Friday, August 18, 2006

One year later - my visit to the destroyed communities

Last year I went down to the destroyed communities to look at the synagogues. Here's a link with photos of the synagogues before the destruction:
I am still looking for a good link to photos of the gutted synagogues.

Here's what I wrote right after our trip:

Trip Summary
Gush Katif Settlements
25 August 2005
כ' במנחם אב תשס"ה

The Trip Down
We were four: Paula and Lazar Stern and ourselves. We were going down to Gush Katif ostensibly to see if any of the shul buildings slated for destruction could be saved and transplanted to our land in Ma’aleh Adumim. The Happy Minyan could have a home and we’d save a shul! By the time we left we already knew it wasn’t likely. The shuls that were relatively easy to move would in all likelihood be taken by their communities. But we went anyway. Why? To cry. To witness. Because we could go.

We left later than planned. Then we had to drop off our fax machine at the Jerusalem Gold hotel for use by the refugees there. This also took longer than planned. First only Gidon got out of the car. Before he came back, Paula saw Moshe Saperstein so she went to talk to him. I followed a minute later, with embarrassed apologies to Lazar for leaving him in the car alone. Moshe spoke off-handedly for a minute or two, and told us that Rachel was coming out. She came out, and we went to sit down at one of the several tables set up out in front of the hotel. She spoke eagerly about a message she wanted Paula to “get out”, how Sharon is normally so efficient, but the inefficiency of the Disengagement Authority can only be explained if it’s planned inefficiency. I asked about the experiences of the people who tried to cooperate and she said that there were a few people that she knew who were actually satisfied and had gotten their money, but most people had bad experiences with the DA. She went on, sharing stories. Then she asked Paula to get her a cup of water. Not only does Rachel have a broken ankle, but she has a rash on the same leg. The removable cast aggravates the rash, so she doesn’t wear the cast. She’s been stuck in her hotel room with her foot up, but she was feeling trapped, so she came out. She told me all this, and I mentioned to her that we live across the street from her son Ari, and that her granddaughter Doria is the same age as our daughter Elisheva. We made small talk until Paula returned (I think. Things are already starting to blur).

We finally got back in the car. On the trip down we talked about things we’d heard, we noticed all the “orange” cars. We stopped at a gas station – I don’t remember where – to use the toilet. We continued south. At one point we saw a big car (SUV) or maybe it was even a truck, and it had a BIG orange Chof Aza flag on it. We discussed where to go and decided to start with Netzarim.

Netzarim Road Block
It was a little complicated trying to figure out how to get to Netzarim. We ended up at the Karni crossing with lots of big trucks. Then someone explained where we went wrong and between that explanation, a map we saw and process of elimination, we got to the first road block before Netzarim. This was simply a barrier blocking the incoming lane, with three soldiers, two of whom were Ethiopian (as if that matters for something). The soldier in charge was polite but not overly friendly. He had a MIRS phone (a hybrid of a walkie-talkie and a cellular phone) and he read off to someone our identity numbers. We waited patiently, and Paula got out of the car to give them cold water. After a few minutes the verdict came back. Only Lazar had approval to cross, “And anyway you cannot drive to Netzarim in a private car.” OK. What now. Gidon phoned up Orit at the DA, who got to work on it. We waited some more. The soldier allowed other people to pass. We waited. We spoke with Orit again. She said that in fact only Lazar had gotten an ishur but she was trying for the rest of us. Suddenly the soldier decided to let us pass, telling us we’d have to park at the next place and somehow get to Netzarim. We took off. Just a mile or so down the road we came to a small base, and saw the private cars that had passed us earlier. We saw the line of people waiting to drive down to Netzarim, exchanged a few words with a guy in a truck. “I used to live here”. Then we realized that getting to Netzarim would involve LOTS of time, so we turned around and went back. Onwards to Kissufim Crossing.

Kissufim – Entering Gush Katif
We approached Kissufim, or what we thought was Kissufim. We saw the roadblock and the signs sent us off to the right. It was much like the toll barrier you sometimes see in the States in that there were several lanes, but the structures were clearly temporary. Our turn came. Out came the ID cards. At the same time, Gidon was talking with Orit, who said that the permission would come through “soon”. At first we stopped in the sun, but Paula asked the soldier if he would like it if we’d pull up into the shaded part. There were several boy and girl soldiers. One soldier was wearing a kippah and he also spoke to us (while our numbers were being checked in the computer). Paula felt that he seemed to need positive recognition from us, for us to tell him without words, “You’re OK. You’re not a bad person for being part of this.” Finally, we were given little slips of paper that constituted our “day pass”. We would have to present this pass with our ID cards at every checkpoint and at the entrance to every settlement.

As we pulled away from the “toll booth” we realized that this had NOT been the Kissufim crossing, but rather a preliminary checkpoint. At Kissufim they checked our passes and let us through.

We started down “Tzir Kissufim” the Kissufim passage. It seemed that some of the enormous concrete blocks that prevented snipers from shooting at cars were missing. Maybe we were just imagining it. We quickly arrived at our first stop, Kfar Darom. Kfar Darom saw some of the more active opposition during the expulsion. Young people and old barricaded themselves into the synagogue there. It was reported that soldiers were pelted with eggs and bottles. Besieged people on the roof poured liquid on the soldiers coming up on ladders. It has been reported that the material was acid, turpentine, oil and water. We may never know the real story – the media lies so much here.

Kfar Darom
Kfar Darom was shocking, because we didn’t know what to expect. Not only were some people packing up their homes in boxes, and putting the boxes and furniture into enormous metal shipping containers, some people were dismantling everything that could be removed! We saw people taking the terra cotta tiles off their roofs! Lots of people were everywhere, and soldiers too.

The shul was filthy. Before we even went in we saw how the doors had been pried open. We were stunned to see an enormous empty space where the aron kodesh had been, and all the benches were gone. The air conditioner was taken apart. This was to become a very familiar sight as we toured around. The floor was very dirty, upstairs and down. In this shul, unlike the buildings we would see later, there were still many items lying around. There was a bookcase in the main part, with some single pages and a whole tanach. A child’s hat. A tabletop shtender. Baseball caps with anti-disengagement mottos on them. On the balcony outside the ezrat nashim there were huge cans of … something. Probably olives or pickles. Tens of jerry cans of drink concentrate (“petel”), and lots of other food. I was already shaking my head at the waste I saw there. When we first walked in I decided I’d tear kriah. Then after I went back to the car to get my scissors I changed my mind. Gidon said he’d wait until he saw destroyed homes, so I decided to wait too. While we were upstairs a man asked Paula to take his picture while he tore kriah and said the blessing Baruch ata … dayan ha’emet. My “amen” was most heartfelt. He stood with his back to where the aron kodesh should have been. Heartrending.

I walked to a home near the shul. There were several children’s bikes on the ground. I said to myself, “These are people’s LIVES. How do you destroy people’s LIVES?” It seemed so surreal, so impossible.

I needed the bathroom. Of course the water in the shul was off. I was directed to a home that seemed to be in the midst of packing. Just the idea of walking into one of these homes made me very uncomfortable. I felt like a vulture, an interloper, unworthy. I was embarrassed. I made Gidon come with me. I noticed a sign on the door with the family name on it. How cute, I thought. Then I looked more carefully. The sign read something like: “Soldier. Policeman. In this home has lived the X family for Y years. Please do not knock on our door and evict us.” While I was waiting for Gidon to finish a woman came down the stairs. I asked her, “Is this your house?” “Yes.” I fumbling explained that we’d been told we could use the toilet. I didn’t know what to say to this woman. I felt liked I’d walked into a shiva house. It was awful. What could I saw to this woman? Nothing. Before we got in the car, I picked up a pine cone. I had some idea of taking something from each yishuv, but I didn’t feel comfortable with Paula’s idea of taking a piece of tile from each shul. So I took this pine cone. Finally we left. Next stop, Netzer Hazani.

Netzer Hazani
Netzer Hazani and Katif share a traffic circle. Between the two entrances there used to stand a small log building – a type of kiosk. It was a rest stop for soldiers in memory of a Netzer Hazani resident, Tali Hatuel Hy"d, who was murdered along with all her children (including her yet unborn baby) while driving through the Kissufim Passage. The children were shot at point-blank range, including the toddler strapped in her car seat. Somehow, this bereaved and bereft husband and father managed to go on with his life and even continue to love the soldiers who had not succeeded in protecting his family. The kiosk gave out drinks and snacks for free, and provided a place to sit and rest in the shade. When we got there, we saw that the building was gone. Probably it was simply lifted up and trucked out. The big sign that (presumably) said "Welcome to Netzer Hazani" was painted over to read "Techef nashuv" (we'll be right back).
Netzer Hazani promised to be VERY difficult for Paula, more than the rest of us. She knew people there, had been in their homes many times. Indeed, when we arrived we saw the bulldozer and steam shovels at work. We drove in a bit and got out of the car. It was shocking. Our first time that day seeing homes destroyed. Two young men near us were taking photos. One explained that they’d been in a house that had stood “over there” not long before. They’d spent 3 weeks there. The house had been “full of people, full of life”. Gidon, Lazar and I tore kriah. To see these piles of rubble …Again I though, “These are people’s LIVES!” How could it be? I found a piece of construction paper on the ground in the shape of a shirt. It said in Hebrew “Clothes. What clothes do we wear in Winter? In Summer? “ and lots of other questions – clearly something from a preschool (gan). Then I saw a paper girl. I picked her up and hung it on a board sticking up from the rubble. I continued walking. I imagined children running and playing. You could see that there were lovely gardens around the destroyed homes. I imagined toddlers walking and falling on the paths. Lazar appeared from another direction. We’d all struck out alone. He and I walked through a park. All the climbing equipment had been removed. There was an “Omega” lying on the ground. Two huge sand pits. I could imagine the children playing there. The part of the park nearest the remaining buildings was FULL of garbage. It seemed as if the soldiers ate their food and simply left the garbage on the ground – for a few days. I saw one or two small garbage bags (full) but mostly the stuff was all over. We saw this in other yishuvim as well.

As we continued through the park to the shul I saw a fence with a gate in it. It was clearly a back gate from a private garden, but the house is now just a pile of broken concrete and plasterboard. I could image the mother sending her children out to the park …

We went into the shul. Also in this shul almost everything had been removed, but there was some garbage and things. Two unopened bottles of grape juice, two bottles of wine. Tuna. Cases of matzot. I picked up the grape juice to take with me, but Lazar thought that people would be back to “finish” the shul, so I left it there. We didn’t stay too long. We called Paula and Gidon. Paula didn’t answer. Gidon’s phone was busy. We started back towards the car, and then we saw Gidon. Then we went back to the car the way we’d come. I wanted to pick up the things from the gan. As we approached the car we saw Paula talking with a soldier. The soldier wanted us to stay away from the rubble and move the car, “for our own safety”. He tried to be very gentle, but he was unhappy we were there … We drove closer to the shul and Paula went to see it. Gidon had gone in while we had gone back to the car and he came out with some papers and a pair of candlesticks. Paula and I decided to eat something. I felt so strange that I was hungry. How could we eat? Wasn’t it Tisha B’Av all over again? We didn’t want to use our drinking water to wash. The soldiers had left unfinished bottles of water all over. We took one and used the water to wash. I washed over some bushes. Paula didn’t. I asked her why didn’t she water the plants. “I want them to die.” I understood. Paula didn’t want the Arabs to enjoy these beautiful bushes surrounding the community buildings of Netzer Hazani. But in the next yishuv, Katif, we saw a truck brush against some bushes and Paula was upset. It was natural to be upset. How careless of the driver! But we wanted the bushes to die …

While we were in Netzer Hazani I looked for something to go with the Kfar Darom pine cone, but I couldn’t find anything. So I gave up the idea.

Gidon found a candlestick in one of the empty houses: a cheap candlestick with most of the silver worn off (if it ever even had real silverplate). He put it in my backpack. The men also ate sandwiches. We bentched, and left.

We drove round the traffic circle again. “We’ll be right back.” We drove into Katif after presenting our IDs. I think here, already, we only showed them Paula's and Lazar's, since they were sitting in the front seat. We drove on in and Gidon recalled how he had slept in Katif one night after attending a meeting in Neve Dekalim. He tried to recall which house. All the houses here were still standing. We saw lots of soldiers. We saw lots of spray paint on the houses. Some of it was symbols for the army – house numbers, what to knock down, what to leave up. But many families had spray painted "We'll be right back". One family had written something like: "Here lived the Ochayon family (along with the names of the parents and the 8 children) who were expelled from their home" The homes were beautiful with stone work, gardens, special shapes. Beautiful homes. Some of the homes had openings in the tile roofs. I wondered if the photo I saw on the Internet of women and children shouting at the soldiers from a hole in the roof was taken here.

Gidon couldn't remember where he stayed so we continued on to look for the shul. We found it with little trouble. Again – no benches, no woodwork, no aron kodesh. Whatever could be removed from the mechitza was gone. There were a couple of workers in the shul. One guy was lying on his back where the bima used to be. Paula was distressed at what she felt was not respectful behavior and told them so. In the meantime a few other men arrived. They were apparently the ones who were dismantling the air conditioning system. The shul had a large room that was apparently a library and classroom. The table was still there. The rest of the shul was empty, though there were two plastic washing cups in the sinks outside. One cup had a sticker on it saying that the cup was placed in memory of Avraham Ochayon who passed away on 11 Shevat 5764, and that the mitzvoth performed with the washing cup should be for his benefit. (This all sounds so dumb in English, but profound in Hebrew.) I, who couldn't take a can of tuna or a bottle of grape juice in Netzer Hazani, took the washing cup. As far as we understood at that moment, the Supreme Court had ruled that the synagogues would be destroyed. I didn't want this cup to be lost. So many more mitzvot could be performed with it!

We got back in the car and drove on to the Yeshiva High School in Katif. It has its own compound, surrounded by a fence. All the buildings are moveable, even the "security rooms" which are reinforced concrete. They can be picked up with a crane and put on a truck. Apparently some of the buildings had once had decorative tile roofs, because it looked like the roofs had exploded. The supporting metal beams were all twisted, and the tiles were gone. Maybe that was somewhere else – I'm remembering it as being in Katif. We got out of the car again and went to look around. It was easy to spot the Beit Midrash. The aron kodesh was still there, empty, plus a few benches. Lazar and Gidon were discussing the size of the building – could it be big enough for our shul? Could it be moved? We went to look at other buildings. Could we save more than the beit midrash? Gidon made some calls. Someone from the Prime Minister's office said that he was on his way. We met an officer, an Army Chaplain. He told us how upset he was at how many holy books had been left behind in various places. Indeed, in a room off the beit midrash there were a few shelves of books, as well as a pile of clothes. Lost and found? Everywhere, there was food, especially outside. Whole cucumbers. A broken watermelon. Cans. Papers. At one place I noticed pieces from a Stratego set. I almost picked them up for Akiva, but it was only a few pieces. I found a big beautiful poster with a scene depicting animals in Tanach. I tried to take it down, but it was well-attached to the wall. And did I have the right to take it? After all, there were people coming to finish packing here.

Was the yeshiva evacuated by force? Was it a center of (passive) resistance? Were the people who left this mess from the yeshiva at all, or another group that just "holed up" there? Was it soldiers who left the mess? I don't know. I don't have answers. Paula thought that part of the beit midrash looked as if the door had been forced. Dunno. We spent a lot of time at the yeshiva because we were talking with the officer, the representative from the PM's office, the people who suddenly showed up and after a while started moving the furniture out of the beit midrash. It became clear that somehow this beit midrash wasn't on anyone's list. Why? Dunno. We got all the contact numbers and we left.

Ganei Tal
Just down the road from Katif is Ganei Tal. In Ganei Tal they were done destroying buildings, or almost done. I think it was as we entered Ganei Tal that we saw trucks hauling away caravan buildings like the ones we wanted from the Yeshiva in Katif. We drove in and we saw lots and lots of rubble. Just rubble. No wait! We saw a building marked “not for destruction”. Why? We couldn’t tell. A bit later we came upon a few plastic chairs, a stroller, an Israeli flag, and maybe some other stuff. Surely people would be back for these things. We didn't get out of the car, at first. We just drove around. We saw a preschool that was still whole, and perhaps hadn’t yet been packed up. Finally we came to a dead end next to an imposing building that we thought was the shul. It wasn't. It was a community building, a youth club, built with money from the Mifal HaPayis lottery. There were soldiers just hanging out there. Once we got out of the car we could see the shul, so walked over. This shul was immaculate. And the impression I got was mass. The shul was not enormous, but it was massive. It was clear they'd taken everything. I thought that there had been glass in the mechitza, though later I found out it was metalwork. There were a few screws and metal shavings left, but everything else was neat and clear. Everything was gone, except we got upstairs we found a fridge! We found a draw full of disposable dishes. Under the stairs there was a closet of cleaning supplies…

Everything ready for when the people come back.

We left Ganei Tal.

The Cemetery
As we cruised on, trying to decide where to go next, we came to the cemetery. We saw that the electrified (!) fence was open, so we stopped and went in. There are 48 graves in this cemetery and I saw them all. I'm not going to be able to list all the graves, but I stopped at each one. I left a stone or a shell on each. I saw the military section. I saw the little graves of the children. I saw graves of grandparents. People killed in terror attacks, people who died of old age, people who died after illness. I saw the grave of the Hileberg boy, who was killed in Lebanon and who loved the sea. Next to his grave is a bucket of sea shells. On one grave there was a wedding invitation for August 24th. I was the last one out of the cemetery. Paula was talking with an officer there. They were replacing the old, torn Israeli flags with new ones. I'm still undecided if I think that was the right thing to do. Paula felt it was disrespectful and that the families would be upset to see it. I just don't know.

Shirat Hayam and Kfar Yam
We drove on a bit and then turned right to go down to the sea. We arrived at the gate of Shirat Hayam, but for some reason we didn't go in. Not that there was much to see. Most of the caravans were gone. There was a lot of mess. We continued on the road outside the fence and then drove past Kfar Yam. We were getting a bit nervous because we saw only cars with PA plates or kids on bikes, or donkey-drawn wagons. No "friendlies". The road was just dirt for a while, then it turned back to asphalt. Soon after that we were able to turn left.

When we got back to the main road (from which we'd turned right to go to Shirat Hayam) we went on South to Slav. The soldiers here did not seem too eager to let us in. We told them we wanted to see the synagogue, and they told us it was already gone. One of the boys was from Ma'aleh Adumim, and the other boy decided to let us in, but asked us to leave our car inside the gate. In retrospect, I guess they were worried about looters. We walked up to try to guess where the shul had been. When we found a brick patio surrounding a dirt-filled spaced, we decided that was it. Lazar was interested in seeing how a caravan building needed to be supported. What preparations would we need to make for "our" building? Another soldier came up to see what we were doing there. I asked him where he was from and he answered so militarily: "405th. Officer's training course." (maybe he said a different number) What he really said was "course Ma"kim". Makim are Mefakdei Kitah. I don't know how many soldiers are in a Kita, but a Mifaked Kita is the lowest officer level in the command pyramid, coming just above regular soldiers. This young man was a paratrooper – complete with the red beret and red boots. Our boy from Ma'aleh Adumim was in Golani – infantry. The paratrooper told us that they would be taking everything before they left, including the electrical poles. The homes that remained could all be moved by crane and truck. If the people didn't come to take them by Sunday they'd be destroyed. Paula carefully removed a beautiful flower from the shul garden, somewhere found a pot, and took it with her.

Rafiah Yam
We went on to Rafiah Yam. We got a little lost, but not very. We came to an army encampment and quickly turned around at got reoriented. At Rafiah Yam we saw the only girl soldiers. Two girls were guarding the gate, but there were no soldiers inside that we could see. Rubble, a few plastic chairs, some big crates that grocery stores use for deliveries, what seemed to be a public underground bomb shelter, one unfinished house, and a playground were all that remained of Rafiah Yam. Apparently either there was no shul, the shul was in the bomb shelter, or the building had been removed. We didn't get out of the car, and we didn't stay long.

At the gate to Morag the soldier didn't want to let us in. He was new, he said, and didn't want trouble. We made a couple of calls, and he finally decided to let us in "for five minutes." Needless to say we stayed much longer than that. We drove up a hill to a traffic circle with what seemed to be a destroyed sculpture in the center. Then we saw the security fence separating Morag from Rafiah. The residents had painted the history of the Jews from creation to the 3rd temple on the huge concrete fence. We continued on, just trying to find the shul. Since the homes are rubble, it was easy to see the tall shul building. We saw a few other buildings still standing, but there were many many soldiers there and they seemed to be using the buildings still. The shul was empty like the others, and I didn't even have the strength to go up the stairs to see what was there. Then we noticed that there were marbles all over the floor. Paula and I started picking up these marbles like we were crazy. And the shul was not so clean. The marbles were filthy. I left the ones that were embedded in a swathe of peanut butter on the floor. Then we noticed a couple of bags of geniza on the floor. Gidon tried to find someone to take responsibility for them. A soldier came by and it turned out that the Sterns knew him or his brother or something … As we left Morag we gave a soldier a ride until we turned off the main road. We honked to keep a car from turning right, so they waited for him. He was going to Kissufim.

Just outside the Atzmona gate there is a school and we saw people packing it up. I thought we'd be there a while, so I washed to eat my other sandwich. Then they told us that there would be Mincha in the Atzmona shul in 15 minutes. So we got back in the car and drove into Atzmona. The soldier who looked at our identity cards was the first one to react to Gidon’s orange card holder. The plastic case given out by the Interior Ministry is blue, but Akiva bought an orange one for Gidon when they were at the protest in Ofakim. The soldier really liked the orange case, and wanted one himself.

We drove around the yishuv. I was bentching so I missed some things, but I noticed a house with a big hole in the side. To make taking things out easier? We got to the nurseries which are HUGE and it was clear that many of the plants would simply not be saved. We drove up to Kerem Atzmona, but that was already rubble and it was getting close to Mincha so we hurried back. We didn't have to hurry. The shul, despite being empty, despite the floor being full of broken glass, was a minyan factory. There were so many people in Atzmona that a new minyan would start as soon as the last ended. I had two siddurim with me, so I gave one to Lazar. Then I gave the other to Paula. So I waited until she finished and looked around this HUGE shul. I went out to one of the balconies off the ezrat nashim and looked out over Atzmona. I tried to image it without all the red roofs, but I couldn't. When I finally davened Mincha (and Gidon was the chazzan), it was one of the best davenings of my entire life. Every paragraph seemed to leap out at me with meaning, but especially the paragraph about the tzaddikim.

We saw our neighbor's son (Hillel Shor) in Atzmona. We saw lots of volunteers. Everyone was busy with something. We finally left there, and moved on. It was getting late. Go straight to Neve Dekalim, or see other places? Once darkness fell it would be difficult to see anything because the electricity was cut off in most places. Gidon asked that we see other places, because he had never been to them.

I think Bdolach was the place with the unfinished shul. We drove around a bit trying to see if we could guess which building was the temporary shul, but we gave up.

At Gdid the soldiers (not religious) at the gate told us to take as long as we like, expressed their dismay at what was happening, and blessed us. We didn't know at first if we were in Gdid, or in Gan Or. We drove in and saw two big buildings. Which was the shul? What was the other one? I barely peeked in the first building – the shul. I was getting burned out. It was dark, getting very hard to see inside these shells of buildings. I went to the dismantled play area outside the shul and imagined my children there. Then I went to the other building. Behind it, between the two buildings, was a big stone sign: Gan Gdid. OK. We're probably in Gdid. It was a simcha hall. A simcha hall – what a joke. Between the shul and the hall was also a beautiful garden area. The area was paved, but with big trees planted in rectangular sections surrounded by stone walls. For some reason, some branches from some of the trees had been knocked down. We don't know why. I picked up some seed pods from the ground to go with my Kfar Darom pine cone. Then we left.

Gan Or
We almost skipped Gan Or. After all, it was night now. But we went. We could hear heavy machinery moving around when we came to the shul. It was too dark to see inside. Paula's camera can take good pictures even in the dark, but I was too nervous to go to the downstairs in the dark, or do much. I was using my phone light to see a little. I went out. I felt so awful that we'd never visited this place. I told Gidon that we need to set aside one Shabbat a month to go SOMEWHERE in Eretz Yisrael. How could it be that these beautiful yishuvim existed and we never visited them? And now we can't. It's AWFUL.

Neve Dekalim
We left Gan Or and drove straight to Neve Dekalim. After everything we'd seen that day, Neve Dekalim was shocking, not because it was dead, but because it wasn't. We drove straight to the big shul. I'd been to Neve Dekalim twice before. It was familiar to me. I tried to see if I could tell if the zoo was empty, but I couldn't. We saw the usual trailer trucks and containers on the ground by some homes, but Neve Dekalim is so big it just didn't seem as overwhelming as in Atzmona or Kfar Darom. Many or even most homes just seemed normal.

We got to the shul. The big Ashkenazi shul was dark, but it was "whole". All the furnishings were there. I could make out siddurim on the shtenders on the backs of the seats. It was too dark to see the aron kodesh, but I'm sure it was there. There were lights in the Sefardi shul. Lazar and Gidon went there for Ma'ariv. We talked to people there. I spoke with a guy who was down as a volunteer to help people pack. Another young man was there illegally – doing whatever. A third man explained that he'd never been removed from his home. They'd knocked and he'd asked them to come back later. They never came back. The men came back from Ma'ariv and we all talked some more. I went and looked in the Sefardi shul. There was no sign of the events of the previous week. It just looked like a shul. Clean, beautiful. In use. I couldn't imagine it any other way. Then an army officer came and told us to come down to the street, that there was hot food there. Sure enough, a truck parked in the street and two men were handing out meals from the back. No one asked any questions. The "illegal" guy told us that they feed everyone. No one has to hide from the army.

I looked around at Neve Dekalim. It's so beautiful, so alive. The shuls, so complete. Even after a whole day of viewing ruins, I could not picture Neve Dekalim in ruins.

We drove to Rachel and Moshe Saperstein's house. We passed the park that we had spent time in when we came for Shabbat only two months before. I remembered how Moriyah was just starting to walk well. We had bought her sandals that Friday before we went down. Gidon put her on the swings there and she loved it. We passed the unfinished building that Akiva, Chayim Zvi and Gidon had visited. We got to the Saperstein’s and parked across the street. We looked at this beautiful little house. There's a gazebo in the yard, with a tile roof. There were soldiers there. One came over to us and almost pleaded to be allowed to go into the house and pack it up. It was locked. We explained that the owners were not likely to come down and pack it up themselves. So the soldier asked us to let the owners know that he and his friends would do it. Paula said that she'd tell Rachel. We drove around to see as much of the house as possible. The house is surrounded by beautiful trees. They'll have to knock down the trees to knock down the house …

We left Neve Dekalim after 9 pm. We were supposed to have been back at Kissufim by 9, but this was Paula's little rebellion. We passed Kissufim at 9:30. Then we drove home. I was so tired I could not keep my eyes open. How Paula managed the drive, I'll never know. We got home after midnight.

I still can't believe it's gone, or will be soon. I can't believe it.

Postscript - October 2005
If you want to know the fate of “our” beit midrash, read Paula’s article at:

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