Yesterday was truly a day of contrasts. Divided between the old city of Jerusalem and the present day experience of Israelis living in the south. I am still trying to digest everything which we saw and heard during this packed day.
The Jerusalem element of the morning involved time at Ir David – the City of David, an archaeological site outside the walls of the Old City. Walking around the site, there is every chance that we were walking around the area where the Psalms were written, and where David’s Kingdom was centered. We walked through one of the newly excavated drainage tunnels and we spent time at Robinson’s Arch and then the steps leading up to the Old City. These were sites I had visited before, but it was amazing to see the changes and developments there since I last visited Jerusalem. And I of course could not resist going up to the Kotel to put a prayer into the wall; while I am very conflicted about the site (I look forward to hearing Anat Hoffman) it still has a certain power.
After Jerusalem we got into the bus to drive down South to visit with communities who are on the front line facing rockets from the Gaza Strip. In the bus on the way down we were told by our guide that if we heard an alarm while we were there we had to get into the nearest bomb shelter, and if there was no bomb shelter then we were to lie on the ground and cover our heads. When you go to the South of Israel you have to be prepared for the possibility that there will be a rocket fired over the border – it made things very real.
Our first stop was Moshav Netiv HaAsara, which is across from the north eastern corner of the Gaza Strip. This was a place where there are bomb shelters alongside the bus stop and where there is a school with a reinforced roof and no windows on the northern wall. This is the front line. The people who live there exist in a different reality with the constant threat of rockets and attacks from across the border. Hearing about the lives of the children, and the way it affects them was the most painful; running into bomb shelters is a regular part of their lives.
From there we went to Kibbutz Kfar Aza, another community from which you can see into the Gaza Strip, and unsurprisingly we heard a similar story. The primary concern was for their children and their wellbeing in the face of constant hostility. The lady who hosted us, Chen, told us that when she grew up she would go to the beach in Gaza and she would eat in the Arab restaurants; her son will have no similar experiences.
Our final mifgash (encounter) was with a developing Reform Jewish community at Shaar HaNegev. There we took a tour around the safest school in the world. Every element of the school’s construction is about ensuring both the mental and physical safety of their students. This school had to make decisions which no other school in the world is struggling with. How solid must the building be to withstand rocket attacks? Where should the teachers’ offices be situated to reassure the students that they are safe? How should it be laid out to encourage community in the face of adversity?
I have no idea what it is like to live in the face of the constant barrage of rockets and attacks from the Gaza Strip. But our encounters made the situation that much more real. The proximity is truly frightening. These people live in a reality which few could tolerate. And children are suffering in the front line of this conflict.
One theme we heard several times was that these people felt alone in the face of attacks from Gaza. Perhaps this is one place where the Diaspora Jewish community can be active in reminding these people that there is a Jewish world out there, worried and concerned for their safety. We need to remind them that we will make sure that they are never alone.