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by Rachel Saperstein


May 27, 2008

Months ago I had received an outraged call from a Jerusalem Post reporter.

"Do you realize that by settling in the Lachish region you would cause an ecological disaster to the raptors?"

I listened, aghast at the outrage I was about to inflict on the unsuspecting raptors.

Raptors, migrating to Europe, stop in the Lachish region to nest directly on the ground, give birth to their fledglings and together resume their flight. With humans interfering with their nesting sites, or even coming close to them, the raptors abandon their eggs more raptors.

I, Rachel Saperstein, and my homeless brothers and sisters of Gush Katif, desperately needing nesting grounds of our own, may cause the extinction of our raptor friends with the development of the Lachish area.

Uhhh...What are raptors, you ask?

Birds of prey, I answer. Owls, eagles, vultures, falcons, ravens. They eat mice, voles and all manner of creeping, crawling creatures.

Truly disturbed by the cruelty I was about to perpetrate I was determined [just as you are] to learn more about raptors.

During my two week trip to the USA I spent a weekend in Edison, New Jersey visiting family. The unveiling of the stone for my brother on the anniversary of his death was our main concern.

My niece Chana, a lover of all creatures, informed me that there was a Raptor Sanctuary in New Jersey [I'll give you all the information at the end of this blog]. On Monday we headed off for a visit.

A rustic building near a parking zone brought us to an office and a large classroom. Pupils were standing two by two with their teachers waiting their turn to hear a lecture on owls. Stuffed owls stood at the ready on demonstration tables. We asked to stay but were told these lectures were geared for children and had been paid for in advance. I assured them my level was childlike, and we would be willing to pay –– but rules are rules –– no admittance.

We began our short trek to the aviaries. The cages were large and well kept. In each cage was a raptor. Each bird had arrived injured but had been restored to health. They had not been restored to the wild as they were still incapable of fending for themselves. Dead mice littered the floor of the cages.

The Raptor Trust, as it is called, sustains itself on public donations. Most cages displayed a plaque attesting to the donor and usually in memory of a loved one. An engraved sign gave a case history of each bird. Apparently the sanctuary has done wonders keeping these birds from extinction.

We greeted each raptor. Chana, who loves to talk to animals, said "Good morning, Mr. Raven" and "Hello, Mr. Bald Eagle" and by golly they grunted back a reply.

We went to the Gift Shop and Information Center to gather as much material as possible so that I could bring the information back to our own people. I was determined that we, too, would have a bird sanctuary and a learning center to teach Israeli children about the raptors.

I asked to speak to the founder and director of the Raptor Trust, Dr. Len Soucy. I told him of our people's plight and need for homes. "We and the birds need nests."

The director looked at me thoughtfully and said "With all the troubles facing Israel, this is your number one problem? Build your homes and leave open land for the birds. They will find a way to reproduce." I thanked him –– truly a man of wisdom.

I'm back in Nitzan once again. I gave Motti Shomron, our man in the battle for Lachish, all the brochures I had collected. Motti, the supreme environmentalist, loves the idea of creating a Raptor Education Center and we, people and birds, will live together and thrive.

For those wishing to visit the Raptor Trust in New Jersey, check
The address is 1390 White Bridge Road, Millington, NJ 07946. Tel: 908-647-2353

June 16, 2008

Traveling to the wedding in Sussiyah took over two hours. We dropped off our driver's daughter in Kiryat Arba as she was attending a wedding in nearby Hebron.

"My friend insisted that her wedding was to take place in the Tomb of the Patriarchs," she grinned.

Bringing the ancient past and the present together at joyous occasions of bar/bat-mitzvahs, weddings and circumcisions has become popular among our religious youth.

Sussiyah, an ancient biblical city recently excavated, is in the south Hebron Hills. The young couple had chosen the courtyard of the ancient synagogue of Sussiyah for their wedding celebration. The bride and her family are from Gush Katif. The groom and his family are from the new settlement of Sussiyah built adjacent to the archeological site of the Jewish city created after the destruction of the Second Temple. One can still see the cisterns, the wine and olive presses.

The synagogue boasts a magnificent mosaic floor. A niche facing Jerusalem once held the Torah Ark. The wedding canopy was built in the courtyard of this ancient edifice. White satin curtains flowed from the roof of the canopy, with attached golden sunflowers giving a most poignant backdrop as the sun sank slowly into the rocky, barren hills of Hebron.

Today the blooming settlement of Sussiyah stands close by. The young groom's family lives in Sussiyah, the bride did her National Service there. They met, they fell in love, and that evening the ancient and the new joined together to create this glorious wedding. The groom, wearing a prayer shawl under the canopy, seemed remarkably similar to his father in law –– two red-bearded men.

As the parents escorted the groom to the wedding canopy the young yeshiva students danced and sang. Flute music accompanied the bride and her parents, with her friends singing joyfully behind her. Her aisle was not a white carpet but rather the stones and pebbles of this biblical site.

We were told to wear comfortable, heavy-soled shoes and to bring warm jackets. The desert hills of Hebron are cold mornings and evenings. The days are hot.

The breaking of the glass reminded us of the destruction of the temple. The entire crowd of wedding guests began to sing 'If I forget thee, o' Jerusalem'. The melody seemed to echo through the hills. Our bride had come from the destroyed communities of Gush Katif. The groom came from the re-establishment of a once-thriving biblical city now in ruins. The story of Israel –– from destruction to re-establishment –– was reflected in the glowing faces of our young bride and groom.

We met under a tent for a festive meal. The people of Gush Katif sat together enjoying these moments of being once again close to one another. We are a dispersed community and each happy occasion brings us together to hugs, kisses, to tell a story.

How exquisite it is to watch our young men and women demanding to be married in places where once our forefathers trod. The past and the present, the ancient and the new. There are those who say we have no claim to these lands. Our young people with their traditional lifestyles are the proud Jews who reclaim that which is ours.


Dear Friends,

OPERATION DIGNITY is now appealing to you for financial aid.

Many of our families are still without work.

We started the 'Dignity through Work' program to aid traumatized women to do community service for payment. The program has been enormously successful, but we need your help in keeping it running.

Our music scholarship fund is depleted.

We have had to reduce aid to the baby food and diaper fund.

We had hoped to run a 'Youth Work Services' program to give our youngsters pocket money for their community service. (Our synagogues are badly in need of painting.)

Please remember the people of Gush Katif whose lives were changed so brutally.

Please remember the people of Gush Katif who still need your help.

Please make your checks payable to Central Fund for Israel and earmarked for OPERATION DIGNITY. Send them to

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


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

And don't miss our website:


Rachel Saperstein was a teacher at the N'vei Dekalim ulpana in Gush Katif, Gaza, and a spokeswoman for the Katif Regional Council. Her book, "Eviction: A Gush Katif Viewpoint", with photos by Moti Sender, can be ordered from

Rachel and her husband, Moshe, were among the thousands of Jews kicked out of their homes in Gush Katif, 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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