whoever observes the results of the previous withdrawals, and considers the present revolutionary upsets in the Arab world, yet still speaks of further expulsions from Judah and Samaria and the establishment of a terrorist state in the heart of this land – is either insane or is an agent of our enemies,” Rabbi Wolpo tells me.
“That’s why we publish a biweekly bulletin which gives the true picture of our security situation, our right to the entire Land of Israel, and the ways to reach a true peace. Every two weeks, 100,000 copies are disseminated throughout Israel. The bulletins are snatched up like hot cakes. If we could afford it, we would publish it every week and could easily distribute many hundreds of thousands of copies.”
I notice a page in the bulletin about “A Day of Fun for Children.”
Rabbi Gefen explains, “The children of Gush Katif, expelled from their homes, and experiencing every day their families’ unfortunate situation, have become broken in spirit. It’s our duty to encourage them to hope for better times. The children of Judah and Samaria as well are deeply afraid that if a Palestinian state is established, God forbid, their settlements will be uprooted. So we arrange for them, at least three times a year, a “Day of Fun.” We rent an amusement park for the kids to enjoy themselves, and we invite them all to come with their parents, at our expense. They enjoy themselves and forget about their troubles.”
I ask Rabbi Wolpo how the museum and its many projects are maintained.
“Without help from the public, it’s difficult to maintain and expand these vital activities,” he says. “Many Jews around the world believe in the integrity of the Land of Israel and identify with the themes expressed here at the museum, in our bulletin and at the Kindness Center. We’re sure they’ll offer help by becoming partners in this important cause.”
He adds that plans are underway for a dinner in Brooklyn on February 22 in honor of the museum and its activities, with the participation of important guests. Full details are still being ironed out. He urges all interested individuals to e-mail him (email@example.com) or visit www.sos-israel.com or www.gushkatif.022.co.il for more information.
Devora Spitzer lives with her husband and six children in the settlement of Mata, in the Eila Valley. She is a sixth-generation resident of Israel, descended from Jews born in Hebron. Many of her family members were murdered in the 1929 Arab pogrom.