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by Moshe Saperstein



For all the years I've been writing from Gush Katif, the one subject that elicits the most comment are my (mis)adventures with cats. I've never understood it, especially the comments on the current 'Goodbye' letters imploring me to write about 'the cats'.

So, for what it's worth...

A week or so after the expulsion we were informed that one person per family would be allowed to return to Gush Katif for a few hours to finish packing. Rachel had just been x-rayed and a hairline fracture in her ankle was found. She was now in a cast, and confined to bed. So it fell to me.

Those going from our hotel, the Jerusalem Gold, were told to board a special bus for Gush Katif at 8am, which would return about 4pm. Most of the packing was done, but I knew I couldn't deal with what remained alone. And I didn't want to have the time constraints of the bus. So, shameless bastard that I am, I played the cripple card.

Each of the hotels housing refugees had an Expulsion Authority employee whose job was to sit behind a desk in the lobby for a few hours each day and deal with the refugees problems. Generally, by saying 'no' to any request. The representative in our hotel was a clone –– in size, shape, looks, voice –– of the Muppet's Miss Piggy. She arrived at the hotel in time for breakfast and vanished after lunch. When she wasn't drowsing behind her desk she was loudly complaining about how overworked she is: "There aren't enough hours in the day for all I have to do for you people!"

Once we realized her function, she was generally shunned. So when I walked up to her desk and said "I know how terribly busy you are, but I need your help" she responded with coy smiles and simpering.

"I really can't do the work alone because I'm disabled" I said, putting my disabled veteran's i.d. in front of her. "I'd like my son to help me."

"I'll get him a seat on the bus with you" she smiled.

"There's another problem" I said, looking as embarrassed as I could. "I have serious bladder problems. I have to go every half hour. It's a two hour bus trip, at least. I can't ask the bus to stop for me whenever I have to go... Could you let my son take me by car? Then he can stop whenever I need to... you know..."

After a long pause, during which I could see dust exiting her ears from the unaccustomed mental activity, I said "Look, if you don't have the authority, I don't want you to get into trouble."

I had pressed the right button. "You can go," she snapped. "I say you can go, and if I say you can go, you can go." She started making phone calls, took down my son's details, and a few minutes later handed me the authorization.

I didn't bother telling her that my son-in-law, Hanan, was coming as well. He has horses and a vehicle for transporting them. Often he is asked to transport horses for the police, and as a result he has police stickers all over the vehicle and can go almost anywhere unchallenged. The fact that he doesn't wear a kippa helps as he's never mistaken for one of those evil religious enemies of peace.

ARI AND I SET OUT EARLY ON THE APPOINTED MORNING. Hanan would meet us at the house. There was little talking during the trip. What was there to say? As we neared the Kissufim checkpoint for entering Gush Katif traffic grew heavy and soon, still a kilometer away, we were stopped in a sea of cars. I left Ari in the car and walked to the checkpoint, occasionally stopping to wave to a familiar face. There wasn't a smile to be seen. Everyone grim-faced, desolate. We could have been heading for a funeral. Which I suppose we were.

The cars were barely inching forward and I wanted to see why we were being delayed. At the checkpoint I noticed that only lower ranking officers were checking vehicles. Generally it had been enlisted men who did this, with officers supervising. But enlisted men have human feelings and were prone to be sympathetic. Today, only officers. Having defeated us they were determined to humiliate us as well, and each vehicle was being checked as if it were carrying contraband. Off to the side were colonels, majors, generals, each looking like a Sharon clone. They laughed, slapped each other on the back, gave each other congratulatory hugs. And why not? Having failed to defeat the Arabs they had at least defeated the Jews. They were enjoying our humiliation enormously.

I was stared at from time to time, but no one bothered me. A Sephardi police officer, about fifty, came to stand beside me. We talked desultorily. He kept repeating, "If one soldier's life is saved by this disengagement it will have been worthwhile", over and over as if it were a mantra and he was trying to convince himself.

A small pickup truck reached the barrier. The driver was middle-aged, a boy of fourteen beside him. Apparently there was no authorization for the boy. The father pleaded that he couldn't do the work alone, the officers argued with him. Suddenly another police officer approached. He was gray-haired, wiry. He opened the truck's door on the passenger side and started dragging the boy out. The father held onto the boy. He was weeping. The officer began screaming –– "This is a country of laws and the law will be obeyed!" –– and punching the boy, who was also screaming "Dad, help me!".

The army officers roared in appreciation. Father and son pleaded and wept. The moron beside me kept saying "If only one soldier's life..." I had been bitterly disappointed in the police and army. Now my disappointment crystallized into a pure, burning hatred. Where it has remained to this day.

The boy was dragged from the truck, and the father told to drive on or he would be arrested. "We'll keep the kid here until you return."

I WALKED BACK TO THE CAR. I couldn't speak. Eventually we got through the checkpost –– hurrah for Miss Piggy! –– and continued to the house where Hanan was waiting. He and Ari busied themselves taking apart the pergola, which became Hanan's sukka, and doing whatever they were supposed to do. There were also a dozen wonderful people from the Judean Hills community of Neve Daniel, volunteers who had been given permission to help expellees pack.

I wandered around the house, alternately weeping and choking on my anger. Just as the corpse of someone you love is no longer that person, but a lifeless facsimile, so the house was no longer mine. Clogged with cartons, wires hanging from dismantled electrical fixtures, broken floor tiles, this was a corpse of something I had loved.

When I went out through the laundry room to the backyard to escape the noise of those working inside and to cry undisturbed I was greeted by the three kittens. I bent down to touch them. I cried, they mewled. I was aghast. They weren't supposed to be here. An animal's welfare organization had promised to go from house to house collecting abandoned pets. [I haven't heard of a single pet being picked up, but the media had a field day denouncing 'heartless settlers' for leaving their pets behind. As if a family crammed into a hotel room could bring their pets.] I ran for water for them, and looked for something they might eat. We had stockpiled a lot of water and canned goods in case of a long siege. I found cans of tuna which I opened and they devoured. Having stuffed themselves they –– as cats are wont to do –– turned their backs on me and sauntered off. I filled a baking tin with water and opened more cans of tuna. Several hours later they returned, feasted, disappeared. I never saw them again.

ABOUT TEN DAYS LATER we were again 'invited' to return for several hours. Our belongings, packed or unpacked, were to be put into shipping containers. We were asked to watch it being done, and watch the containers sealed. Failure to accept the invitation meant we forfeited the right to complain about anything lost or damaged. Not, as it subsequently turned out in many cases, that complaining would make any difference.

I knew this was the last time I would see my home. Bulldozing was already underway in most farming communities and Neve Dekalim was scheduled for the day after removal of the shipping containers. Knowing this was the last time I wanted to do it alone. Words of solace, however well-meant, would have killed me.

Again Miss Piggy came to the rescue and I was authorized to drive. I couldn't sleep, didn't want to ruin Rachel's sleep, so crept out of the hotel room about midnight. None of the usual insomniacs roamed the lobby, and by 2am I was in the car. It seemed pointless as we had been told the checkpoint would not be open until 8am, but by now I couldn't have cared less. At 3:30 I reached Kissufim and sailed right through, two dozing soldiers visible in the gloom of the ground fog.

All the communities I passed on the way home had been bulldozed, the wreckage clearly visible by the light of streetlamps. Two soldiers barred my way into Neve Dekalim. "You can't enter until 8am" one said.

"Get out of my way. I'm going through."

"We'll shoot if you try."

"expletive deleted" I said, revved the motor, and drove past them. They didn't shoot...

FIRST STOP WAS THE HOUSE. A young soldier was sitting on the porch. When I got out of the car he stood and pointed his rifle at me. "Who are you?" he asked. He was terrified. I calmed him down and he explained he was guarding the house against thieves. Many homes had apparently been broken into and ransacked. I entered and switched on the lights. Of course they didn't work as the fixtures had all been dismantled. I went to the back in search of the kittens. Not a sign. The baking pan was empty of water. I re-filled it.

I returned to the car –– spooking the poor soldier in the process –– and went off in search of life until dawn when I would return to work on the house. Driving slowly through the streets, some nearly blocked by remains of burnt tires and trash bins, I found I couldn't cry. It was as if I were as dead as my house.

At the far end of the community I saw a candle burning, and pulled up. It was my buddy David's house, and he was on a beach chair on his lawn. "Sit yourself down, Moshe, and have a swig". He was sipping from a bottle of Jim Beam. I declined, and after finding a seat where the smoke wouldn't bother him, lit a cigar. We sat in silence, staring to the east. Imperceptibly the sky began to lighten.

"Last sunrise in Paradise" David said. And after a while, "Don't you think it's funny? Most people come here as refugees, from anti-Semitism, wars, economic hardship. We came of our own free will, not running from but running to, to realize the Jewish dream of independence. A free people in a free country. And now they have turned us into refugees. You sure you don't want a swig?"

Just then the sun began to peep over the walls of Khan Yunis, and a van pulled up. The driver, Roberta, got out. "I've just finished packing..." was all she could say before bursting into tears. I hugged Roberta. David squeezed the last drops out of the bottle.

Back at the house there was really nothing for me to do but wait until the movers arrived. I stood at the picture window in the living room watching the sea and sky change colors as the sun rose higher. Remember this, I kept telling myself. Remember this.

AT NOON THE MOVERS ARRIVED. Six, and a supervisor. To my bewilderment only the supervisor spoke Hebrew. The six, in their early twenties, spoke Spanish. And not Puerto Rican or Latino Spanish, but pure Castilian. The D I had earned in high school Spanish made it possible for me to say hello, but not much more. I asked the supervisor who these guys were but he ignored the question. They were excellent workers, and very professional. In a matter of hours they had all the appliances and loose items bubble-wrapped. About 3pm a shipping container was placed on the lawn and by 4pm it was packed. I saw the movers off with an "Adios, Amigos" and settled down for the character who had to seal the container.

In one of the bedrooms I found forty large bottles of water, prepared for the siege. I carried them out and started watering the plants and trees, parched from two dry weeks since our departure. If ever there was a pointless exercise, this was it. In the 1960 WILD RIVER, about building a dam in Tennessee, an old farmer is asked why he is plowing the earth that will be flooded the next day. "You gotta do what you gotta do, an' I gotta do what I gotta do." I had to water my beloved plants, even if it was for the last time.

About 5pm a young man carrying a clipboard and speaking heavily Russian-accented Hebrew came by and told me the container sealer would hopefully be there about 7pm. Which was fine with me. I had seen the sunrise and wanted to see the sunset.

I was watching the sun flatten against the sea through a haze of cigar smoke, when he appeared. Bloody Tail. The cat whose tail bled most of the time after having been run over by a car. I hated this cat. And the feeling was mutual. We stared at each other for a long time. Then I dropped to my knees and he came to me, which he had never done before, and I stroked him, which I had never done before. And the tears I had kept in all day just burst out, and I stayed on my knees, stroking him and bawling hysterically. Then I brought him water, and the remaining cans of tuna, and watched him eat.

By 9pm the container sealer had yet to arrive. The young Russian told me he wasn't coming until tomorrow, and I would have to leave. I told him I wasn't leaving until the container was sealed. The Russian walked away, talking on a cellphone. A jeep soon pulled up. "You'll get arrested if you don't leave now" said a soldier.

"Arrest me" I said. He drove away. Only to return in fifteen minutes with the container sealer, a foul-mouthed relative of the police moron from the week before. Soon all the procedures were done, the container was sealed, and I was blessedly alone. Except for Bloody Tail, who sat patiently at my side until I left.

Since that time there have been desultory attempts to bond with cats.

While at the hotel I would visit Dafna on her farm and spend hours stroking her cat, a disturbingly erotic feeling.

Here in the refugee camp a kitten approached one evening and I gave it gefilte fish. It then proceeded to climb all over me. I was delighted. Alas, it turned out to be a one-night-stand as I never saw it again.

With Rachel on a short visit to the States I have begun feeding local kitties and now have a coterie of three adults and eight kittens who start kvetching at dawn and race to the door every time I appear. I know it's not my good looks, savoir faire and rapier wit they admire, but my generosity. I also know the honeymoon will end when Rachel returns. She simply loathes the creatures.


I'm sorry I spooked some of you into thinking I was going to cash in on my burial society dues. 'Goodbye' does not mean I am going to commit suicide. Not that I haven't considered it. But first, it is against my religious beliefs. He will take me when He gets His act together.

Second, I still have sufficient humanity not to earn guilt feelings by herniating the poor souls who have to lift my corpse.

Third, I'm too chicken-hearted. [Unless, of course, someone can slip me a cyanide-laced kasha knish...]

I'm also sorry some of you interpreted 'Goodbye' to mean I'm planning to relocate far away. Much as I no longer give a turd for what happens here, a] I won't leave my children and grandchildren, and b] there isn't any place I want to go. And if there were such a place -- apologies to Groucho Marx -- it probably wouldn't let me in.

When we arrived at the hotel, following the expulsion, I found myself constantly crying or at the edge of tears. Anything, even totally unrelated to Gush Katif, could set me off. When Rachel -- so used to me in my bon-vivant, devil-may-care mode -- could stand it no longer she urged me to seek professional help. But I didn't know any prostitutes or drug dealers, and was at a loss as to what to do until a friend suggested a psychiatrist who was a wonderful man, a real friend, to tally in agreement with my doomsday scenario. In fact he was so depressed that I was cheered up, the tears more or less stopped, and after only a dozen weekly sessions I bade him farewell.

[aside: One morning I was sitting on a bench waiting for the shrink to arrive. A tall, distinguished-looking white-bearded black-coated-and-hatted rabbi approached. This was in my old neighborhood of Bayit Vegan, now largely hareidi. I recognized him as a friend of my parents. We talked about Gush Katif, my tears flowed, and he 'comforted' me by saying: "Very sad, what happened, but we here in Bayit Vegan have no such worries. We are a Torah-true community and the Almighty will protect us." Only the memory of my father's friendship with him kept me from punching this man of the cloth. [[In the mid-1960's I actually hit a man of the cloth. A haberdasher.]] ]

Here in Nitzan the weeping started again, big time. Every time I closed my eyes I saw the looming disaster. And while I no longer cared particularly what happened to Israelis, the thought of it happening to my children and grandchildren was unbearable. So I spoke to our Sick Fund doctor, a g.p., who suggested a Sick Fund psychiatrist who probably speaks no English. The Bayit Vegan shrink was one of us; we spoke the same language. But the thought of having to discuss erectile dysfunction or early toilet training or Oedipal complexes in Hebrew was too ridiculous, and I refused.

So we settled on a drug, and after ten days of sleeping almost around the clock it kicked in. No tears. No feelings at all. All the things that filled me with joy -- cats, cloudscapes, kids, cohabitation, cacophonous music -- now left me indifferent. What was initially a relief became an annoyance, then a nightmare. So I stopped the pills. Better Weeping Willie than Zombie Zeke.

But as things spiral out of control I find myself longing for Zombie Zeke. I will be returning to my local g.p. Maybe this time we can find a drug that lets me enjoy the clouds.

Inadvertantly I left something out of Why We Lost, namely, why I think the Almighty didn't save us in Gush Katif.

People misinterpret His promise to Noah to mean that the world will not be destroyed. If you read carefully you will understand that He promises Noah that He won't destroy the world. There is no promise to prevent Noah and his offspring from destroying the world. And so it was with us. He protected us from all attacks by gentiles. But he wouldn't interfere if we destroyed ourselves.

[I was asked by some idiot what I was doing to mark the anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. One doesn't have to be a right-wing-religious-racist-fascist-fanatic-enemy-of-peace to be nauseated at how the left has turned Rabin's yahrzeit into a pagan rite of mourning. Say what you will against the man -- and there is a great deal to say -- he was certainly a connosewer of good booze. And his true legacy is that Happy Hour, when drinks are half price, has been extended an hour and now runs from 5-7pm.]

Many of you are puzzled as to why I am so bitter. True, you say, Gush Katif may have been Paradise. But you still have your wife and children and grandchildren, and extended family. And you must be grateful.

To which I say, you have no understanding of the nature of my loss.

Shortly after being wounded in the Yom Kippur War I was visited in Tel Hashomer hospital by a former neighbor from New York. "I'll bet you're sorry you came to Israel" said this paragon of sensitivity.

I just stared at him. Sorry? Coming to Israel was the best thing I had ever done. I was a fat, cowardly New York Jew. I had been a draft avoider, if not an actual draft dodger, in the country of my birth. A country I adored.

Israel had given me far more than I had given it. It had given me pride in myself, self respect, a sense of purpose. It had given meaning to my life.

And when we moved to Gush Katif all of these positive feelings were magnified. The constant danger intensified these feelings. I had dreamt of being a hero, and I was living my dream.

Even when I was wounded the second time my feelings didn't change. No one, except for Rachel and then only rarely, had heard me complain about the constant pain and dis comfort. So I couldn't wipe my backside properly? So I couldn't urinate without soiling myself? So what! It was for the cause to which no sacrifice would be too great. It was for Israel, the land of tough, free Jews. Of whom I was now one.

And then came the expulsion. And everything Israel had given to me, Israel took away. Gone was the pride, the self-respect, the sense of purpose. What made me more than a husband and father, what made me special, even if only in my own eyes, was torn from me far more brutally than my arm and fingers had been torn from me. And so my passionate love for Israel, tested day in and day out on the battlefield of Gush Katif, turned to passionate hatred. That is my tragedy. That is what is unbearable. That is why I need to become Zombie Zeke again.

[I have committed an act so barbarous that it stuns even me...

Before Rachel left for the States she conspired with my mother in Jerusalem to keep me from starving in her absence. My mom needed little encouragement and days after Rachel's departure I went to Jerusalem to collect. And what a collection! I practically needed a u-haul to lug it all back to Nitzan.

My mother had cautioned me that she was experimenting with new recipes, remarkable for a woman of 91, but I wasn't concerned. The lady whose cooking had brought me to the size of the Goodyear blimp could do no wrong.

It wasn't until I started gorging on her specialty -- and my favorite -- tuna croquettes that I realized she was really off in a new direction. I wasn't thrilled, but hey ... your momma is your momma.

Today, two weeks later, I reached the last of the treasures, a large container of spicy meatballs. I had it in the fridge when it should have been in the freezer but I wasn't concerned. Even when the peculiar odor hit me I ascribed it to some hitherto unused spices.

After one swallow I was doubled over. And here is the barbarism... Instead of flushing the meatballs away, I took the pot onto the lawn and began feeding them to the kitties. The normal complement of three adults and six kittens went wild. Here I was expecting them to turn into fetal furballs and instead they were doing backflips. And more cats were arriving... In a panic, I simply spilled the contents on the lawn and went back into the house.

I presume it will hit them later, and little mounds of fur will be all over my lawn in the morning. Unless they are considerate enough to go somewhere else to croak.]

A PARTING WORD TO THOSE OF YOU depressed by my doom and gloom. There is an upside to the coming destruction of Israel.

First, it means an end to shnorring letters from Israel. Admit it. Aren't you sick of endless Israel Emergency Appeals? Of course these will be replaced by shnorring for the refugees. But there should be a period -- about ten minutes -- between appeals for Israel and appeals for those few who avoided being slaughtered.

Second, synagogues and temples in the civilized West can build Walls of Remembrance, Museums of Tolerance, hold midnight torchlight vigils, study sessions, etc etc ad infinitum ad nauseam. They wouldn't help us when we were alive, but they'll do a bang-up job of mourning us when we're dead.

Third, and most important, while the secular escapees blend into their new wallpaper, the religious refugees will bring such a flowering of yiddishkeit to out of the way places as hasn't been seen since the Holocaust. Just picture a few examples:

The mikve of Mongolia...

The Yangtse yeshiva...

Kolel Christchurch, New Zealand...

Kolel Katmandu... "The atmosphere is thin but Torah is thick in the high Himalayas"

Kolel Kaui... "When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor they yelled 'Tora, Tora, Tora'.

When our jungeleit came ashore at Waikiki they yelled Torah, Torah, Torah. All are welcome to our Aloha Shabbos."

The possibilities are endless. Just use your imagination.

No need to thank me for these comforting words.


Moshe Saperstein and his wife, Rachel, 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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