Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Journey: Jerusalem -> Kfar Maimon -> Gush Katif

Over the course of a little over 24 hours - from Tuesday afternoon, until Wednesday night, I was part of an unforgettable journey, and I would like to share some of my experiences with you. (I will post a follow-up with some more specific examples of things that I saw and lessons that I learned, but for the sake of brevity, I won't do it here).

Monday afternoon was the first day of the 3 day trek, sponsored by among other groups, the Yesha (Judea, Samaria, Gaza) Council, whose stated goal was to strengthen our brothers and sisters in Gush Katif, not merely by showing solidarity, but by attempting to reinforce their spirits and numbers by having tens of thousands of additional Jews join their ranks.

The 1st day of the planned 3-day trek began Monday night in Netivot. The march was scheduled to have begun earlier in the afternoon, but due to "technical difficulties" many of the participants were "delayed" in their arrival until later in the evening. Over the course of Monday afternoon and night, I found myself listening to updates on the march, and felt a gnawing sense of guilt growing within me. Basically, I felt that I did not make Aliyah from New York to simply sit on the sidelines while the future of the Jewish People is being played out, and certainly not to be sitting in front of my computer at home checking for updates instead of being there myself and taking an active role in the struggle of the Jewish People not only to prevent the destruction of Jewish communities in the Land of Israel, but to help shape Israel into a truly Jewish State that will allow the Jewish People to fulfill their destiny.

So, Tuesday morning, as I was leaving for work, I decided to throw my talit and t'fillin in my back pack, some basic toiletries and figured I would see if over the course of the day I would be able to find a way to make it down towards Kfar Maimon, the location of where the marchers had progressed after the 1st night of marching. On Tuesday afternoon, after picking up a few bottles of water, I caught a bus that was going down to the area, and thankfully the bus did not experience any "technical difficulties" "technical difficulties".

The bus took us as far as Netivot, the starting point of the march, and from there, the new wave of marchers either caught rides with people who had driven down in their cars, or walked through fields in order to make their way towards Kfar Maimon (many people ended up doing a combination of both). Upon arriving at Kfar Maimon, it looked to me like scene out of the movie "Outbreak" with the marchers literally under siege like conditions, with thousands upon thousands of police and soldiers surrounding Kfar Maimon. In a conversation I had with a police officer (many were very approachable, and in fact, were interested in talking with me to try and understand why we were here) I mentioned this comparison to me, and he responded that there was no reason to be afraid, as they were only here to protect us. When I asked from whom we needed protection, he responded, "From yourselves".

I proceeded to enter Kfar Maimon at around 11pm, and wherever one looked one saw tents... thousands of tents filled with Jews who were making themselves right at home, on their way to Gush Katif. As I had not taken a tent or sleeping bag with me, I got to sleep on the ground, using my backpack as a pillow, and my hat to shield my face. It was quite an experience, even if I didn't get much sleep. Initially, I thought that we would be continuing the march that night (as it was easier to march at night than in the heat of the day, but it was decided to wait until Wednesday to continue).

I awoke Wednesday around 5:45am, and over the next few hours, hundreds of minyanim sprung up all over Kfar Maimon. From 7:30am or so, a long line began forming outside the local makolet (convenience store), and as I see it, this little store must have done the equivalent amount of business that they probably see over the course of a month or two (at least). At 9am, there was an update by the heads of the Yesha Council, informing the marchers that we would be continuing our march in the early evening. Sprits amongst the marchers were high, and people were singing, dancing, reading, learning, relaxing, and overall, just having a good time.

I found the thought of waiting around for the next 9 hours to be quite a daunting thought, and being that it was very hot outside, I was not looking forward to the rest of the day. At around noon I came across a friend who was going to be going to Gush Katif, and I jumped at the opportunity to take her up on her offer to show me around (as I had only been to Gush Katif one time before).

The road to Gush Katif was a rather troubling one. All along the way, there are checkpoints and roadblocks, aimed at keeping Jews away. Along the roads are military encampments, and as one approaches this only increases. Once through all the checkpoints, we entered Gush Katif.

Over the course of the next 4 hours I had an opportunity to visit a number of the various communities found in Gush Katif, and see first hand both the beauty, resiliency as well as the challenges facing the Jews there. I visited the dairy in Katif, a world-renowned nursey, among the largest in Israel, in Atzmona. I spent time on the beach at Shirat Hayam and Kfar Yam, allowing the waves of warm water to break on me, and collected many seashells. I met Jews who had recently moved down to the area where they were building a deck onto their home - clearly with the intention of getting more than a few weeks use out of it. Another family had moved down until "the victory celebration". I visited Neve Dekalim, which is the central area of Gush Katif, and while there I was interviewed by Israel National Radio (Arutz 7).

All in all, nearly the whole time I was in Gush Katif I had a tremendous smile on my face. One is able to see so clearly, with their very own eyes the miracle that is the Jewish communities of Gush Katif, and it is my fervent hope and prayer that the Jewish communities of Gush Katif will be blessed to witness many more miracles, and will continue to flourish for many more generations to come.

For pictures of the March, click here and here.

For pictures of the various communities of Gush Katif, check here.

For a virtual tour of the communities in Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron, click here.

Pictures of the march by Jonny Stein.


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