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January 31, 2008

The weather is foul. Wind and rain have blown chairs across the parking lot facing our caravilla. Bits of discarded candy wrappers, sodden leaves and torn plastic bags litter the street. Lakes have formed in depressions in the gutter and sidewalks. Israel is in the midst of raging storms. Today the Winograd Commission will present its report to the people, probably whitewashing the mistakes of the Second Lebanon War. Poor government decisions, poor planning, poor execution by the army, will be glossed over.

Will the Commission take notice of the conduct of local governments? Will they comment on the municipal and government workers who fled their posts, leaving ordinary citizens to huddle in shelters with little food or sanitary supplies? Will they note, for example, that in Tzefat every government and municipal office closed except for that of tax collection? In modern, progressive Israel the government can ignore its duty to protect the citizenry, but Heaven help the citizens who don't pay their taxes on schedule.

When the government abdicated responsibility, non-profit organizations and volunteers from Israel and abroad came to the rescue.

A storm will rage over the Commission's report in the media, then quiet, back to business. Back to negotiations with Mahmud Abbas, head of the Fatah terrorists, now described as a 'friend' of Israel.

I was in Sderot a week ago with our friend Mendy, visiting from New York. We met with a family and listened, with despair, as the mother described their lives under a barrage of Kassam rockets. They live in a large house but are relegated to sleeping on mattresses in one room, the one closest to the tiny homemade security room only ten seconds away. Homes on either side show the devastation of rocket attacks. The woman hugged me when she learned I was from Gush Katif. "Only you can understand", she cried.

After five years under mortar and rocket fire in Gush Katif we had been evicted by the IDF who had spent a year practicing our expulsion instead of preparing for the war that followed. The eviction of the Jews only enlarged the Arab appetite. With no Israeli presence in Gaza the rocket factories worked unhindered and smuggling weapons from Egyptian Sinai continued unhampered.

IF YOU VISIT SDEROT, PLAN on seeing the spent rocket museum in the courtyard of the police station. Hundreds and hundreds of rockets bear witness to the indifference of the government and the IDF.

In Sderot, as in the north, non-profit organizations and volunteers are working overtime. People like the Russian immigrant businessmen Arkady Guydamak and Lev Leviev have, by their quick action, saved lives. Guydamak has provided citizens, particularly children, with vacations in safe places. Leviev has organized volunteer services to help the aged and the needy. Instead of honoring them, the Prime Minister has vilified them.

Two weeks ago I heard a most unusual prayer in our synagogue. A father asked the Lord "to release his daughter and her friends from jail."

His wife, sitting next to me, whispered "Our fourteen year old was arrested for being in an 'illegal' caravan. She refuses to give her name to the police. She and her friends have been in jail for weeks."

"Are you proud of her?" I asked.


"I am too..."

The authorities continue to practice for looming conflicts by the beating and imprisonment of patriotic high school girls.

My husband and I have just returned from the beach. We sat in our car watching the waves pound the surf. The storm outside and the storm inside continues.

February 13, 2008

I'm learning to play piano. I'd been playing the keyboard [known in Israel as 'organit'] for about four years when it suddenly made sense to learn piano and be a more 'serious' musician. My teacher, like all the music teachers in the Community Center, is Olga, a no-nonsense immigrant from Russia. We meet once a week and in her charming but persistent way she is determinedly making a musician out of me.

Recently Olga invited me to attend a recital by her young students. I arrived at an office now being used as the recital hall because the piano is so fragile it cannot be moved. The youngsters played and I listened with envy at their skill and horror at the sounds coming from the piano. Badly tuned, held together by ropes and propped up with piles of cardboard under each leg, the piano allowed the students to make music... barely.

Parents and guests applauded the children's efforts enthusiastically. Watching them play and seeing their coordination of left and right hand gave me hope that someday I, too, would get my act together.

But what to do about the piano?

No child has a piano at home and each uses, as I do, a keyboard for practice. Being unable to hear the beauty of music on a proper instrument disturbed me. Yes, we are refugees, but even a refugee has a right to play on a decent instrument. Last month OPERATION DIGNITY bought an accordion for the Community Center. The teachers, struggling with inadequate instruments, were ecstatic. As were their students.

I turned to the parents and visitors. "Let's get the authorities to part with some money for a new piano" I said. Some looked away. Some looked at the ground. The few that met my eyes smiled wearily.

"How much fighting can we do?" one man said. "We're fighting for compensation promised us. We're fighting for land to farm. We're fighting to build our homes... Now we should fight for a piano?"

"YES, YES, YES!" shouted Yocheved, a mother of two piano students. "Our children are our hope. Our children give us the courage to go on. Look at the joy they brought us at the recital!"

So it has been decided. We will pester the authorities for funds for a new piano. And will, perhaps, get a fraction of what we need. And I turn to you, dear friends, for the balance. Join us in keeping hope alive. Join us in making music.

February 24, 2008

"Rachel, you musn't be so aggressive!" I was admonished. "When people come to the Orange Gallery you musn't tell them to 'Buy!!'. You sound like a street hawker."

I guess it's my Brooklyn upbringing, specifically, Brownsville, a lower middle class blue-collar neighborhood. My parents owned a small textile shop in the Prospect Place market and as a teenager I stood near the outdoor stand crying "Buy! Buy!" I was short, cute and quite successful.

Being from Brooklyn creates an instant rapport with other Brooklynites visiting the Gallery. It is almost magical how we share memories of high school and street names. "Do you remember Pitkin Avenue... Lincoln Terrace Park... the Loew's Palace... the Yiddish Theatre on Eastern Parkway...?"

Most of these places have been trashed and turned into a massive slum. On one of my trips to the States I joined family on a visit to old haunts. Our house on Park Place still stood... dilapidated, but still there. Each street had its special memories. I could still go back, if just for a visit.

I thought of the children of Gush Katif, their homes destroyed, their synagogues burned, their parks piles of sand, their schools terrorist training camps. Unlike the girl from Brooklyn who can still see her past, however run down, Gush Katif youngsters will never be able to show their former homes and neighborhoods to their children. Today these youngsters live in refugee camps. Their parents, once proud farmers, are unemployed and living on the inadequate compensation given them. They will likely be unable to build a proper home again.

The Orange Gallery is a symbol of hope for our people. The original works by our artists on exhibit are a delight, as is the striking jewelry of the artisans. All are for sale. And I say "Buy!"

Don't buy because you are feeling sorry for us. Buy because you will be proud to say this is an original work by an artist or artisan from Gush Katif.

Don't buy because I am being pushy. It's simply that Brooklyn spirit that brought me to Israel and makes me fight for our people.

Don't buy out of obligation. We are a proud people, producing unique and beautiful works of art.

Don't buy if you feel put upon by an overly enthusiastic grandmother. After all, I'm a grandmother from Brooklyn.

Please visit us at the Orange Gallery in Nitzan.

AS A GIRL IN BROOKLYN I studied at Junior High School 178 where a music program brought great joy to us youngsters from disadvantaged homes. We didn't know we were disadvantaged. We just enjoyed playing our instruments. That's where I learned to play the flute and participated in the school orchestra.

My love for music began then and has continued to this day. Watching our Gush Katif Youth Orchestra reminds me of my youth.

I am so pleased to tell you that our campaign for a piano –– the street hawker in me –– has brought results and hopefully in a week or two a fine piano will be delivered to the Katif-Nitzan Community Center. Thank you for responding so warmly. Together we will raise music-loving young people even while living in the crowded refugee camp of Nitzan.


OPERATION DIGNITY needs your help to strengthen the people of Gush Katif in these 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


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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