Monday, January 31, 2005

A winding road to Sderot

In the morning, we had a "breakfast briefing" -- really more of a lecture/discussion (oh yes, the breakfast was again super-good) with Matt Rees, author of Cain's Field: Fear, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East. Mr. Rees is also the Time Magazine Jerusalem Bureau Chief, so what he had to say was great. I was impressed with what he had to say and some of his opinions. I was also impressed with myself, because I have his book sitting on my desk at Am Shalom -- I just bought it and haven't had a chance to read it. So now I'm excited to go home and read it.

After breakfast, we got back on our bus, to go to Beit Guvrin and Tel Moresha and with the ultimate goal of Sderot. Frankly, I knew it would be a bit of a windy road, so I took some Israeli dramamine....

First we stopped at Tel Moresha/Beit Guvrin. It was beautiful (wait to see my pictures) and the weather was gorgeous. We got to go into a few caves with Bernie Alpert, a Highland Park-er who runs Dig for a Day and Archaeological Seminars, and that was really cool. We did not have to do any digging, or anything like that -- and I'm quite glad. I think everyone in the group has done some archaeology stuff while in Israel. This was a nice reminder of it, though, and there were things in these caves that I've not seen before.

Then we got back on the bus and continued on to Chicago's Partnership 2000 region of Kiryat Gat/Lachish/Shafir. We visited a center called Yedid that helps out Israeli citizens with dealing with municipal or government bureaucracies. It was a great place that did great work. Then we went on to have lunch with French olim (immigrants) and we talked to them about their aliyah experiences. It was nice to speak in Hebrew to them -- it was a common language for us. Most of them didn't speak English (being from France, French tended to be their native language) but all had a basic beginning of Hebrew. Some had only been in Israel for a few weeks! It was nice to share a meal with them, though. We were greeted by the mayor of the town and had an enjoyable meal (yes the food was good. seems to be a bit of a mantra with me, doesn't it?)

Then we went to the Kuf-2 Army Post, adjacent to Kibbutz Nir-Am near Sderot (I copied that right out of our mission booklet!), and we met with soldiers there. We gave them gifts (we'd packed boxes for them on Friday) of snacks and one of the rabbis in our group (no shortage) gave a Mi Sheberach for the Israeli Army, and specifically for these soldiers. It was very emotional, especially since this army post overlooks Gaza City and is in constant line of fire. These young men go out on patrol every night and are really on the front lines. They took us up onto a lookout point and I took pictures of Gaza (pictures will be forthcoming, perhaps here or otherwise you'll have to ask me for them) and of the soldiers. It was a really crazy experience -- to feel so close to the danger zones that many Israelis live with on a daily basis.

Next we stopped by a Jewish Agency student village for new olim, a village called Ibbim. We met with young people (18ish) who had made aliyah from the FSU or South America or Ethiopia. This was a place where they could live together and deal with the issues of aliyah with their peer group. This village has also been under fire from Gaza lately (Kassam rockets) and we saw a few shells that they had to show us. It's got to be scary to make aliyah, join a youth village, and then have to sleep in a bomb shelter.

Then we went into Sderot, a city that has come under Kassam rocket fire a lot lately and been in the news for it a lot. We met with a young girl named Rotem whose home in Sderot was destroyed on her birthday. Such a sad story but thank God her family was all okay. Still, she was only about 14, and she spoke beautifully to us (in Hebrew). Then we met with deputy mayor (or something like that) of Sderot. We were supposed to meet with the mayor, but he was called out of town. This guy talked about all the people who've been killed lately, etc. I have to say that his message was not really exactly what I think we should have taken away with us. I mean, people stay in Sderot, and when we asked Rotem why, she said, "this is my home." I think that message was a lot more powerful than telling us about remembering the dead -- to remember all the living and what they go through and the choices that they've made to stay and be in this town.

After visiting Sderot, we broke out the Osem snacks (love Israel!), because by this time it was about 5:30pm, and we were hungry. I am partial to the Bissli snacks myself, in the Grill flavor. What exactly is Grill flavor? I can't tell you that but I can indeed tell you that it is good. Although it can be bought in the USA, I don't usually buy it because it is not exactly health food. But while here...mmm....

Then we arrived in Jerusalem and a group of us wandered the Mercaz Ha-Ir until we got hungry enough for dinner (all those snacks, you know), and we went to Rimon Cafe where we all had soup again! It was a long day but generally very enjoyable. I certainly learned a lot, and we travelled a long way!

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