An oasis, that is how I describe the place I visited this weekend. 2 nights and three days in an oasis. It wasn’t the type where there is a well of water in the desert, you arrive dying of thirst and in need of a shady tree.
This oasis was of an emotional spiritual type. In our everyday life, we see people mistreating each other, people so busy on cell phones that they have no time for one another and children engrossed in fantasy games. Common denominator is self-centered behavior.
I arrived in the muddy cold rain. Sidewalks are just a few stones. The “houses” were mobile homes. There are no televisions, no dishwashers, most families own no dryer, microwave or other such “essentials”. The children own no ipads, iphones, or tablets. They play outside until the streetlights come on! If it is too cold or rainy they play in each other’s homes. Every time I visit they kids come from one family to the next and play for hours, they eat dinner with the host family and it is spontaneous fun. There are no pre-arranged play dates, that is an idea that never enters their minds.
Ran out of sugar? Need some extra blankets, pacifiers, financial loan? No problem to walk over to a neighbor and borrow. Having guests and need a place for them to sleep? No problem, everyone offers their home when they go away. After birth? A death in the family? A family wedding or event? Count on the whole community to bake and help make the arrangements. Need a ride out of the community? People offer rides to anyone going their way.
The children! How pure and happy they are. They put on plays that they write, take care of siblings and help with chores. What amazes me is the connection between parents and children, they walk around arm in arm, and they really communicate between them. Parents are home at night and deep discussions are the norm. There are father-son learning programs every weekend, mother-daughter classes and affairs. There are classes for couples and evenings around a campfire for family enjoyment.
I wished I was young enough to do it all over again and raise my kids here. These homes are exactly what I had always dreamt of. Hearing families sing together and telling each other all about their week, going to the park to play together. I even saw a daughter putting rubber bands in her daddy’s hair while everyone laughed including the father.
Two years ago they were snowed in. For over a week they were unable to leave the community. During that time they had no electric power or water. They boiled snow on a gas stove! No complaints and no anger.
Whenever I visit people there they greet me with warmth and share their lives with me. It is so nice to get to know these families, there is a woman that in addition to working sews all of her and her daughter’s dresses, bakes cakes for all around her and babysits for anyone in need.
The land they live on is not fit for growing produce so many grow herbs and small vegetables on their small window sills. The family I visit planted gardens and during the spring it is a sight to see and smell. Come winter and everything blows away. No one moved there to farm, and animals need shelter during the winter months as well.
The view? Beyond your dreams! You can see Jordan, the Dead Sea and surrounding villages. Early morning you hear the Arab call to prayer, a church bell, and flocks of sheep. There are no machinery sounds, few cars and utter quiet.
This is the beginning of the end of my story. You see this beautiful little community is about to be torn down, it’s people are being “removed” from their homes. This warm community where the children have best friends, teachers, schools, after school parties and games, parents have work and religious gatherings is being destroyed.
Every Jewish child dreams of the Chanukah holiday, they make parties, light their menorah, enjoy school vacations, sleep-overs, and gifts. For the children in this community it will be the date that they are forced to leave their homes, for some of those children it is the home they were born in. For the children in this community what present would they like? To be told they won’t be taken out of their bed, their room, their home, their school and separated from their friends. They want their school party, the community games and shows. They want to wake up and find themselves at home.
I arrived there this time knowing it might be my last visit. I tried to memorize each item on the shelf, each picture on the wall, the children’s murals they had painted, even the shopping lists on the fridge. Each game on the shelf, the prayer books neatly arranged, coats on the rack. Those curtains, the bookshelves they built themselves. Tears and nausea were the physical expression for the pain. Sitting listening to their sweet voices raised in song knowing in three weeks they will be homeless made me so sad. For some of these families it is not the first time they are going to experience this, so I am angry and hurt.
News reports call them an “outpost” making it seem like a bunch of hormonal 18 year old guys looking for fight, not a bunch of preschoolers looking to play jump rope. We are not talking about a vigilante group trying to stir up trouble. These are plain simple quiet people just looking for a quiet way to live. Their men and boys serve in the army and are upstanding loyal citizens.
Visiting a family I noticed an unusual candelabra. It was a heap of stones. These were the stones from their former house. Forced out of that home they built the candelabra from it’s rubble. As we sat around the table singing my heart burst from pain and admiration at the same time.
For those that will read this story, for those that might identify with the stories I am talking about the community of Amona. I spent this weekend there as a parent of one of the couples that will be thrown out on Chanuka. Parents of these couples came in masses to spend the weekend with their children bearing cake platters, cookies and nosh, and to bring spirit to the families. There were young couples that also came, they have never met the families here yet they felt compelled to show solidarity. They slept in tents and brought their own food. On Friday in the pouring rain I heard singing and dancing, and then a knock at the door. A group of Yeshiva students danced and sang uplifting songs, and gave us a paper of Torah thoughts.
I asked them where they are from. Sderot. I started crying as I am right now, Sderot is the town that has been in the news for years for missile attacks. They have a 15 second warning to go into their safe room. They have spent endless nights in shelters huddled together to avoid harm. There houses have been damaged by fragments of missiles, broken glass and many suffered personal injuries.
These boys came up from the South without proper rain gear and danced for Amona. They understood the feeling of being alone during attack, they know the feeling of staying positive when all around you is bleak. Those boys came to raise our cheer? Humility crept up on me as it would a few hours later.
The rain was pelting down with high winds and again a knock on the door, a woman from a nearby community bearing a cake and a note- “we love you”. The women from another community came bearing a home baked cake and the same note, they went from one home to the next delivering their goods.
Girls from a nearby high school baked rolls and delivered them door to door. Last night another group of boys, these were American boys showed up bearing a poster wishing the community luck and a chocolate bar attached.
We all gathered for a group brunch. There wasn’t even standing room in the synagogue. I looked at the cabinet that holds the Torah scrolls and saw the inscription “G-d is close to all that call out to Him” (Psalms). Picture every walk of life standing there, colors shades and culture. As the noodle pudding was passed around all exchanged smiles song and dance. One of the guests got up to speak and shared his respect and love for all those present. Children, hundreds of them received little snack bags and ran around their grandparents. There were some families consisting of four generations standing together.
The one word to describe it was love. I asked a few of the people that live there how this made them feel. There answer was the same, they felt loved, but that is all. No answers will come from this outpouring of love, they appreciate it and yet know come Chanuka they will be homeless.
I kept asking what can we do to help them. Networking, telling the world about their plight, explaining their dire situation in real terms, asking for prayers and donations for legal advisors and for moving expenses. One thing they asked was that we explain what the issue really is behind the scenes.
Amona is situated high up on a mountain side. (I hold on for dear life as we drive up the winding road). It serves as a strategic outpost to protect all the neighboring towns down below. If this land would fall into enemy hands the danger is real and immediate to hundreds of people in many towns below. The presence of this community serves to deter that danger. The government encouraged the people to move their and establish a community in order to protect the surrounding towns. Whenever a community is created safety is insured. This has been standing policy all around this small country. There are many communities like Amona, also established with the blessings of the government.
While the government will never allow the land to be inhabited by enemies, they will force the people of Amona to leave. If there really is an owner of the land they won’t want to live there ever, it is not land made for farming or animals. The government threw out the families of Amona in the past, remember the policeman on a horse trampling a young girl? The injured and traumatized are still citizens of Amona. They were moved by the government to different areas in Amona and now are going to be thrown out yet again.
What is needed? Find a way to settle the claim of ownership. Buy out the owner and allow the community to remain. It will cost the government less to do that than to treat the families for emotional illness caused by stress and trauma, unemployment payments for families that worked in the area, child benefits for the children that will suffer post trauma and to establish an army outlook point for the towns below.
The government can pass a regulation allowing the people to remain and bring about a compromise that will be beneficial to both sides. It is a choice; the government just must make that choice.
So what can we do? Share their plight with others, donate to the fund set up at this link. Add some prayers for the community. Let’s try to consider our list of friends, do you know a senator, congressman, president elect, a boss, a businessman, a good journalist, that you could enlist to help, perhaps using their talents to help get the Amona story out?
I am not a writer as you can see, I am not an influential person by any means but just a mother and grandmother that would like to help. So I turn to one and all to pitch in and make this Chanuka a bright and happy holiday for the community of Amona.
Thank you for reading and thank you for your time!