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by Rachel Saperstein



by Rachel Saperstein
Neve Dekalim/Nitzan
March 3, 2011

"When a child is born its world revolves around itself, its own needs and interests. Approaching bat-mitzva at age 12, the child realizes that she is a member of an extended family, not just a nuclear family, with grandparents and great grandparents. Each generation has a story to be told. Most grandparents were born and raised in other parts of the world. Today their offspring live in Israel — the culmination of the prophecy of the ingathering of the exiles."

These were the opening remarks of the principal of the school that my granddaughter Ohr attends on her settlement of Maale Michmash north of Jerusalem. Tonight was a night to recapture roots.

The bus ride took an hour and fifteen minutes from Nitzan to Jerusalem, and a thirty-minute ride to the 'gas station' bus stop, and another ten minutes in my daughter's car to the settlement. I had brought a Vince Flynn novel to read on the way.

Hugging my granddaughters and listening to each one individually is one of the pleasures of grand-parenting.

Shani showed me how well she is reading and brought me her first-grade notebooks filled with gold stars and compliments from her teacher.

Hadar, now 9, came home from her flute lesson and performed for me. She then showed me her book of caricatures that she had drawn and a box full of imaginative letters from her Bnai Akiva youth group leader. I later watched this pre-teen sit on the arm rest of a couch, fuzzy bear slippers on her feet, chatting on the phone with a girlfriend. She would be the babysitter for Shani tonight, along with Taki the new dog.

Ohr, turning into a graceful beauty, got herself ready and soon Tamar, Oshri and I rode over to the community meeting hall. Ohr left with her girlfriends.

The tables were set with black velvet cloth, aqua paper plates and colorful matching napkins. Two families sat at each table.

We examined the display that the girls had prepared. Each girl had written a booklet on her family tree. Surrounding the booklet were family artifacts passed down through generations. Brass candlesticks, a camera — circa 1920, an old seltzer bottle, a worn prayer book told stories upon stories of family life.

A powerpoint presentation accompanied each girl's recitation of a grandparent's childhood and their struggle to come to Israel.

Ohr told the story of her great-grandmother Shoshana [Rose], Moshe's 94-year-old mother, and her life of volunteerism. Her picture, holding hands with Ohr, appeared on the screen.

Film clips of the aliya of different ethnic groups were shown. Most heart-rending were the pictures of Ethiopian Jews on their trek thru the Sudanese desert to waiting Israeli planes making their life-long dream of living in Israel a reality.

Finally, it was time to taste the lovely food that the parents had prepared. Each dish represented the food of a family's ethnic background.

I had suggested peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but Tamar insisted on serving our family favorite, squash soup. I found myself enjoying an apple crumb cake baked by another American mom. To each his own.

I was so glad I had come. Ohr kept running over to hug me and to show me her handiwork. I was the proud grandmother of this extraordinary child.

There are many marriages between our young men and women whose parents have come from over one hundred countries. Their children are blessed with the talents of each ethnic group. The stories of the Jewish people now settled in their own land provide a wealth of fascinating stories of roots — new roots that have taken hold and are blossoming into a forest of new family trees.


by Rachel Saperstein
Neve Dekalim/Nitzan
April 13, 2011

In the middle of the night, when you can't sleep and begin wandering around the house, come the flashbacks. Wrapped in a warm blanket I turn on the television set and watch the NHK news in English from Japan. It is riveting. I watch the faces of the survivors of the tsunami. Most are elderly. They lie on blankets on the floor of the evacuation center, dazed and uncomprehending. They are the survivors. Their homes, villages, places of worship, shops and family members have disappeared.

Gone. Only the rubble remains.

Forgive me if I make comparisons between what befell these people and the tragedy that took place in Gush Katif. In Japan we saw destruction by the forces of nature. We faced man-made destruction of our homes and communities.

I see myself in each of the Japanese people and I cry for them. Three weeks after the tsunami social workers and psychologists encouraged them to speak about what they had experienced. They talked about the moment that changed their lives forever.

I recall the social workers who came to the hotel where Gush Katif refugees lived in tiny rooms. "Don't cry" they said to us, smiling, totally without understanding or empathy for the tragedy that had befallen us.

My flashbacks have become today's reality in another country.

Reality mixed with flashbacks raises its head once again. This time, a war is imminent. A school bus was targeted by an anti-tank missile, reminding me of the Kfar Darom school bus that was targeted in Gush Katif. I call a friend in Kibbutz Saad. The bus was blown up just meters from her home. She's okay, she says. She's calm, she says. Rockets have been falling near and around her home. Her 'safe room' is nearing completion.

Another war is coming. I sleep in thick sweats and woolen socks. Friday afternoon. Five loud explosions bring us out of our homes. No one would react to one, or even two. But five? It's an hour before Shabbat. Blank-faced we scan the sky for smoke, then hear the sound of planes.

There is a collective sigh of relief. We are hitting them, and not the other way around.

It's going to be a rough Shabbat.

Friday night. I don't sleep well. At 4am the siren wails. I put on my thick red robe, and wake my husband.

"Are you going into the sewervilla?" I ask.

"I'd rather die comfortably in bed than in a sewer pipe filled with screaming people" he says, and goes back to sleep.

The neighbors across the way open their door. I wave and walk over to them.

"Are you going in to the sewer pipe?" I ask.

"I don't think so. It's too cold."

The siren continues to wail. The rocket is still on the way.

None of the other neighbors appear. I return to the caravilla.

I don't hear any explosion. Sleep is impossible. I feel a searing pain in my chest. A heart attack? No, it's tension. I prepare a hot water bottle and the pain subsides. Now a terrible headache. A stroke? No, it's tension.

Morning comes and I dress for the synagogue. I need to pray. I need to see people. I need to hear and speak to friends. I wonder why I am having such a severe reaction to one attack when I lived through years of bombardment in Gush Katif. My friends admit they, too, are feeling the strain. We can't explain why.

We joke about how we need new robes for our sewer pipe appearances. One husband suggests a wardrobe full of robes. "A woman should never be seen in the same robe night after night" he quips.

Everyone is exhausted. No one was able to go back to bed after the sirens.

Shabbat afternoon. The holy Sabbath and holidays have always been a favorite time for attacks on Jews. At 4pm a large group of girls were standing in a circle near our caravilla and singing the Bnai Akiva youth group hymn.

The sirens wailed and a mass of shrieking girls ran towards our sewer pipe shelter. The girls laughed nervously and one who cried was comforted by her friends. There was barely enough room for me and the neighbors.

Two loud booms meant impact close by. The children returned to their afternoon activities. The tension was gone, for now. The reality of our lives in Israel returns… living on the edge.

Later, we had a lesson with our rabbi on the laws of Passover.

"If we are in the middle of the Seder and the Arabs shoot rockets" I ask, "what do we do?"

The Rabbi smiled. "You stop the Seder. You enter the shelter. You hear the boom. You return to the Seder." He is very pragmatic.

We've been down that road and we've learned to live our Jewish lives, even under the most difficult circumstances.

May we all be blessed with a joyous Passover. May we see Elijah the Prophet come to our door and announce the arrival of the Messiah.

I wish you all, my dear friends, a happy Passover.

OPERATION DIGNITY continues to help our people with the small but vital needs that the government and large organizations cannot supply. More than ever, we need your help.

Shekel checks or US$ checks under $250 should be sent directly to
Operation Dignity,
POB 445,
Nitzan 79287, Israel

Dollar checks of $250 or more, earmarked for Operation Dignity, should be sent to
Central Fund for Israel,
13 Hagoel Street,
Efrat 90435, Israel


Central Fund for Israel,
980 Sixth Avenue,
New York, NY 10018, USA

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 by email at


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