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July 28, 2014 / 1 Av, 5774
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Kfar Darom: Pioneers – Then And Now

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Kfar Darom was initially established in 1946, but subsequently captured by the Egyptians during the War of Independence.  It was resettled after the Six-Day War as a Torani yishuv that included 80 families who led well-rounded lives, engaging in Torah and chesed and advanced agricultural enterprise. Kfar Darom was destroyed during the expulsion from Gush Katif and is presently rehabilitating and rebuilding itself in the western Negev. Its story is one of courage, faith and hope.

The three units were gathered together and the orders for the operation were read to them. The objective was to reach Kfar Darom and evacuate its residents when Egyptian forces were controlling the area. We began to travel during the night and Bren was leading us. We arrived at the area in trucks with double panels filled with sand. On the way we stopped at a small bridge passing over a water conduit and when Bren’s scout got off to check the area, he discovered a large anti-vehicle mine. One of our demolition experts detonated it and we continued on our way, very warily, intending to avoid as much as possible any contact with the Egyptian army. This is an excerpt of a description by Michael Koker, one of the fighters sent to help save the residents of Kfar Darom under siege during the War of Independence.

Kfar Darom was established two years before the State of Israel declared independence.  A group of young men established a core of settlement in the south of Israel, in an area surrounded by a scattered Arab population from various tribal families. Once independence was declared, Arab attacks were instigated and these attackers considered Kfar Darom one of their targets. Kfar Darom’s settlers, with the meager resources at their disposal, attempted to halt the Egyptian offense. It was later learnt that these fighters’ bravery played a crucial role in delaying the advance of Egyptian forces towards Tel Aviv.

After the Six-Day War, Kfar Darom was resettled as a Nachal outpost of Bnei Akiva, and later, in 1990, a civilian settlement was established and the ancient, original name attributed to this place during the period of the Mishna, Kfar Darom, was adopted. It was a community of pioneers, committed to leading a life of Torah and chesed, but also harboring Zionistic aspirations, and a wish to rebuild the Negev and make it bloom. The Gush Katif region set a standard for modern pioneering. Among its residents were families who abandoned all that they possessed in the center of the country and arrived at these sandy lands to rebuild a Jewish settlement adjacent to Gaza. And it was the land that obeyed and yielded to their construction and activity.  Advanced agriculture was developed and enormous amounts of crops were grown, a large part of these for world-wide, international export.

The settlement established its own educational network for pre-school children (day-care centers and kindergartens), but school-age children traveled to school in the settlement of Atzmona. Kfar Darom also founded a kollel for hora’ah and dayanut, in which scores of avreichim studied. Corresponding to the development and advances achieved in agriculture, a Torah and Research Institute was founded to engage in the application of the mitzvot hateluyot ba’aretz and educate and inform the public on this topic. (This Institute continues to function successfully until day.)

Kfar Darom was the recipient of unique spiritual assistance and support from the former Admor of Sadigura, Rav Avraham Yaakov Friedman ztl, who was a close friend of the father of the yishuv’s rav, Rav Schreiber. “He really embraced us, and when we underwent traumatic and difficult experiences, he empathized with us to such an extent that he personally felt the pain and suffering that we did,” relates Rav Schreiber.  “To our dismay,” he says sadly, “the Admor died about a year ago. But we have merited that his son, Rav Yisrael Moshe Friedman, continues in his father’s footsteps and also maintains a warm and special connection with Kfar Darom.
As the years passed, terror attacks were launched against the settlement. The climax of these transpired in the year 2000, when a children’s bus from Kfar Darom drove over a bomb planted in its path. Two teachers were killed and scores of children wounded, some of whom are still crippled. Immediately following the attack, the Israeli government decided to establish a local school in Kfar Darom for its children.

During these terror-ridden years, five members of Kfar Darom were killed and tens of residents wounded, including babies and children. But despite it all, the residents resumed their daily routine. For many years, with undaunted bravery and courage, they withstood the continued attacks and terrorism and refused to surrender to the pressure. This was in keeping with the legacy of the early fighters of Kfar Darom who symbolized Jewish courage, determination and bravery.

In 2005, the Israeli government, led by Ariel Sharon, decided to evacuate the residents of Gush Katif, destroy their settlements completely and transfer the entire region to our enemies. Together with all the other residents of the Gush, the members of Kfar Darom tried in any way possible to prevent this national and personal disaster from occurring, but to no avail.  Demonstrations and rallies were held throughout the country.

 “I remember that August, as if it was now. It was hot – from the heat of the burning sun and the heat emanating from the hearts of the girls and boys from all over Israel who gathered together in Kfar Darom. These are the words of Tali Sudri, a resident of Kfar Darom and teacher at the school. “I considered these youth to be proud emissaries, it was obvious to them that we can’t give up on Eretz Yisrael, it was obvious to them that have to take action… to fight, to pray unceasingly, that the decree be annulled, and assert that nothing will tear apart our beloved country… but the decree had been cast.

In the month of Av, August 2005, Gush Katif was destroyed and Kfar Darom with it, and, for the second time, it fell into enemy hands. Kfar Darom’s community was sent to live for about half a year in a hotel in Beer Sheva. Its residents’ vibrant community life, flourishing agriculture, and daily living in open areas and nature-filled surroundings were torn away, and they were forced to create community living in a hotel, in rooms the size of only 25 square meters! The rabbi of Kfar Darom demanded that schools resume lessons and that studies not halt for even one day. The kollel students continued to study in the hotel, and the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel relocated to Ashkelon.

Those were difficult days, but we knew that our strength lies in continuation – in continuing to study Torah and care for each other and continue doing acts of chesed, relates Rav Schreiber. “Over the years, Kfar Darom had served as a symbol and lighthouse of faith in Hashem and the courage to hold on to the land at any cost. Our brothers succeeded where our enemies failed, and this was very painful to us.

From the hotel, the Kfar Darom community moved into an apartment complex in Ashkelon, with the intention of residing there for a minimal interim period until they would find a permanent location in which to re-establish the settlement. This temporary relocation lasted for about six years during which its members became involved and active in realms of Torah and chesed within the various neighborhoods of Ashkelon. However, city life presented great hardships to those accustomed to life in a settlement, and eventually, a suitable location was found and the community of Kfar Darom went on to establish a new yishuv in the western Negev, which they named Shavei Darom – Returnees to Kfar Darom, from the Hebrew root shav – to return.

It’s like putting fish back into water, says Oz Kadmon, one of the founders of Kfar Darom. “To take kids who are used to running around barefoot and playing with pets in the yard and stuff them into a concrete box on the tenth floor, is akin to ‘cruelty to animals’” – this he explains to us while harnessing his horse. “Our kids are accustomed to living in open spaces, visiting hothouses every day and smelling the smells of the earth. It’s a special childhood experience… and now, baruch Hashem, we have merited this once again.

 Kfar Darom’s community settled in the regional municipality of Merchavim, not far from the city of Netivot. “We are establishing the settlement from a complete zero,” explains Uriel Nachum. “Here, the lands upon which there are houses today, was growing potatoes and carrots a year ago. Today, baruch Hashem, this land is growing and will grow life. About a month ago, we received the last authorization for the development of plots of land for the absorption of 200 families, and we are vigorously continuing our activities.  And indeed, just like a developing fetus acquiring form and substance, the yishuv is being built and plans are becoming a tangible reality.

Just look at the children’s faces, this tells us the whole story, Ami Giat, the chairman of the school board smilingly tells us. “Watch how they’re riding their bikes freely, something they couldn’t do when living in the hi-rise apartment complex in Ashkelon.

I insist that you come visit our school, Uriel begs of us, “It’s the only school in the world that was founded in the wake of a terrorist attack targeting schoolchildren. We enter the area of temporary prefab structures housing classes one through eight. During lessons, silence reigns in the classrooms and we ask Rav Noam, the school principal, if he’s sure that there are pupils here.  He smiles and replies, “In our schools, we learn! That’s why our school has doubled in size since we transferred here from Ashkelon, and this year includes about 150 pupils. These pupils come from our yishuv and from the entire surrounding region. Unfortunately, the conditions are sub-standard. The children don’t have adequate play areas during recess time, the classrooms don’t have the required security protection they need, being located within close range of missile fire from Gaza, and in times of war, there is no shelter area if sirens are sounded.

We still have a long way to go, and need partners to accompany us on this path, Uriel adds. “The families living here are real pioneers, just like the pioneers who settled Israel at the time of its establishment. To arrive at an open-spaced area, lacking any infrastructure, and begin their lives anew, to build and be built here in the Negev, is an unsurpassed Zionistic endeavor.

And, indeed, everywhere you look, you can see practical progress – trees are being planted, gardens are growing, there is an active and functioning Beit Knesset, as well as a kollel, a school and activities for youngsters; and if you keep in mind that the lives of these families were so abruptly severed more than 8 years ago, all this is very hard to believe.

We invite any and everyone who reads this article, to participate with us in our Zionist activity, to come and visit our new settlement in the Negev, and become a partner with us in its establishment.
A representative of the settlement is presently visiting the New York area, together with the Admor of Sadigura, in an effort to promote the development of the yishuv and its institutions.

To assist the settlement of Kfar Darom, please contact Uriel Nachum at 972-54-7800731 or urielnachum@gmail.com.

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After the Six-Day War, Kfar Darom was resettled as a Nachal outpost of Bnei Akiva, and later, in 1990, a civilian settlement was established and the ancient, original name attributed to this place during the period of the Mishna, Kfar Darom, was adopted.

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