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by Rachel Saperstein



The laws pertaining to the month-long mourning period for my brother, together with my still aching foot, had kept me house-bound.

A call to meet with the architects in Tel Aviv provided a much needed excuse to extract me from my seclusion. A comfortable one-hour train ride from Ashkelon to Tel Aviv found me in the spacious offices of AB-TICHNUN, the designated architects of the Neve Dekalim-Lachish building project. I arrived twenty minutes late but was greeted by the Gush Katif Planning Committee headed by Motti Shomron, the driving force behind our efforts, with smiles and a wink.

Being the only woman on the Committee puts me in an unique position. A woman's role in house planning is vital to the well-being of a building project. Women see the home, the family, the environment and the community in a special light. We needs what is practical and what is aesthetic. Fortunately the town planner of this architectural firm is a young woman, a secular young woman whom I could enlighten on the needs of families with deep religious convictions and multiple children.

Also at the meeting was a representative of SELA. Remember them? They were created by the government to oversee our expulsion. They are the bureaucrats who had no homes ready for us so we lived in tiny hotel rooms for many months. They are the bureaucrats who arbitrarily decide our compensation for homes, farms, businesses. The SELA representative rattled off the rules and restrictions regarding the building of our new community. Any attempt to ask a question was met with the authoritative voice of the established bureaucrat: "I'm in charge here. I'll tell you just what you can and cannot expect from the government."

I stood up, smiled warmly, introduced myself and pulled out my latest copy of House and Garden  magazine.

"Do you see this magazine?" I asked sweetly. "This is an American magazine. I came from America.

"I lived in Gush Katif. I had a beautiful home in Gush Katif and I expect to have one again in Lachish. And you, sir, are going to make it happen because I expect it. You and I are going to make it happen." Mr. Bureaucrat stared at me for a long moment. "I...we...well of course we'll make it beautiful," he stammered. "Good" I said in my most sugary tones. "This magazine is my guide and should be your guide as well." The tone of the meeting had changed.

Think Swiss Village... wooden beams, tall ceilings, large picture windows overlooking rolling hills, forests and vineyards. One need not build expensively but with imagination. One can build in harmony with the landscape, enhancing the site instead of destroying it.

Our architect must come up with a plan making this township, lying between Beit Shemesh and Kiryat Gat, a treasure. The hill named Givat Hazan is welcoming us to create a town that nature will be proud of. We will appear in the pages of House and Garden as a beauty spot in this part of the world.

Lachish boasts ancient caves, mineral springs, archeological sites and underdeveloped parks, and I have even been promised a lake. We are anxious to build a luxury hotel and a mineral spa based on Rabbinic medicinal concepts. Organic foods and drinks will be served in an elegant rustic setting. Honeymoon cottages with sheva brachot arrangements and lower-priced family cabins are some of the wonderful plans for this area.

Meanwhile, Friends of Gush Katif has managed to persuade the Knesset to pass a new compensation bill increasing the compensation due our people for the loss of their homes, farms and businesses. These monies, already withheld by the government, will be used for the construction of our new homes.

We may never erase the loss of what we had in Gush Katif but, with the Almighty's help, we will recreate it in the rolling hills of Lachish.

EXPENDABLE JEWS -- May 22, 2007

We were invited to a young people's concert in Ashkelon. It was charming, and as a former English teacher I smiled with fond memories as the choir sang "The heels are alive wid the sond of moozic".

Not wanting to return immediately to our plywood home, I suggested coffee at one of Ashkelon's beachfront hotels. Sitting in the lobby, feeling luxurious, we heard the loud, angry voices of hotel guests. The word 'Kassam' was repeated over and over. Our sense of luxury disappeared and Reality Israel homed in.

I approached the group. "Where are you from?" I asked.

"Sderot". I could sense their agitation. They had come to Ashkelon to enjoy a weekend respite from the continued bombing.

"When are you going home?"

"That's what is bothering us. It's hard to return to living with rockets exploding and always wondering if the next one will hit your home."

"I know how you feel. We lived under attack for five years in Gush Katif. We warned the government that if they did not prevent 'settlements' from being hit, towns and cities would be next. And with sorrow we were correct. I remember the mother of a soldier saying 'Why should I send my son into Gaza to protect you?' My answer was, 'If our soldiers will not protect me, who will protect you when the bombs reach your neighborhood?'

So we were expelled and the bombs fall on the Western Negev kibbutzim and on the town of Sderot and move ever closer to the Ashkelon power plant.

Today we heard the sound of jets as they flew on a bombing mission into Gaza. We occasionally heard a thud as the missile hit its mark. But we don't hear a sound from our influential Jews. Are our ordinary Jews so expendable? Don't the influential Jews hear the suffering of their fellow Jews? These are the same influential Jews who were willing to acquiesce in the destruction of 23 Jewish communities of Gush Katif. Are they willing to see all of southern Israel turned into a wasteland as long they aren't personally affected?

We received a booklet, with magnet attached, from the Israel Home Command. I dutifully stuck it on the refrigerator, though I haven't gotten around to reading it. The subject: How to react under a rocket attack. At our refugee camp, a three minute missile flight from Gaza, we have neither security rooms nor a single concrete shelter. Our safety is in the Almighty's hands.

Moshe and I have been talking of moving to Sderot for a month or two in solidarity with the besieged. Our ability to work with the foreign press might prove important again.

It is the day before the holiday of Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah. Central to the Torah is the land of Israel. When the Jew respects the land, the land will thrive. When we are willing to compromise the land, the land will spit us out.

It is the ordinary people who will hold on to the land. Despite our tears, we will hold on. Hag Sameach!


We visited Sderot yesterday. Leaving Nitzan we gave a lift to a Gush Katif student learning in the Sderot Hesder Yeshiva combining Torah studies and army service.

"How are you holding on?" I asked.

"Okay. It's a little easier for me and other Gush Katif students. We lived through rocket attacks. Boys from other parts of Israel find it more difficult when they hear the 'Red Alert' warning and hear the explosion just fifteen seconds later. We study, eat and sleep in the shelter. It's not great, but it's a fact of life in Sderot."

"Do the students help out in the city?"

"Yes, we visit families and play with the children in the shelters. People from abroad sent toys and games, so we have what to do with the kids. They sure need help. They're so scared. Many sleep with their parents. Others wet their beds. We try to give them courage to continue living in this town. We lived like this in Gush Katif. We grew up like this. We know what they are going through."

We dropped him off at his Yeshiva and met with Noam Bedein, head of the Sderot Information Center for the Western Negev, who provides information in English to foreign journalists and operates a website, His aim is to let the outside world see the human tragedy in Sderot.

"The foreign media isn't reporting the story of the devastation of Sderot. They just write about Israel's retaliation. Even the Israeli press doesn't get worked up over the attacks. The Kassams are dismissed as 'homemade' bombs. Come, I'll show you homes that have been hit."

Just then the 'red alert' was sounded and we rushed into a security room with steel doors securely locked. I didn't hear any explosion.

"I guess it was a false alarm" I said. I couldn't have been more wrong.

As Noam drove me around the city we spoke of the work I could do for Sderot. Noam was swamped and my assistance could help. One by one we passed homes -- lovely, spacious homes -- parts of which had been destroyed by the 'homemade' rockets.

I had seen bomb damaged homes in Gush Katif but was totally unprepared for the destruction caused by these highly advanced, powerful Kassams. 'Homemade' is part of the mythology of Arab resistance to 'the occupation'. These rockets were not being made by elves in a primitive underground workshop. These precision-made rockets were coming from Iran via Egypt, and were more devastating than anything we had seen in Gush Katif.

The damage to property is bad enough. The damage to people is worse. They are in shock. They function at the lowest level, so traumatized from the constant attacks that their only concern is buying food and returning to their homes.

The 'red alert' warnings are most often heard in the early morning, late afternoon, and middle of the night. People have seconds to scurry to a shelter, if there is one nearby. The elderly and the infirm don't bother making the effort.

"During the months of the so-called ceasefire" Noam explained, "the government made no response at all to the hundreds of attacks. It drove people crazy. You are willing to be brave when your government is fighting for you. But no response at all leaves you feeling helpless and abandoned."

NOAM SHOWED ME a school building with a concrete security roof. "But the roof covers only a third of the building" I exclaimed.

"In that school," he replied, "only the first, second and third grades are protected. Children beg to be put back to third grade so they'll be safe."

Noam pointed to a huge concrete wall protecting one side of a school building. The other side is unprotected. The protected classrooms are dark and airless.

"A teacher," Noam jokes, "asked the children why snails have shells. One child said the shells are protection against Kassam rockets.

On Jerusalem Day the homemade Western Wall was filled with notes begging G-d to stop the Kassam rockets.

During the math matriculation exam a 'red alert' sent students rushing to a shelter. Fear replaced concentration."

Store after store had closed. A once vibrant town is shutting down. Fear keeps people from wandering outside.

I saw glass-fronted shops that had been renovated after a rocket attack had devastated an entire shopping center.

"Why glass?" I asked a shop-owner.

"This glass is shatterproof" she replied.

"Do you believe it?"


"Do you have any customers?"

"I haven't had a customer in three weeks. People don't buy clothing. Just food. I'm going to have to close down soon."

THE COMMUNITY CENTER has closed down. It has no protective roof. The mental health center is unprotected, making trauma victims even more fearful.

"Hi, Noam!" a young man called out. "Did you see the damage caused by the rocket that fell a half hour ago?"

We made our way to a dilapidated housing project. On the top floor of a four-storey building two elderly ladies, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, sat in shock, crutches and a walker propped against a nearby wall. Shards of glass, smashed crockery, splinters of wooden cabinets lay in a pool of water in their devastated kitchen, where the Kassam had exploded.

Walking up the narrow stairs in the crowded housing block gave me an opportunity to meet the residents. Each floor, each open doorway, each shattered apartment told a story of stoic people nearing the end of their patience.

Glass and debris-filled floors surrounded two infants in car seats perched on a shredded couch. One couple had put their cat, a beautiful red-furred animal, into a carryall to send to safety.

"How were two invalids supposed to run to safety?" cried one woman.

"Where is the government? Where is the army? Why are we abandoned?" shrieked a woman clutching a toddler to her breast.

Israel radio and television reported the attack, stating there were no injuries or damage. The damage was all too visible. The injuries no less so.

I had lived through rocket attacks for five years in Gush Katif. All I could do was hug the people of Sderot and promise to tell their story. Perhaps people living in their safe neighborhoods will come out and demonstrate and cry "No more!"

Please pray for the people of Sderot. They are your family.


This is our second visit to Sderot. After weeks of continuous rocket attacks the town appeared to revive. There had been only one attack the previous night. The ensuing quiet sparked courage. People went out to do some quick shopping. Events could quickly change.

Once again I joined Noam Bedein of the Western Negev Information Center on a tour of Sderot.

We stopped in front of a badly damaged synagogue. "I was here when it was bombed," Noam began. "A new Torah scroll, accompanied by music and dancing, was being brought into its new home -- this synagogue. Crowds had come to join the festivities. They stood in the courtyard and in the main synagogue. Refreshments had been laid on the study hall tables. The people who had been setting the tables were shooed out of the room and the door locked. Seconds later the Kassam rocket slammed on to the roof of the just-emptied hall. The noise, the smoke, the shock was horrific. Young women, children, older men screamed and cried. Many fainted. Terrified parents tried to collect their children. Miraculously no one was injured. The mental damage is another matter. The media reported the event: 'little damage... no injuries'."

Mangled furniture and bits of glass still lay on the floor. The glass enclosed bookcases containing copies of holy books had remained intact. Two pictures of rabbis hung untouched.

We said Shalom to Naphtalie, the sexton, who was packing dusty prayer books into cartons. He sighed and shook his head in despair. "This was one of the most crowded synagogues in Sderot. Now we barely have a 'minyan'." The synagogue itself had suffered damage to its roof. The holy ark was unharmed.

I recalled the wanton destruction of our synagogues in Gush Katif after our expulsion. Was this Hashem's message -- If you were prepared to allow the destruction of my holy places in Gush Katif, no holy place is sacred.

We drove to the supermarket. Although well stocked and built underground the store was practically deserted. A few brave souls quickly packed food into shopping carts. The young man laying out fruit and vegetable told us his story. "This is crowded," he assured us. "People are afraid to come out of their homes even to shop for food. At night we leave cartons of food at apartment buildings for people to collect. We donate cake to the soldiers. Volunteers come to buy food for the elderly. The Tnuva truckers were afraid to deliver dairy products. The IDF put the truckers into the army reserves. Then they showed up. Me? Oh, I'll hang around for awhile then I'll leave Sderot. No future here. You can't live like this forever. The government? They're not going to stop the rockets. They're hopeless."

We stopped at a mobile bomb shelter. The shelters, called 'Lifeshields', are being placed in strategic public areas, near parks and bus stops. There were no children in the parks. There were few people on the buses. Stepping into the shelter gave one the sense of claustrophobia. The electric light did not work. I couldn't judge how quickly the elderly would be able to sprint to the shelter after hearing a Red Alert signal.

OUR LAST STOP was the headquarters of Lev Echad [One Heart]. The brainchild of Russian-Israeli millionaire Lev Levayev, Lev Echad recruits volunteers to work with families in distressed areas. I recall their help to Gush Katif expellees when they arrived tired and hungry to the refugee camps. Last summer Lev Echad went up north to deliver food and games to those in shelters. Now they are in Sderot. Smiling young people stood about waiting for their instructions.

David offered me a glass of water. He was manning the telephones. "We get calls from families in need," he explained. "We send out volunteers to help children with homework and to play with them. We try to relieve stressed-out parents. We shop, buy medicine, clean houses and just listen to the people. No job is too difficult."

A group of new volunteers sat together as they received information about Lev Echad. The young people, religious and non-religious, were working together. This is Israel at its best. Seeing these brave young people ready to help their brothers and sisters gave me a much-needed lift.

I was assured that people of all ages are welcome to volunteer. Call Lev Echad, 0528-226869.

Returning to the Information Center, Noam and I talked of the work we needed to do to get the Sderot story out to the media and to the people of the world. Noam's email is

At 5:45pm the Red Alert brought Sderot to a halt.


An Israeli TV crew joined us on our trip to Sderot today. They are in the process of shooting a short documentary on Gush Katif refugees in which we appear.

"The bombing of Sderot is a direct consequence of our expulsion from Gush Katif. I feel I should be here -- to lend a hand, to write, to bring the Sderot tragedy to the world. This is the Arab response to being given Gush Katif land, buildings, farms and businesses," I say.

We stopped at the Sderot police station. Trays of Kassam rockets are displayed. A group of visiting tourists gape. Each rocket has its own designer label pointing to its factory of origin.

"The Israeli government threw out Jewish grandparents from Gush Katif so that rockets can kill Jewish children," I cry out in pain.

Today I learn about the manufacturing of these rockets. The long cylinders are the pipes of Gush Katif hothouses, the explosives are made of Israeli chemical fertilizer, the factories are powered by electricity from Israeli power plants. And under the noses of the Israeli army the shooters send their vicious weapons to kill, to maim, to destroy the Jewish people.

The TV crew has had enough of Sderot. They flee.

I continue on towards the synagogue that had taken a direct hit. The study hall was still in shambles. Firemen give instructions to the caretaker on how to proceed with repairs. The elderly men who once came to the study hall to learn Torah are terrified of sitting in an unprotected room. The cost of rebuilding the roof is far beyond the means of the congregants. The caretaker begs us for help. Noam Bedein of SderotMedia promises to put their request on his website.

We meet with Chana and Tsefania in their simply furnished apartment. Chana is active in the Sderot Parent-Teacher Association. Brought up on a kibbutz of Holocaust survivors, she thought that having a number tattooed on your arm was natural. "I feel I've returned to the Shoah," she says. "I live with the tension that at any moment my family and friends could be destroyed. I live in fear every moment of the day."

Tsefania, of Yemenite descent, was an army career officer. "I was for the disengagement," he tells me. "Now I see how wrong I was. This is the result. It's been quiet for the past three days, but I know the bombings aren't over. I'm tensed up waiting for the next round and it will be worse because I've let my guard down."

Noam puts on a disc of film he has taken in a Sderot kindergarten during a Kassam rocket attack. We hear the 'Red Alert' signal. The teacher cries "Hurry, hurry children." Dozens of four-year-olds rush to the shelter, sit on the floor, and count back from 10 to 1, and then sing as hard as they can. "They sing at the top of their lungs so they won't hear the boom of the rocket exploding."

Once again Jewish children are running for their lives and singing so they won't hear the sound of the deadly rockets -- built with Israel's assistance -- that can annihilate them in seconds.

Please pray for our people.


The picture window had blown apart in the home of Rachel and Ami Ben-David. A gaping hole stood in place of the window. The front of the house was pockmarked with shrapnel scars.

"The first Kassam rocket that hit our house broke the front window. That was a month ago. We are still waiting for the government damage assessor to pay us so we can replace it. Meanwhile a guard has been placed in our home to protect our property."

Ami has an infectious smile. He leads me to the back of his home where the second Kassam rocket had fallen this past Sunday.

"Our son, his wife and twin daughters sleep in that bedroom in the back. They decided to move in with friends and left Saturday night. Thank God they went away. The rocket fell early Sunday morning shattering the window in their room. The flying glass would have killed them. My middle daughter is traumatized. Her place of work was bombed and now her home has been hit for the second time."

Blue-eyed Rachel looks at me and asks the eternal question: "When does the killing of Jews stop? Thank God my twin granddaughters are away from here. I don't want my children to bring the babies here anymore."

We commiserate. We talk and share stories about being grandmothers of twin girls. How painful, we agree, to tell your children that they must not come or bring the grandchildren anymore. Imagine Jewish grandparents fearful for the lives of visiting grandchildren. Imagine no Sabbath meal together, no joyful knock at the door when the little ones come to visit, no warm hugs or cuddles on the living room couch, because the Red Alert will begin and you know that your home has been targeted -- two times, too many.

Last week my eldest granddaughter, Doriah, called. She is in the ninth grade. She told me she had volunteered to go to Sderot with classmates under the auspices of the School Volunteers program.

"Savta [grandma], we had a choice where to go and I chose Sderot. We visited with families. I sat with a bedridden woman. I cleaned her house, went shopping, and talked with her. Savta, what wonderful people they are. Then, at night, we marched through the streets of Sderot carrying flags and torches. And we sang 'Am Yisroel Chai!' The people came out on their balconies and threw candy down at us. I met other teenagers there. It was so special. I'm so glad I decided to go to Sderot."

That was my darling granddaughter speaking. How would I have felt had the Red Alert sounded as she marched in the beleaguered town.

A group of Russian-speaking Sderot children will be arriving in Boston shortly. They will appear in community-type performances telling the chilling story of their lives under fire. The twenty children have also been invited to attend summer camp in the USA. This program is the brainchild of Noam Bedein of SderotMedia Information Center.

The government of Israel as a goodwill gesture will release 250 Fatah prisoners. This morning a rocket exploded in the courtyard of a school. Some damage, no injuries. Only frightened, traumatized children.


OPERATION DIGNITY will be aiding projects in Sderot as well as continuing to help our people in Gush Katif refugee camps.

Contributions, earmarked for OPERATION DIGNITY. Should be sent to

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


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


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 flimsy trailers in Nitzan, seemed a step up. Contact them at


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