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by Rachel Saperstein


March 1, 2008

I couldn't join the Gush Katif orchestra at their concert on Kibbutz Saad. Still a bit queasy after the flu, I decided to stay home. I'm proud of our youngsters because Kibbutz Saad is in the Western Negev and the area has been under constant rocket attack. Now Ashkelon, a ten minute ride from our refugee camp, is being bombarded. Twelve Grad missiles hit Ashkelon today and each explosion made our caravilla shanty shake.

The IDF has made a very limited incursion into Gaza, to placate an aroused public, but even they acknowledge it will have little effect on rocket attacks. The norm is the IDF bombing empty buildings or firing at cars carrying terrorists and explosives.

A Grad missile fell near Barzilai hospital; another hit the power station plunging much of Ashkelon into darkness for a short while. There were no UN Security Council resolutions condemning Hamas for putting the Jews in darkness. My music teacher, Olga, is frightened. She was walking near the marina when a missile fell nearby. "It's all over the city. There is no place to run to", she said. I invited her to live in my caravilla.

I remember, some months before our expulsion, an art exhibit in Ashkelon by Gush Katif artists. The mayor, in a jovial voice, told us that after our expulsion he would welcome us to Ashkelon where we would be safe and content.

We warned him that our expulsion would bring rockets on Ashkelon. He smirked. We warned, we begged, we sent our message to our Jewish leaders in Israel and abroad. Our voices were stilled, our homes in Gush Katif destroyed by a Jewish government. Today we watch Jewish homes all over southern Israel destroyed by the Arabs of Gaza.

The Gush Katif orchestra are playing for the people of Saad. Almost fifty years ago, as a student visiting Israel for a year, I lived on Saad. I picked carrots and learned to tend the chicken runs. My friend and roommate, also from the States, married one of the gorgeous locals then serving in an IDF unit protecting Saad from infiltrators from Gaza. Fifty years later the kibbutz is again under attack from Gaza.

Many of the kibbutzim on the border with Gaza actively sought the removal of Gush Katif's Jewish farmers. Every Friday afternoon they lined the road leading to Gush Katif, carrying signs reading "End the Occupation. End Gush Katif" and "Gush Katif people are evil". Traveling in and out meant facing jeers and catcalls, curses and threats. Today these people live in terror as the border with Gaza is now their back yard. Rockets and bombs rain down on them, and snipers fire as they work their fields. They had never shown us any love and concern. Tonight our children are showing them love and concern, bringing music and bravery to our friends on Kibbutz Saad.

As I cleaned the house for Shabbat I listened to Kol HaDarom, Radio Voice of the South. Mingled with the anguished voices of the people of Sderot and Ashkelon I heard instructions given every half hour by Homeland Security on what to do when hearing the 'Color Red' alert. Unlike Sderot, which has only fifteen seconds, the people of Ashkelon have thirty seconds to run to a security room, a shelter or a stairwell. If you are caught outdoors you are advised to lie on the ground and cover your head with your hands.

I remember instructions, as a schoolgirl in the 1950's, when we were told to hide under our desks, shut our eyes, and put our hands on our heads in the event of nuclear attack. The more things change...

March 11, 2008


When we lived in Jerusalem one of our neighbors, Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, founded a most unusual organization called AMISHAV [My People Return]. We would often see rather strange-looking people –– Asiatic and exotic, with high cheekbones and slanted eyes –– carrying their infants in white cloth on their backs, beating a path to his door.

We got to know some of these people. They were from northeast India and were called B'nai Menashe. They had found their way back to their Jewish roots through, strangely enough, Christian missionaries who had informed them they were most likely the lost tribe of Menashe. Having wandered for thousands of years through China, Burma and finally to the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram, they had taken on the facial characteristics of the indigenous peoples.

So under the tutelage of the rabbi they slowly returned to their Judaism and began preparations for living in the land of their forefathers –– Israel. The rabbi became their teacher and their Moses, for truly he began their journey to the Promised Land. They went through halachic conversion so there would be no question of their legitimacy as Jews.

The rabbi would ask my husband for help in writing brochures and letters in English explaining the work of Amishav. The rabbi traveled to the far reaches of the world when news of a people practicing Jewish ritual reached him. Many of these peoples did not fully understand why they lit candles on Friday night, wore fringed garments under their clothing, scoured their homes for their Spring festivals and circumcised their sons eight days after birth.

After examining their practices and determining their genuine eagerness to reunite with their brothers in Israel, he would send their leaders to Israel for study. These leaders then returned to teach in their home villages, and prepare their people for conversion.

Today in Nitzan we live with forty such families. We hold these B'nai Menashe families dear to our hearts.

But what of Rabbi Avichail and his wife Rivka, a renowned French teacher? After raising their children in Jerusalem they sent them out to establish homes in Judea and Samaria and development towns. Their children became educators teaching the love of Judaism and Israel to their students and to their own children.

Rabbi Eliahu Avichail, our former neighbor and dear friend, was sitting shiva for his brother last Thursday night when news came of the shooting at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav.

When the names were released he learned that among the murdered was his sixteen-year-old grandson, Segev Peniel Avihail.

Rabbi Avichail, who traveled the world to bring his people back to Judaism and to Israel, rose from his shiva to attend the funeral of his beloved grandchild, murdered in cold blood because he was a Jew.

March 15, 2008

"Dust is not chametz," Moshe shouts at me. I ignore him as usual and get down to cleaning another drawer or moving another bed. Finally we move the fridge and there is real honest-to-goodness chametz, six round Cheerios and two noodles. Cleaning for chametz –– a time-honored tradition –– is cleaning one's soul as well as moving towards a purity of thought of kindness and of giving to others.

To our wonderful people who have given to Operation Dignity from the purity of their hearts, I want to say thank you. To the Gush Katif Committee who are fighting for us, thank you. To the Beit Shemesh woman who has put aside money for a much needed piano, thank you. To those who created the Gush Katif bridal showers, thank you. To those who are placing a music school and now a library in Ein Tsurim, thank you. To A, ever giving and giving, thank you. To the wonderful quilt maker whose profits go to Gush Katif people, thank you. To JobKatif, who put our people to work, thank you. You are all the purity after the chametz of our expulsion. And most especially to those of you who have regularly contributed to Operation Dignity.

And thank you to Mike and Layne, whose article follows. Chag Sameach to you all.


by Mike Lowenstein

A Multiple Choice Question! –– What exactly is Nitzan?

  1. A refugee camp shoddily built for Jews expelled from Gush Katif in 2005
  2. Temporary living quarters (caravillas euphemistically) designed to last 2 to 3 years
  3. Town with an inadequate infrastructure located between Ashkelon and Ashdod
  4. Dwellings without any security rooms for protection from Gaza rocket and mortar attacks
  5. Home to a large unemployed and disenfranchised population
  6. All of the above

If you answered 'all of the above', you were absolutely correct!

Unfortunately, multiple choices were not given to the formerly productive settlers of Gush Katif. They were summarily removed from their homes, stripped of their livelihoods, treated as third class citizens, and largely ignored.

More than two and a half years after the Disengagement, there are hardly any permanent housing solutions for the large majority of the residents of Nitzan and other similarly built towns. Plans have not been formulated; monies have not become available; and the government continues to be inefficient and ineffectual, yet very creative in putting up roadblocks.

In other words, the impact of the Disengagement continues as a huge humanitarian crisis.

Layne and I visited Nitzan in December 2006 and again this past February. We have good friends, Rachel and Moshe Saperstein formerly from Neve Dekalim, still living there. It was Rachel, who started Operation Band-Aid in the early days, weeks, and months when the settlers were living in small hotel rooms. That successful effort eventually turned into Operation Dignity.

Webster defines 'dignity' as the quality or condition of being esteemed, honored, or worthy. Operation Dignity is that bridge of hope from despair, a ray of light amidst the darkness, a lifeline to grasp onto until better days! It has been and continues to be an avenue for providing families with pressing, immediate needs without dehumanizing bureaucracy. It is a channel for restoring dignity.

Many of the refugees have found alternative employment; some have started new businesses; and others have been retrained, all through the efforts of JobKatif. However, a third of the previously employed still remain unemployed. Operation Dignity assists all of them.

These are a few of the examples of how Operation Dignity has helped in bringing hope and providing financial aid:

  • A young couple needed help for a newborn diagnosed as deaf. Funds were provided for medical equipment as well as travel costs to and from the hospital.
  • A family, both parents ill, needed a clothes dryer for their soldier sons' uniforms. A dryer was purchased.
  • A fresh widow received money for food for her family. As the children went out to work, the amount was decreased.
  • A hairdresser was helped to take an advanced course on hairdressing for brides.
  • A Bnai Menashe child, a talented piano student, was provided with a full scholarship to the Community Center Music Program.
  • Women too traumatized to work were given financial incentives to work on community projects by the Dignity Through Work Program.
  • Operation Dignity opened and supported the Orange Gallery to provide a venue for Gush Katif artists and artisans to sell their work. The artists are now in charge of the Gallery.
  • A Bnai Menashe Motif, a program to encourage the Bnai Menashe to create Judaica using their ethnic embroidery, was started.
  • Funds are provided to schools and youth groups for end-year parties and holiday celebrations, to maintain a semblance of normal life.
  • Funds for diapers and baby formula are given to young parents.
  • Financial incentives are provided for rabbis, teachers, and scholars to work with our people, particularly children and the Bnai Menashe.

This Pesach let all those who are needy be helped by those who have the ability to do so. And, may all who do help merit the reward of providing dignity to our brothers and sisters, who have temporarily lost theirs.

Checks can be made out to Shomrei Emunah Israel Fund, earmarked Operation Dignity (see below).


April 27, 2008

Friends, I am going to arrive in the USA on May 1.

On Sunday, May 4, I will join my family at the cemetery in New Jersey for the unveiling of my brother's tombstone. Rabbi Max Berkowitz passed away a year ago but I was unable to attend the funeral. Now I will be with the family for this sad but important event.

We are nearing the 60th Independence Day of Israel and I would like to speak to as many groups or congregations as possible.

Talking about the past, the present and the future of Israel is close to all of us and I would like to share my thoughts with you. I am bringing a film on Gush Katif with me.

I am setting up an itinerary now, preferably in the New York/New Jersey area. I will be staying with my sister and brother-in-law, Harriet and Sam Berman, and can be reached at their number: 1-718-494-3047. Just leave your name and number and I'll get back to you. Until then I can be reached at or at 972-544-810290.

I will be returning to Israel May 13.



OPERATION DIGNITY now has a website:
Click on the links. Please let me know how you feel about our website.

OPERATION DIGNITY needs your help to strengthen the people of Gush Katif in t hese difficult times.

Please send your contributions, earmarked for OPERATION DIGNITY, to

Central Fund for Israel, 980 6th Avenue, New York, NY, USA


Central Fund for Israel, 13 Hagoel Street, Efrat 90435, Israel

Contributions sent to Central Fund are USA tax-deductible, ID#13-9933006


Before her community's expulsion from Gush Katif, Rachel Saperstein was a teacher at the N'vei Dekalim ulpana and a spokeswoman for the Katif Regional Council. Her book, "Eviction: A Gush Katif Viewpoint", with photos by Moti Sender, can be ordered from

Rachel Saperstein and her husband, Moshe, were among the thousands of Jews kicked out of their homes in Gush Katif in the Gaza strip, and forced into temporary quarters so dismal, their still-temporary paper-based trailers in Nitzan, seemed a step up. Contact them at This August, it will be three years that the Israeli government made them into refugees in their own country and their quarters are still temporary.


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