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[In the January issue (Adventures in Caravilla Land), we followed the Sapersteins' involuntary adventures to where they moved into a caravan in Nitzan. This essays continues their story. ]
From Maudlin Moshe S.
It is 4:15am and I'm awake because I slept so much on Shabbat. Semi-trailers rumble on the highway, whining and screeching to a halt when the traffic light turns red. It is cool and, I suppose, still starry though the street lamps blot out whatever feeble light comes out of the sky.
[aside: On a shnorring trip for Gush Katif to the States about two years ago, when we still believed that good will defeat evil, I spent an evening at the Riverdale home of old and very close friends. It was lovely because of the hosts and various of their children who dropped by, but it was magical, unforgettable, because of the hour or two we spent on their lawn after dinner. The sky was filled with stars and, to my amazement, many of them appeared to be in motion. Their home is on the flight path for both Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, and the airplane lights were only distinguishable from stars by their motion. It was like being in an outdoor planetarium. To which were added the myriad fireflies blinking on and off around us on the lawn, and the pale scented fires to repel mosquitoes.]
I drag on my cigar and inspect the laundry hung out last night. Of course it is still damp. One of the first things we did while setting up was have the laundry lines installed. There were at least three boxes full of bedclothes hurriedly stuffed in -- remember, we had many people sleeping over -- before the expulsion. Though most were clean, after six months in storage they were also odiferous. So I enjoyed washing and hanging them out, and folding them.
At least they could be washed. Many of the foodstuffs we bought in anticipation of a long siege in Gush Katif have had to be thrown out. Canned good were okay but the pastas and dry cereals and soup nuts, though sealed, developed a strange odor. So out they went.
Rachel wanted to go to a meeting in Ashkelon tonight at which the three options for permanent housing are being considered. Option 1 is an area called Nitzan just south of here in which 600 housing units for former Neve Dekalim people will be built; Option 2 is just north and called Nizzanim Park, 1000 housing units, first choice for Neve Dekalim; Option 3 is Lachish. I refused to go, pointing out that if the State is going under as rapidly as I believe, "permanent housing" is a joke.
Even discounting my fate-of-the-State obsession, none of the options is feasible. Both Options 1 and 2 are very close to Ashkelon, where Kassam rockets are already falling daily. It is an open secret that the dribble of rockets will turn into a hailstorm after our corrupt version of Neville Chamberlain is elected. Why plan for an area to be hit far worse than Gush Katif ever was?
Option 3, Lachish in the Negev, is Rachel's choice. I envy her enthusiasm, and her ability, like most of this country, to ignore reality. The area in question has 100 Jewish families, and several hundred thousand Bedouins and Palestinian Arabs. These latter married Bedouin women and under our oh so humane laws have been permitted to join them, and to bring many relatives along. This area, as related to my son-in-law Chanan by a friend of his who is an officer in the Green Patrol environmental police, is already no-go for police and army. It is totally under the control of drug smugglers. If this weren't enough, our Supreme Court has ruled that the government's plan to develop the Jewish Negev is racist, and that no sums can be allotted for Jewish expansion without a proportionally larger sum for Arab expansion.
Friday morning a representative of the Defense Ministry showed up. The Defense Ministry, in our topsy-turvy world, is responsible for the garden. That he showed up at all is unprecedented, a testimonial to your faxes and e-mails. He looked at the protruding pipe: "We can't fix that". He looked at the electricity-threatening sprinkler: "That's not going to cause a short. But if it does, call me." And away he went. Rachel and I have pretty much decided that we want to keep the pipe where it is. So many people have visited and insisted on taking pictures of it that it clearly is an attraction. And we don't want to disappoint our public.
That same day my brother and sister-in-law brought my mom for a working visit. Best of all mom brought food for Shabbat, and being mom she made enough to last us all week. While they were here an ice-cream truck arrived, parked right outside our door, and deafened/serenaded us with "Jingle Bells". I had left this noisome terror off the list, in error. It appears every day just as kids get out of school. We'll survive it.
By now all our pictures are hung, or almost all -- there are some too heavy for the wall -- and the house looks like an art museum. La P is happy.
La P was even happier over Shabbat visits with neighbors. At the best of times I am not easy to live with, and these are -- a rare understatement -- not the best of times. Rachel is a social creature and I find socializing torture. Yet, after a lovely dinner a deux we decided to take a walk. The weather was balmy as we strolled through the Neve Dekalim section of Nitzan. The streets were largely empty as most were still eating.
To our surprise, and sorrow, though here and there an effort was clearly being made to make property attractive, most places looked like dumping grounds. I'm not referring to the shipping containers behind many houses. People have nowhere else to put them. But litter, such as one never saw in Gush Katif, abounded. Not garbage, but broken chairs and empty cartons and the like. It was Dogpatch, without the stills.
We visited friends, who returned the visit Shabbat afternoon. And Shabbat after services we ate at other friends. I was my brilliant, witty self and a good time was had by all, particularly Rachel.
Both last Shabbat and this past Shabbat the sermon in shul was about the Almighty's miracles and how we must never give up hope for a miracle. These sermons fill me simultaneously with awe and anger. The first Shabbat after the expulsion, just three days earlier, found thousands of refugees gathering for Friday night prayers in a large outdoor square between the Central Bus Station and the Jerusalem Convention Center. All week the square has a small population of derelicts, beggars and homeless. Refugees housed in the nearby Jerusalem Gate, Jerusalem Gold and Caesar hotels were there, as were many who made the forty-five minute walk from the Shalom Hotel. Swelling our ranks were sympathetic Jews from nearby neighborhoods. A contingent of television and newspaper reporters and photographers appeared, and were politely asked to leave. They didn't leave until they were asked less politely.
Even August nights can be cold in Jerusalem and most of us were inadequately dressed: short-sleeved shirts, sandals, nary a sweater in sight. But the tears and embraces as we exchanged horror stories kept the cold at bay. I suspect most of us were too numb to feel anything except our grief. Our rabbi spoke of the need to pray even harder for a miracle. This absurdity -- we had already been expelled -- and the fervor with which most people prayed drove me to the edge of hysteria. It was clear to me, if to few others, that our loyalty to Him was clearly greater than His loyalty to us.
[Aside: Now don't get all persnickety over that last sentence. I accept intellectually that the Creator can do no wrong, and that all will eventually be seen to have been for the best. But I cannot accept it emotionally. Not yet, anyway. That I do know my place in the great scheme of things is illustrated by the following:
Several months before the expulsion a crew from the Korean Broadcasting Service visited us at home. By this time I was no longer giving interviews -- a subject for another letter -- but Rachel was doing an interview at the Local Council offices and I was stuck. In truth, I was beguiled by the reporter. Small, sweet-faced, so ageless that I couldn't tell if she were twenty-five or sixty-five, with a soft, lilting voice. Her camerawoman seemed to be an airhead, also of indeterminate age.
During an interview that went on for more than an hour I kept restating my certainty that the expulsion would not take place, because the Almighty wouldn't allow it.
Two weeks after the expulsion she appeared at the hotel. I was out yet she and her cameraman waited for over an hour til I returned. The interview was held in that part of the hotel parking lot closed to cars and filled with chairs and tables. While Rachel sat at a nearby table giving an interview to a Norwegian journalist, Miss Seoul and I and her cameraman began working.
At one point, after reminding me of my certainty that the Almighty wouldn't allow the expulsion to happen, she said, "Ah, Moshe, you must be very angry at God."
"Yes. But I am more insignificant to God" -- tears were flowing -- "than this speck of dust is to Mt. Fuji."
She reached across the table and took my hand, my hideous claw-like hand, in one hand and began to stroke it with her other hand. "Ah, Moshe, you are in such pain. Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?"
Well? actually I had several suggestions. But kept my mouth shut because Rachel was nearby and her cameraman, a zits-faced youth with baseball cap turned backwards, was glaring at me.
As they left I asked her age. "I am forty-five, dear Moshe, and still looking for love."]
Yesterday morning I was up at 3, did a load of laundry and hung it out, and was on the way to Jerusalem by 4:30. Why I needed to leave so early doesn't make sense to me, so I can hardly explain it to you. But the roads were clear and I could be thrilled as ever by the first lightening of the sky.
My first stop, shortly before 6, was the hotel. A bag of laundry had not been returned to us before we left and I was hoping it would be awaiting my arrival. It wasn't. May the s.o.b. wearing my underpants get terminal crotch rot.
I was surprised at how I felt entering the lobby. Surprised because I felt nothing. It was familiar, of course, but familiar in the way that, say, a subway station is familiar. You know the place but there is no feeling of connection. The night watchman, with whom I had spent many hours gabbing in Yiddish because he didn't want those around us to understand that he was cursing them, gave me a warm greeting and started one of his interminable tales of hotel managerial malfeasance. I listened just long enough not to be impolite. The sole Gush Katifer in the lobby at that hour asked a pro forma question about how we are managing in Nitzan and started on hotel gossip, which was pointless to me. The pointless need not be uninteresting, but this no longer meant a thing to me and I escaped quickly.
This left me two hours to prowl downtown while waiting for my bank to open at 8:30. I was struck, as I invariably am, by how dismal everything is. Heavenly Jerusalem may indeed be heavenly, but earthly downtown Jerusalem is the pits. Earthly Jerusalem has two main growth industries, both dominating the streets even before the working day begins. In addition to delivery men and sanitation workers, which it always had, Jerusalem now has security guards and beggars.
Every bus stop has a security guard. Every shop selling food has a security guard. Even many smaller shops have guards. Even Shmielke Feintuch's alleyway stand selling shoelaces and chewing gum has a security guard. With Arab suicide bombing the standard protest for high prices and poor service, this situation requires no explanation.
As to beggars, yes, there have always been beggars. Most were professionals whom you acknowledged, if not actually greeted. [Keep in mind we lived there almost thirty years.] Now they are a plague. Sorry to be so... uncharitable? But there are stretches of the Ben-Yehuda mall and Strauss Street near Bikur Cholim Hospital where more people are soliciting than being solicited. You walk through a crowd and a majority are shaking plastic drinking cups. And have I mentioned that every thoroughfare now has beggars at every stop light?
Apologies. I hadn't intended writing about Jerusalem in this letter. Perhaps when I write about our hotel stay I'll deal with it in a more coherent manner.
By 8:15 there were already a dozen people waiting to enter the bank. I was number one. The guy behind me, late thirties, was very antsy. From 8:25 he was glancing at his watch every few seconds, cursing loudly that it was already past 8:30 and why didn't they open the damn doors already. You know the type, and if you don't know the type you aren't missing anything.
As the door was opened he tried to elbow me aside. I pushed back. "What's your problem?" he said in the local patois meaning "watch it or you'll be eating a knuckle sandwich."
"Oh, I'm sorry" I said with exaggerated politeness. "I forgot I'm dealing with an Israeli."
"Aren't you an Israeli?" he said, clearly taken aback.
"No. I was, until Israelis like you threw me out of my home in Gush Katif. Now I'm just a Jewish refugee."
Murmur, murmur, murmur -- just like the great scene in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN -- and the waters parted letting Moshe sail through. What a feeling of triumph. Hollow triumph, to be sure, but you take it where you can get it.
After the bank I went in search of Shlomo Carlebach discs, one of Rachel's passions. We had discs and cassettes but all seem to have disappeared. Securing the discs I then entered a Steimatzky looking for another of La P's passions, magazines like HOUSE BEAUTIFUL, BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS, and most appropriate for Dogpatch, MODERN LATRINE. The young female clerks accepted my proffered mags with raised eyebrows, and I rewarded them with my best Isaac Mizrahi imitation. When they offered me a 50% discount on cookbooks I sniffed and said "My partner and I only eat 'take-out'".
On to my old friends Steve and Rivka in Bayit Vegan, where I did my rant about the imminent collapse of the State. Their reaction was like those of everyone else when I start foaming at the mouth on this subject. Nobody disagrees with me, whether because they see things my way or just don't want to argue with a madman. Instead they say "Don't be so depressed." But how can I not be depressed, given what I believe? There's a light at the end of the tunnel, someone said. To which I replied "It's an express train hurtling toward us." Occasionally I hear "The Almighty won't let it happen," to which I remind the speaker he/she is talking to a refugee from Gush Katif.
I stop to visit Dafna and the beautiful cherubs on the way back to Nitzan. Dafna, exhausted but radiant, thinks Alma looks like Rachel. I don't see the resemblance, and probably won't until she learns to speak and starts enumerating my faults.
Back in Nitzan I grab a quick snooze because we have to be in Ashkelon for a bar-mitzvah early in the evening. I am going under duress -- the bar-mitzvah boy is Rachel's hairdresser's son -- but Rachel has promised "we'll stay for fifteen minutes only." How often have I heard that? La P couldn't get out of a burning one-storey building in fifteen minutes. But on the ladder of who she really needs in life the hairdresser is several rungs above me. So I keep my mouth shut.
The hall, though its name has been changed, is the same hall where Tamar and Oshri were married nine years ago. The area has the same charm as any industrial area at night, with the added attraction of the large prison one block away dominating the landscape. We feel right at home.
An hour after our arrival Rachel says "You go downstairs and wait outside. I'll be right there." Stifling the impulse to say "Who is Hugo?" I dutifully swallow my tenth or eleventh pastel, a triangle of dough filled with mashed potatoes, take a last look at the nubile cuties attending a bat-mitzvah in the adjoining hall -- the family name is [I swear I'm not making this up] Mamboshvili -- and escape into the open.
Rachel appears an hour and two cigars later, but my time in the parking lot has not been uneventful. I am approached by a latecomer to the bar-mitzvah, a bus driver from Neve Dekalim now living in Nitzan. We had been friendly. "I have to talk to you," he says. I stiffen.
But first, some background:
There are really two distinct towns called Nitzan. The first -- let us refer to it as Nitzan 1 -- was built by the Expulsion Authority before the expulsion and was filled with those who did not stay to the end. These people, some from Neveh Dekalim, most from other Gush Katif agricultural communities, were able to leave in an orderly way, ie, with their belongings intact. Many also received financial advances.
The community into which Rachel and I have moved -- shall we call it Nitzan 2? -- was built after the expulsion to house Neve Dekalim refugees holed up in hotels. People with few belongings and less money. People for whom Rachel started Operation Dignity.
Nitzan 1 is geographically adjacent to Nitzan 2. Emotionally and ideologically the communities are miles apart. We left with little but we kept our self-respect. They left with their belongings, money, and self-loathing.
"It's unfair that you people got so much," he began, "and we got nothing. You got shoes, clothes, money, while we got nothing."
I pointed out that he left with his belongings, so he didn't need shoes or clothes, and had received money from the Expulsion Authority.
"You were having a good time in the hotels while we were suffering" -- I used to marvel at how history in the Soviet Encyclopedia was revised every few years, and here the history of the past half year was being turned on its head -- "and it's unfair. What are we? Second class citizens? Traitors?"
I didn't bother to argue because, first, I'm braver in print than in person and, second, I genuinely like this guy. I finally understood, first hand, why since our arrival Rachel and the women who help her distribute money have been harassed by former Neve Dekalim people in Nitzan 1 who want, retroactively, to receive what those of us in hotels received. There are only a few agitators, and all are well off by current standards. More than the clothes and money they want us to validate their decision to leave early. And that we cannot do.
The sad, ironic truth is that those bothering Rachel for money don't need it, while those in need, even dire need, keep silent out of shame or pride or mental and physical exhaustion. What a mess.
There is a meeting tonight for supporters of the Lachish option, and Rachel has gone with a neighbor whose husband, like me, refuses to get involved. God bless the Women of Israel. They may yet save us.
Several of you were very sarcastic about my weight loss. One suggested I make some money out of it, for Operation Dignity of course, by patenting it: Moshe's Eat Your Heart Out Diet. Step aside, Dr. Phil!
Bitter cold, fierce winds, a thick sandstorm. Our gardener has succeeded in moving the protruding pipe -- the one that couldn't be moved -- to a point where it is marginally less dangerous. I have mixed feelings about destroying a shrine to man's stupidity.
He has also just finished installing enough plants for a medium-sized botanical garden, with computerized watering. It seems a bit grandiose considering our circumstances, especially as it's costly and we'll be out of here before it really flourishes. Still, I defer to La P in matters aesthetic. And I do believe that living well is the best revenge.
HOLDING ON by Rachel Saperstein
I am trying so hard to hold on. Unable to drag our Pessach dishes from the container on our daughter's farm to our caravilla in Nitzan, we made do with three pots, glassware and paper plates bought at the last moment. We did just fine with our small cache. No one knew that we were winging it. I sadly missed my own things as once again we were using strange items. But our pleasure in sitting at our own table, smearing butter, cheese and cherry jam on a piece of matzah, in pajamas at 10am, no hotel waiter asking us to vacate as breakfast was officially over, was a luxury. We woke when we pleased and entertained guests at any hour of our choice.
This cardboard caravilla is not our home but it is surely a home after six months in a small hotel room. We know that this is temporary and we will be told to pack and move. We will be threatened with expulsion once again. And so we hold on, stitch our lives together, move away from the utter depression that had set in. We watch the bit of television we allow ourselves.
During Pessach we heard the endless shelling of Israeli artillery into Gaza. We heard the voices of our people, out of work. We heard the sadness in the voices of our people, many struck down by stress-induced heart attacks and cancer.
Groups came to visit during Pessach. I speak to the people but I am not pleasant. I cannot forget or forgive. The Jewish National Fund will be bringing a group here next week. I have warned them that I will not be pleasant.
Two nights ago, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, we had a solemn ceremony for our Six Million. I heard the plaintive voice of one of our young boys singing, RACHEM [mercy], "Mercy o' Lord on your people." I remembered the same words so clearly sung by our youth in the synagogue of Neve Dekalim as they wept and swayed in prayer the last moments before being dragged out by the Israeli Army. The youngsters on our makeshift stage spoke of the Warsaw Ghetto surrounded by barbed wire, of identity checks, of the lack of food, of despair. And I stood and silently wept remembering the empty shelves in our Neve Dekalim supermarket, the identity checks at the checkpoints in and out of Gush Katif, and finally the masses of soldiers who came to pull us out of our homes.
I remembered the Israeli flag that fluttered proudly from the roof of our front porch and I see the same flag and the menorah, symbol of the Knesset, on patches sewn on the vests of our soldiers as they came to remove innocent Jews from their Jewish homes. Those cherished symbols of my country, Israel, desecrated by the government of Israel and the army of Israel.
Next week we will celebrate Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Independence Day. This year we will have no Israeli flag on our caravilla. My heart breaks that I cannot rejoice with the Flag of Israel because I am ashamed of how it was used. Instead we will plant the flag of Gush Katif on our lawn.
Perhaps someday, when our hurt has lessened, when we can emotionally separate the Government and State of Israel from the Land of Israel, we will once again raise our flag over our home. But not this year. This year we will just hold on.
He lost an arm while fighting in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He was
again wounded in a February 2002 incident when he drove his car into a
terrorist who had just shot and killed a young mother traveling in the
car in front of him. He writes frequently of his physical and
emotional struggles. His wife, Rachel (aka. La Passionara, La P.)
worked at the Girls High School in Neve Dekalim.
They are now in a caraven in Nitzan.
Moshe Saperstein and his wife Rachel lived in Neve Dekalim, Gush Katif, in the Gaza Strip. He is a Jerusalem Diarist, one of the group of Israelis who are recording their experiences living in Israel.
He lost an arm while fighting in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He was again wounded in a February 2002 incident when he drove his car into a terrorist who had just shot and killed a young mother traveling in the car in front of him. He writes frequently of his physical and emotional struggles. His wife, Rachel (aka. La Passionara, La P.) worked at the Girls High School in Neve Dekalim. They are now in a caraven in Nitzan.
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