Friday, July 28, 2006

Day 2: Shabbat in Tsfat

Shabbat in Tsfat

Shabbat: July 22, 2006

Shabbat in Tsfat filled me with mixed emotions. On one hand, the people who are still here are resilient. On the other, the vast majority of the citizens have left town. The main street, normally bustling after Shabbat, is deserted tonight.

We davened kabbalat Shabbat in the open, under the skies on the roof of the Livnot U’Lehibanot building. From there we went to the central square to join others who had come outside for Maariv. The Sephardic chief Rabbi Shmuel Mizrachi stopped by and there we were, on this difficult Shabbat, dancing in hope and prayer and belief that all would be well.

During the Friday night seuda, I met Devorah, an older woman who had miraculously escaped a katyusha hit on her home. She said that while she is a savta, she is still looking for the love of her mother & father and found it in Aharon and Miriam Botzer, Livnot founders and veteran Tsfat residents, who have taken her in.

As she served the many people at the Shabbat table, Devorah remarked that she feels like a child in her parent’s home, helping to serve the Shabbat meal.

After dinner we visited Mayor Yishai Mamon who was firmly ensconced in the Moked, the city’s central command post. Yishai survived the Maalot massacre of 1974 as a 17 year-old. He resolved to do all he can to keep Israel strong. He spoke to us in redemptive terms, convinced that we will soon be victorious. He pointed out that we are fortunate that Israel stepped into the battle now; had we waited any longer, the rockets may well have contained biological and chemical warheads.

After Shabbat morning tefillah, we sat with Cantor Uri Marton, a chazan in the IDF. He shared with us how he has learned different nusachot-- Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Persian so that he can officiate at all IDF funerals. He raised a cup of wine and using the Sephardi tune, recited a beracha. As he drank, we heard someone a few streets down echoing the blessing using the same Sephardic nusach and text. As if to emphasize our togetherness.

In the afternoon, we saw the site of the broken walls of the residence of the Mor family. In front of the house a small bicycle, a child’s coat and even a table with some unfinished food were all visible. One member of the Mor family was severely injured in the attack. As we walked through Tsfat, we stopped in at several bomb shelters. In one gloomy shelter, we were able to convince little Nechama and Eliezer to go outside for the first time in 9 days.

We walked on to one of the newer parts of the city. In front of one apartment building we saw a microcosm of Israeli society. We met Natan, a veteran of three wars, and standing near him was Sofia, who came from Russia 8 years ago and wants to return. Senedad, an 18 year-old Ethiopian who is soon going into the IDF, joined the conversation. Right there on the spot we gave her a new name--Tova, in the prayer all would be well. And we sang Am Yisrael Chai.

But the most difficult moments were those we spent visiting the Rebecca Sieff Hospital. Over the past few days, the hospital has sustained a few direct hits. In one section, shattered glass still lay around. What possesses a human being to lob rockets with the intent to hit hospitals?

As we moved through the hospital wards we met Nadav, an IDF tank driver, who was hit last Thursday and pulled from his tank into an empty house in Southern Lebanon. It took his IDF buddies almost 48 hours to extricate him as they came under Hizbollah fire.

After Shabbat we visited Nachshon, who was “lightly wounded,” but clearly despondent as he shared with me that he had lost two of his friends with whom he had served for the past three years.

In yet another room was Alex, a chayal from Kiryat Shmona wounded by fragments of a katyusha that entered his body close to his spine. Looking into his eyes, I could see his obvious concern over his future. His friend Gal, less severely injured, sat nearby, helping Alex drink water.

Claudine had just been brought in, after a rocket hit her home in the waning hours of Shabbat. Her mother, a nurse in the hospital, was more seriously hurt and was being treated downstairs in the ER.

We told all of them that we had come to stand with them and to thank them. I pray our visit brought some comfort.

We ended Shabbat with representatives from the Lev Ehad organization, whose mission is to bring joy to those confined to the bomb shelters, especially kids. It was inspiring to see young people so committed to helping those in need.

As I look over the hills surrounding Tsfat at night, there's now an eerie silence, a strange peacefulness that contrasts with the constant backdrop of booms and thuds from Katyushas and IDF retaliation that we heard all during Shabbat. The devastation being wrought on this holy city is palpable.

This is a real war. There's fear, uncertainty and yet within it all there is hope.

Several people have asked why I came during this difficult time. Perhaps Rabbi Adam Scheier of Shaare Shomayim in Montreal and Yonah Berman, a student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah said it best. “We came because there is no choice.” At a time when Israel is under attack, everyone in their own way tries to do whatever they can to help. Although we all live in N. America, our souls are here, bound up with our people and land.

We're in the period of the Three Weeks coming closer and closer to Tisha B'Av. One message of the fast is that built in to the mourning are aspects of holiday. At the end of Tisha B'Av, we bless the New Moon. The same moon that wanes and disappears, reappears, and waxes full.

So too, God willing, in Tsfat, stressful as it is with Katyushas falling all around us, somehow we will overcome.

Introduction: Diary Of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Week Long Trip In Israel
Day 1: Arrival in Tsfat
Day 2: Shabbat in Tsfat
Day 3: Haifa
Day 4: Tiberias and Nahariya
Day 5: Tsfat and Raanana
Day 6: Sderot, Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem
Day 7: Haifa and The Shomron

Diary of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Return Trip To Israel--Following the Ceasefire

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