Friday, August 11, 2006

Letter from Tzfat, Northern Israel

Linda Stern is the Overseas Administrator for the Yeshiva Hesder in Kiryat Shemona. As I have previously mentioned, Kiryat Shemona is a town in the far north of Israel, near the Lebanon border. My wife and I spent three months there 30 years ago, when we spent the first year of our marriage doing volunteer work in Israel.

A Yeshiva is a Jewish religious school, and the term may be used for anything from an elementary school all the way up to a rabbinical seminary. It is common for young Orthodox Jewish men to spend a year or two, or even more, engaged in intensive full-time Torah study at a yeshiva after high school. In Israel, those same years correspond with the years of compulsory military service. For those religious, and Zionist, Jewish men who do not wish to avail themselves of a religious exemption, and want to serve in the army, but also do not want to deprive themselves of the critical years of Torah study, the Yeshiva Hesder program was conceived. It could not have been implemented in any nation in which the ACLU holds sway. Its students combine military service with Army duty. A fuller explanation of the Yeshiva Hesder program appears here.

When the war against Hezbollah broke out, most of the Hesder students in Kiryat Shemona were immediately called away to their units. Kiryat Shemona immediately became a target of daily rocketing by Hezbollah; on Wednesday alone 66 rockets hit the city. The few students remaining in the dorms became volunteers to provide aid to city residents in the shelters, many of whom did not evacuate because they had nowhere to go. The yeshiva itself, as a building with dormitories and food facilities, became a barracks and staging area for reservists called up to the northern border, awaiting orders to enter Lebanon. The photo above (provided by Linda) shows morning prayers by soldiers in the Beis Midrash (study hall) of the yeshiva.

Linda and her family live in Tzfat (Safed), another northern Israeli town that has been the frequent target of rocket attacks. Tzfat is a famous town--it was the center of Jewish Torah scholarship and mysticism in the early 16th century, the home of Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch code of Jewish law, and the home of Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. As the Sabbath approached today, Linda sent this e-mail:

The best thing about an email is that if you don’t want to read it, you just delete it. That’s it – all gone.

The worst thing about this war is that I am never going to be able to delete it.

I’m writing my thoughts to you because it’s very important to me that you - my friends, relatives and other wonderful people, some of whom I haven’t even met - hear from me personally how my life has changed over the past month. Thoughts like mine will not be described in the media, because ostensibly, there is no drama – no one has been injured or killed, my home is still intact, I still have my work and am inundated, as is my husband, my children and grandchild are fine, thank God, and that includes my son, Elazar, who has been fighting in Lebanon for the past two weeks.

But I am living my own personal drama – Tzfat, the beautiful town nestling up in the hills of Galilee that we chose as our home 26 years ago, is hurting badly; 80% of her citizens have left; Katyusha bomb scars can be found in almost every corner, people have been injured and killed, but not enough to warrant a newspaper report of any real interest. The town is empty apart from a few shops that stock necessities. Instead of the throngs of visitors, tourist buses, and groups of youngsters that usually fill our historical Old City in the summer months, you now hear the sound of silence. Last Friday our synagogue was damaged from a Katyusha bomb that landed a few yards away – just think of it - aimed a few millimeters to the right, and a few hours later, we would definitely have been a news item… But after all, nobody was injured, only a few stained glass windows were broken, only a little bit of shrapnel embedded in the outside wall – who cares. At least 5 bombs have landed within a 50 yard radius of our home over the past couple of weeks, and what could have been, wasn’t – so nobody know about it. I think of the hundreds of bombs that have landed in Tzfat alone and think – what if…?

Yitzchak and I have stayed in Tzfat the entire time, and now I find myself preparing for the 5th Shabbat of the war and writing to you with such a heavy heart.

So far we have been fortunate that bombs have not been aimed at us during the night time, so we have been managing to sleep. But the days, especially this past week, have been horrendous. With one air raid siren after another, the “swoooosh” of the Katyusha right over our heads and the crash; the instant thought “where has it landed this time?” – I don’t know how long even I, with my apparent resilience, can go on living this way. And then I look with wonder at our people in Kiryat Shemonah, and I stop this thought in its track – they survived much worse for so much longer, and I know that I too will survive, with the help of God and our wonderful soldiers, including my own two sons.

I think I have to stop now – or this will get out of hand. If you haven’t deleted this yet – I wish you all a quiet and peaceful Shabbat.
Linda SternTranslator and AdministratorHahaganah 175/5, Tzfat 13351, IsraelTel: 972-4-6924422Fax: 972-4-6921822Mob: 052-2937575

Shabat shalom, Linda.


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