The family: Drs. Chai and Louna Roxane Chemla and their three sons made aliya from Paris about 17 years ago. Their eldest son is a rabbi in the prison system in Northern Israel and is married with five children. Their second son, who is a chef, is married with three children and lives in Jerusalem. Their youngest son who is studying to be a dentist is still single.
Then – Louna Roxane relates: “We moved to Gush Katif because it is where my husband found work as a doctor. I paint ceramic tiles and was looking for a store to sell them. The owner of one of the stores we visited in Tel Aviv told us that the community in Gush Katif was looking for a doctor. There was only one opening for a physician and we thought it was a good fit for my husband. That same day my husband received another offer – for a position in Tel Aviv. Now we had to make a decision. As we had never been to the Gush Katif area, my husband and I traveled to see the area. Coming from Paris I needed to live in a big town and I thought Neve Dekalim, the regional center and a nice size town, was beautiful. It was green, had many flowers and an ocean view. And so we choose Gush Katif.
“After a year and a half I found work as a physician in the town of Netivot. The Intifada began and I didn’t want to commute, as it was not safe. Eventually I built a small clinic in our home and began to treat the foreign workers from Thailand, China and India who worked in the Gush Katif agricultural hothouses. At the same I was writing the Sidra Gush Katif in French for French speakers who were living in Gush Katif. We lived in Neve Dekalim for almost 10 years.
Today: Chai is a family practitioner in Netivot. Until a couple of years ago Louna Roxane was working in a dialysis department.
Their house – then: Neve Dekalim gave the Chemla’s a temporary house for one month when they initially moved there. During that time they saw houses that were available with sea views, and rented one. Two years later they bought that home and enlarged it. Neighbors gave them cuttings from flowers and Louna Roxanne planted pink geraniums from Moshave Ganei Tal. They had a very large garden. They were very focused on making all the improvements using only Jewish laborers – and then the Intifada began. They stopped working on the house and took a wait and see approach.
Their house – now: They have just finished building their house in Nitzan. The building process, from the beginning to end, was very long. They built a small house and moved in one day before Yom Kippur of this year. They have a corner lot and a big garden just as they did in Neve Dekalim.
Day of uprooting from Neve Dekalim – Louna Roxane relates: “It was a difficult time for me. My husband had permission to stay until the very end because he was a doctor in Neve Dekalim. My youngest son went to be with his grandparents in Netanya because it was best for him. My two other sons were married and not living with us. My husband and I drove to the SELA office in Sderot where we were told to go to a hotel in Ashkelon in which some other people from Gush Katif were. I spent three days there and then SELA told me there was a place in Jerusalem for us. That is where my husband joined me.”
What we left behind: “I put my heart into transforming our house into a home and I feel a great loss. I painted ceramic tiles that couldn’t be removed from my kitchen walls. I miss those tiles. My mother phoned me just before the expulsion and told me not to cry because my house was now like a dead man. She told me not to cry because I am alive and that is most important. And perhaps she understood, because back in 1962 we lived in Algeria. I was four years old when our family had to leave as the French government gave Algeria back to the Algerians – and the French had to leave.”
Feelings toward the State: The Chemlas have both good and bad feelings. They are not a political family. They describe themselves more like ostriches putting their heads in the sand and not seeing what will happen. They vote in local elections but not for Knesset members. They believe that G-d helps the Jews and that there is a plan and Moshiach will come soon.
The biggest difficulty: Two years ago Louna Roxane was diagnosed with a brain tumor and as a result was not able to continue working on their home. It has taken some time, but now the house is ready. Each day she works on recuperating but the progress is slow. Now it is possible for her to walk better, clean the new house and slowly work in the garden even though she has not yet fully recovered.
What happened to their community? Everybody dispersed. The Chemlas were one of three Chabad families in Neve Dekalim. They moved there because they felt the Rebbe wanted them to help settle the land.
Something good that’s happened since: Baruch Hashem their family is growing – there are more grandchildren. They hope to continue to populate the land of Israel with their family.
What do you wish for yourselves? The Chemlas wish for good health for themselves, Louna Roxane in particular, and their family. They wish for their children to continue in their ways and be happy in their life.