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A Gazayra In Gaza

The Hebrew word gazayra means evil decree. Sometimes, a government decree is just that – an indisputably evil order, as when Pharaoh of Biblical times commanded the murder of all Hebrew male newborns. Sometimes, a troubling order is a necessary evil – as, for example, when land is confiscated in order to build a much-needed highway.

The Israeli residents of Gaza are faced with an evil decree. I am not an Israeli, nor do I live in Israel. As I see it, it’s not fair to “talk the talk” and expect others to “walk the walk”. I can’t give my personal opinion about whether the Sharon government’s plan to evacuate the Jewish communities of Gaza later this year is an unavoidable, justified evil, or an inexcusable one. All I can do is give a human face to the implications of this forced move.

Truth be told, until a few months ago, my perception of Gaza consisted of sun-baked sand dunes, camels, donkeys, and a few plucky but fanatical men, women and children living in makeshift caravan trailers, barely eking out a living.

And then…. I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Moshe Saperstein of Neve Dekalim, the largest self-contained town in what is collectively called Gush Katif. Moshe can best be described as a grizzly teddy bear. He is an American who made aliyah with his wife Rachel in the 1960′s, and a war hero who lost his right arm during the Yom Kipper War. Several years ago, he lost a few fingers from his remaining hand while taking out a sniper who he came upon while the “fighter of the holy Jihad” shot at passing cars filled with women and children.

During our chat, Moshe invited me to his home in Gaza whenever I was in the neighborhood. Later, when he emphatically stated with an impish glint in his eye that he “would never lift a hand against an Israeli soldier,” I knew that I would accept his gracious invitation. If for no other reason but to meet his wife, a true eishet chayil.

And so it came to be that I was in Israel sooner than I thought, courtesy of Nefesh B’Nefesh and El-Al (G-d willing, you’ll read about this soon). On this recent trip, I made my way to Gaza and to the Sapersteins who, like many Israelis, fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (hospitality) wholeheartedly.

Within seconds of arriving at Neve Dekalim, my mental image of the Jewish communities of Gaza was turned inside out. I found myself in a tropical paradise complete with waving palm trees heavy with dates, lemon trees in the front yards surrounded by a colorful smorgasbord of flowers, and a glistening Mediterranean Sea in the background.

I visited the Sapersteins and other families. All welcomed me to their homes, which were saturated with an aura of serenity and contentment. The windows everywhere were open to let in the glorious sunshine and the rejuvenating sea air. Over 500 hundred families from the four corners of the world have made this slice of Eden their home.

Rachel drove me around the town, and we visited the Ashkenazi and Sephardic shuls, both magnificent in the meticulous attention given to the detail highlighting their unique cultural designs. The Hesder Yeshiva is an architectural marvel, shaped both inside and out as a Magen David – the Jewish Star of David. No matter where you stand or from what angle you look, the six- pointed design is everywhere.

What struck me in particular was that there was no litter on the ground, no garbage anywhere – except in the trash bins. It became apparent that this place was built with love and bitachon – unwavering faith – the kind that can be found when someone believes that what he has is truly his. The residents view their homes and property the way parents view their children – theirs to nurture, to love, and to protect.

Neve Dekalim has its own hospital, schools, yeshivot, supermarkets, a post office, a zoo, a central library and playgrounds. It is not a trailer camp on sand dunes. It is a self-contained community with a thriving organic produce industry.

I asked Rachel if Gush Katif had a cemetery. It did. “What would happen if the disengagement took place?” I asked. In the past, non-Muslim cemeteries that have fallen into the hands of the Palestinians have been desecrated or paved over. Rachel shook her head and told me that all the bodies would have to be disinterred and reburied, necessitating the sitting of shiva all over again for the families of the deceased.

Those widowed would have to take a week off and have their emotional wounds opened again. Parents would have to rebury their lost children, children would have to mourn their dead parents. All over again.

It was at that moment that the full human implications of the disengagement plan hit me with the emotional equivalent of a Kassam missile.

The Gaza Disengagement Plan is more than a relocation program, where people are moved out of their neighborhood to another. It is an amputation, an abortion, where a part of these Jewish pioneers is going to be ripped out and the seeds of the future that were sown not come to pass. The land into which these people have put their hopes and aspirations, their sweat, blood and tears, is both their child and their mother, for they in turn sustain themselves physically and spiritually from this little bit of earth that they know as home.

I am not judging if this amputation is necessary for the greater good, or if it is an abomination that should never take place. All I know is that for its residents, Gaza is a living, beloved, precious entity.

And for those like Moshe, who have already lost a part of themselves – can they be expected to freely give up even more?

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