2023 Community at war
This isn't the newsletter we want. Its imperfect.
We wrote it between funerals, Shivas, voulenteering and running to shelters.
We wrote with broken hearts, trying to catch some moments and feelings from the last 3 weeks.
We thank you for standing with us
Zohar Dvir Rubinstein (President) and Yosef Baruch Fromer (Rabbi)
The ones missing
I don’t think there’s a family in Magen Avraham that doesn’t know a person or a family whose member\s were murdered, injured and/or kidnapped to Gaza. There have been more that 5 funerals of casualties in Omer, one of which our Rabbi officiated. It was the funeral of Nir Forti, an x Noam member, whose family is deeply rooted in our community. He was in the Night Party in Reim, and for 17 days his family waited for news about him. The first hopes were that he’s injured or kidnapped and alive in Gaza, but as time passed by, it became clear that there was very little hope, till one night one of MA members, who’s day job is running Omer’s welfare department, came with a security man to bring them the worst news possible. As I write these lines, I spare you from hearing all the details about our casualties and the condition they come in. But these are things I haven’t thought of in my worst nightmare.
Given the dimensions of this catastrophe, all we can do now is try to be there with them.
Someone’s Knocking on the door.
There are fears that an Israeli mother buries beneath the blankets on ordinary days. She strives to stay cool and calm, not to panic, not to waver, not to ask them too many questions.
Most days of the year, I manage to hide them under the covers. Usually, I worry about one at a time, but in the past two weeks, when both sons are drafted, the fears, the worries crawl up the walls, taking hold of thoughts.
Every knock on the door can be, the knock on the door. Every knock on the door can cause a heart attack or heartbreak.
But a mother must not be afraid, must not break, she is the home base, she needs to be the safe place to which they will return. Between the fears, the strengthening of the heart, volunteering, anger, sadness, grief, I take comfort in the fact that I'm not alone. There are 360,000 mothers, women of, fathers of, for whom every knock on the door has turned into the fear of knocking on the door.
Missile alerts during a musical tv relief
Our war routines
War routine, two opposites that have become an expression, in which there's no routine and there are many battles to win. Our routine of war includes:
Tired sleep, filled with fear and nightmares of horrors, sleep from which we wake up exhausted.
Many hours of watching the news, where horrors, sadness, anger, helplessness, and grief.
Running to the shelters once or twice a day, trying to calm the children, bring in the dogs, and steady our personal heartbeats, counting the interceptions and wondering if and where the missile fell.
Being far from loved ones because it's frightening to get in the car and drive; maybe there will be an alarm, and we'll have to lie on the ground.
Worrying about sons, brothers, friends who are on the borders, worrying about their well-being and soul in the situations they experience on the front lines.
Volunteering for anything needed.
An inability to concentrate, to read.
Worrying about how to pay the mortgage because the workplace is closed, and who knows if it will hold out.
There’s nothing good about this routine. We all want our life back. With all our loved ones.
10/07/23 The day that hasn't ended
On Friday’s night, Erev Simchat Tora, things were happy at our shul. About ten little kids were dancing in a circle, surrounded by parents and elders, as we all celebrated our first Hakafot. After 3 Hakafot we stopped so people can breathe a little, opened a Tora scroll on a row of plastic tables covered with white maps, and the kids ran around looking for words that the rabbi called – who can find “Moshe”? Who can find “Aharon”? Who can find “Shalom”? The first kids to find the words got little chocolate bars, and at the end we gave all the other kids too. After that we’ve completed the Hakafot, and with high spirits turned to our homes for the holiday dinner. I knew that in Saturday morning the shul is expected to be full, because quite a few community members were out of town, and were supposed to come back, not to remind the “Yizkor” service that adds a few participants, and the “Hateney and Kalot Tora & Bereshit” aliyot, awarded this year to the teams that helped renovating the shul and building our green lively community garden. Their appreciation certificates with a little green leavy tokens of appreciation were ready to be happily delivered the next morning.
At 06:30am we woke up to the sound of sirens roaring here in Omer. My wife took our 2.5 years old boy, and we ran to our safe room, where we sat on the floor, hearing the rockets explode in our area and in our neighbour city of Beersheva.
Usually, we have some tension rise and notifications before the rockets come but this time everything was very sudden. I opened my cell phone to find out that the attack was very wide and that terrorists are driving through villages and cities half an hour till 50 minutes from our home, raiding them with lethal fire.
With trembling hands, I broke Shabbat and sent a message in the community WhatsApp group “No prayer this morning, please stay safe”. The prayer was supposed to start at 09:00, so I prepared a small sign with a red pen stating the same, but there was a missile attack at around 08:55, so it took me a while to go and hang it. The streets were empty, the morning was beautiful and shiny, Omer and the roads were extra silent, as 1400 Jews were being murdered less than an hour away.
"No Simhat Tora Prayer this Morning - stay safe!"
Kids Relaxation Activities
For the past two weeks, the children of the area are sitting closely to shelters and protected areas, exposed to the noise of planes at night and during the day, to sirens, to the explosive sounds of Iron Dome interceptions, and above all to the horrors and fear that emanate from all sides.
They are exposed to the worried faces of their parents and the sense of insecurity that envelops us all. In order to create a sense of resilience and bring smiles to the children's faces, and in the absence of educational activities, the "Magen Avraham" centre for afternoon activities operates for the children. Resilience or “Easing” activities take place every day during the afternoon hours, in small groups according to the instructions of the Home Front Command. The dedicated team of instructors plays, guides, and alleviates anxiety, creating a small island of order in the midst of the chaos. About 40 children participate in these activities every day.
We’ve also hosted 2 meetings for kids & parents’ coffee and cake, which made us realize that adults need those breaks of meeting others as much as the kids do. During one of these sessions, a siren was heard and kids and parents ran to the safe rooms together. When we left the safe rooms, we saw the iron dome’s little blast clouds above our Shul. Most parents got back to their coffee cups and most kids to the playground.
Birthday in MA under missile threat
Safety and Security
My 2.5 years old boy asked me when it all started “Aba, Is the siren a friend of ours?”, “Sure it is, I replied”. “And the Boom?” he asked.
The first week was horrifying. The views of the burnt Kibbutzim, not far from here, are not that different from Omer. We are not close to Gaza, but our Bedouin neighbors shoot around every other night. It is an official estimate that 400 thousand illegal weapons exist in Israel, most of the min the Arab sector. Most Jews don’t carry a weapon. We live in peace with our Bedouin neighbors. Many of them serve in the IDF. My kid’s doctor is a Bedouin, I trust him with my most precious. But it only takes a few armed men to infiltrate a village, murder and terrorize the population. And in the last conflict we’ve had 2.5 years ago, most of the roads in the south were limited due fear of attacks. That is why 2 our or 3 entries to Omer are closed now, and all three are occupied with armed men and women. Every car is checked in the main entry’s checkpoint. We are safe, but we are all injured. In also every house’s safe room there is this funny improvised wooden stick that allows the safe room to be locked from inside (Home safe rooms have no locks so rescue teams can open them from outside when there’s a fire for example). As time passed, we realize that Omer’s kind of “Off the grid” and relatively safe for the time being. But we are prepared for the worse. After 10/07 we all feel like nothing’s “impossible” anymore. Bad things can happen even when you feel subjectively safe.
Toys collected in our Shul for Israeli refugees
Different Kabbalat Shabbat
Our life has stopped at 7/10/23. Most services and workplaces (except the most essential ones) have closed. The tension is in the air. The news channels are broadcasting war 24/7. People have developed weird routines. Once in a day or two they run to shelter during missile attacks. Every few days they go to a funeral or a Shiva, or talk to a friend that one of his family members were kidnapped. Almost every day members of our community assist and donate things to soldiers’ units passing by or to the families of the Kibbutzim that were ruined and their survivors now stay at hotels, having lost everything. Our Beis Midrash is currently full of donated kid’s toys waiting to be delivered to Eilat/dead sea hotels. Every day a Jeep comes loading these toys, carrying them to temporal kinder gardens started there in hotel halls.
We moved the Kabbalat Shabbat to an earlier hour so it’s convenient for families with kids. We skipped all the Tehillim singing till Lecha Dodi, and let our local community band lead it with Israeli song. Were trying to make our Shul a spiritual safe place. The place where it is legit to avoid the news, to sing, to cry and to see other people. Its not about escapism, its about breathing for a short while. It seems like all the text we know, including Tora, are being read differently these days. We sing “Ose Shalom” With hearts broken by war.
During our prayers we pause and say the names of our friends who are injured and kidnapped. As people call their friends names, their voices tremble.
A laptop donated to a kids that lost both his parents
Those warm hugs from North American friends and communities
On the first week we got messages, phone calls and texts from colleges in the United States. Adath Jeshurun Mineapolis & The North Luiziana Federation & Beth Tsedek Toronto all checked in on us. Some colleges from Israel also called, asking what they can do for us, and for me as a rabbi.
Apparently, I was in “survival mode”, and felt like any implication to help needed could meen I or we are I a bad state, or weak. I wasn’t ready to admit that we are in a bad state, that we are a little weak right now. Maybe weak is the wrong word. Because we are string, but even when you’re very tough and strong, there are some times when you need a little help.
“Why are they calling?” I wondered. It took me a while to write back. To some I haven’t replied yet. But I think I have an answer. We share a history. We share much more. I realized that Jews living in north America simply get it. They understand exactly what happened here on 10/07. They know what “pogrom” means. The burnt houses and families ring some ancient bell going back to “Tisha Beav”, and to Europe in the forties. These were our families back then, our people and they our still our family and our people. When something like that happens to your family – you worry about them, you pray for them, you call them immediately asking how you can help, you are recruited automatically. When I realized why they were checking in and calling – Barbara Yosef, Rabbi Kravitz, Rabbi Baruch, Steven Arnoff and so many others - I felt a little less alone in these 3 weeks journey in the fields of loss ad insecurity. When president Biden backed Israel, I also felt the same – this old man gets it. He knows what a friend in trouble looks like, and what that friend needs.
What do we need?
We now conduct all of our activities on a volunteer basis. The income from our usual educational activities has dried up. We cannot burden parents who are not working or are being conscripted with payments for services that are not being provided sporadically.
Magen Avraham will not be able to continue without your help.
Opening our hearts, opening our gates
During the last 3 weeks Magen Avraham has opened its facilities located near safe rooms for the entire Omer community:
Daily youth activities in the afternoon
Resilience activities for parents and children, including games, coffee and pastries
Birthday celebrations. Celebrate despite everything
Lending a Torah scroll to the battalion stationed close by
Community members volunteer in all possible areas: collecting donations, gathering toys and books for children, collecting essential items for babies, feeding soldiers, free babysitting services, and more.