Sunday, December 18, 2005


Ir Ha'emuna, An Update of an Update

This was sent to me by a friend.


December 14, 2005
An Update of my Update

I spent a good part of yesterday at Ir HaEmuna talking to people, and again, as always, I came away inspired. Depressed, but inspired.
The physical conditions are terribly difficult. We’re having unusually warm weather here in Israel lately with what I believe the meteorologists call an inversion—if I close my eyes I can imagine what the polluted air I’m breathing is doing to my lungs. But there’s certainly no need to shlep a coat or umbrella when I go out. When this breaks and it gets cold, and when and if the rains come (pray!), they’ll be coping again with those discomforts in their tents and caravans (they could change the name of The City of Faith to The City of Mud).
They’re still a very long walk away from the nearest town, Netivot, and very much off the beaten path, although there are usually intrepid people who make it their business to visit—there’s me, for one, whose daughter lived there until a month ago until she and her husband couldn’t stand it any longer and went elsewhere, and others, my guess is they’re almost exclusively from the religious public. While I was sitting with N and A in their tent kitchen, a woman from Monsey came with her son and joined us for a cup of coffee. They were in Israel for her son to put on tfillin for the first time tomorrow. So the evacuees are not totally forgotten, and they love every visit and every visitor.
Everything in Ir HaEmuna is makeshift. You have to stand in awe at the people’s resourcefulness. How there can be rooms and a measure of privacy inside a tent beats me, but there are, with even pictures hanging on the “walls”. There are all kinds of arrangements for getting from ground level up to the doorways of the caravans, and one favorite is piling up paving stones strategically. My niece’s husband S had their little girl in his arms and fell down the “steps”, breaking his leg. The child, luckily, was unharmed.
I still saw only two washing machines and one drier in the vast public area, though by now many people have acquired their own washing machines and other expensive necessities. One of the two banks of public toilets was out of commission for the whole day while some repairs or other were being made (the public toilets serve those whose homes are in either tents or meguronim, which are plumbingless caravans, as well as anyone who might live in a caravan with a bathroom but is at the wrong end of the enclosure at the moment he needs to go to the john). The communal kitchen is well organized. At lunchtime, women come with their own plastic containers and help themselves to whatever and however much of the offerings they need for their families, but the catering service is very partial to spicy seasonings, fried foods, and lots of carbohydrates. My niece asked E, who’s in charge of the kitchen, if there couldn’t be a fish and/or soy option once in awhile, but E told her that most of the people never touch the stuff.
On the positive side, the public area is clean and tidy. The dwellings of some people are, too, and of some others are not, just like in normal communities. You see a few people walking around purposefully, going about their personal or community business, but there’s good reason to believe depression is gaining a foothold with some, or many, more and more with each passing day and the future still very uncertain. The children are all in school and Talmud Torah, and I believe everyone is very pleased with everything having to do with their schooling. (M, who’s responsible for education, told me one of their greatest needs is money to pay the salaries of the melamdim—for anyone reading this who wants to help but doesn’t know how.) There are outings and chugim, some right in the tent city and some in nearby Bet HaGeddi or Netivot.
On the subject of donations, my niece T pleads, “Don’t send us any more used clothes and shoes!” She told me how burdensome it is to have to go through the piles and piles of cast-offs that get dumped in the middle of the Ir, sorting and folding neatly for people to come and help themselves. It’s not that no one ever needs anything. Some items do get taken and used sometimes, but T feels it’s an insult not to be asked, “What do you need?” Sometimes people have had to drop what they’re doing, sometimes even having to drive somewhere to pick stuff up. My friend A volunteers the information that what’s needed most is money. For people to be able to hold their heads up high until they’re on their feet again, they have to be able to make their own choices. A. told me of one woman who can’t invite her married daughter for a cup of coffee in the crowded conditions she’s living in, because the children run in and out and it’s impossible to have a satisfying conversation with her daughter. Having a little money to go with her daughter to a bet cafe is a basic need, not a luxury, for this woman. It’s important to establish and maintain contacts with whatever individuals in this plight one might know, in order to stay on top of what needs there well as to let them know there are people who care.
Someone made a big donation, which was used to buy an enormous expanse of some kind of canvas, which I saw being strung up to enclose the windy and rainy side of the tent city. They’re hoping that the next time it rains, which please G-d will be soon, they’ll be spared a lot of the chill, wet, and mud, and the middle-of-the-night mopping up. There are fewer power failures than there were at first, and they found a way to improve the acoustics so that the perpetual noise from the generator no longer plagues them, while any sound produced at one end of the enclosure isn’t clearly heard at the other end. T (not my niece; a different T) told me about one night soon after the expulsion when she couldn’t sleep. She decided to eat an apple, but when she took a bite, the echo was deafening and she was afraid she’d awaken her family, so she stepped outside the tent. But there she saw the men were having some kind of a meeting, and her apple would distract them. OK, she figured, scratch the apple!
I’m no psychologist, but among the people I talked to yesterday, no one seemed depressed. The one woman who someone with a more practiced eye might consider depressed had enough anger in her to offset any depression she might be feeling. Z is furious with the government, the despised minhelet (the body that’s overseeing the administration of the resettlement effort, such as it is), and the people into whose village they’re slated to be moving and setting up their new permanent community, who seem to her to be driving a hard bargain with the government for their houses and land, while they talk as if their motivation is pure patriotism and selflessness.
Another woman, N, the one to whose tent the woman from Monsey came, is disappointed and angry at how for most people life is going on as if nothing had happened to the people of the Gush and northern Shomron. N. never expected much sympathy from anyone without some connection to hahityashvut, but feels very let down that the religious public are not involved enough. She told me that for the people of the Gush, the school year didn’t start on September 1st, like for everyone else, but a month later. Why, she asked, couldn’t there have been a strike, even for half a day, on that first day of school; why couldn’t someone have been a spokesman for these people who’d been robbed of everything, even of their voices, saying, “As long as there’s no school for the children of the Gush, we’re striking for these few hours in sympathy with our brothers and sisters”?
I remember when I was teaching at a Chicago inner city high school in the 60s, I used to take the subway home at the end of the day, and one of my students, a kid who always seemed very well-adjusted and laid-back to me, would ride with me as far as the Loop, where he had a job at the Post Office. On the last day of the school year, as he got up to get off the train, I said to him, “Have a good summer, Lewis!” and I got a nasty surprise when his voice turned bitter and he said, “That’s easy for you to say—you don’t have to live here.”
No one in Ir HaEmuna would ever make such an utterance. That’s their nobility. They’re proud, gentle, and fortified by their faith and by their vision of rebuilding their homes and their community, continuing to see their fate and the fate of Eretz Yisrael as being intertwined. They deserve our gratitude, our respect, and our embrace. As long as our brothers and sisters are suffering from the cold and the damp and the mud; from lack of privacy, disruptions of their family life, unemployment, not knowing where they’ll be spending the Seder, let alone where they’ll be living two or five years from now; and from wondering whether in their new home they’ll again be subject to patzmarim and kassamim and to a nation that gets cold feet and trades their homes and land away yet again in exchange for promises of a cessation of hostilities—for as long as they’re still suffering, we in our warm homes must be sensitive to their needs and remember that their fate is ours, and act accordingly. יש"ע זה כאן, and עיר האמונה זה כאן.

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