On Wednesday we visited the Underground Bullet factory at Machon Ayalon, which secretly manufactured bullets right under the noses of the British, in a factory placed underneath a kibbutz bakery and laundry room. On Friday, we visited the underground shelter of the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya. This multimillion dollar project was scoffed at by many when first proposed and built as a potential waste of money. Thanks to the foresight of those who insisted it be built, it served six months ago as a refuge for those hospitalized during a time of attack. Like those who foresaw the need for ammunition in Israel’s fight for independence, this underground shelter and hospital ensured that medical care was available in the midst of repetitive and ceaseless katusha missile barrages. Later, the hospital opthamology department was hit by a katusha.
Later Friday, we sat in an underground shelter that served as the community center for Emet VeShalom, a Progressive Jewish synagogue in Nahariya. There we listened to the very personal and poignant stories of seven people who lived through the Lebanon 2 war. One 34 year old man, who left his family to return to military duty, spoke of the constant pressure of shooting artillery into precise coordinates ahead of the infantry. Another man, who was evacuated from the upper levels of the Western Galilee Hospital, spoke of his gratitude for the protection of the underground hospital where his treatment continued seamlessly. His wife was one of the only residents in her neighborhood who chose during the war to remain in her home; just in case the building was hit by missile fire, she would take out the trash daily to signal the trash collectors that there was still someone in the building. A white goateed grandfather, who was born in Algeria and moved to Israel on his own as a 15 year old, spoke eloquently about the routine experience of weekly katusha bombing over the years; though different now that he has grandchildren, he nonetheless remains committed to living up near the border where the life is wonderful.
The head of radiology spoke of his 2 year old granddaughter who, along with her new puppy, routinely ran into her apartment’s safe room at the sound of a rocket, waited for it explode, and then returned to playing joyfully with her new puppy. Finally, we heard from a 14 year old boy, born in Argentina and quickly becoming a shaliach tzibur (prayer leader) in the congregation, who choked back tears as he shared the trauma of losing a beloved aunt, the first person in Nahariya killed by a katusha. Each time he made a statement, he asked the question, “Why?” Over and over, these progressive Jews spoke with pride and warmth about how their congregation provided so much emotional and practical support for members of their community during the war, including regular newsletters and resettling members and non-members in the southern parts of the country. It was like being with Or Ami and our Henaynu Caring Community Committee.
Finally, we spent Shabbat – services and dinner – with the congregation. Though completely in Hebrew (after all, it is their mother tongue) with a bit of English and some Spanish for the Argentine immigrants, the service was wonderfully musical. Clearly the Rabbi/Cantor Israel Horowitz, with his graciousness and musicality, has grown this congregation in tremendous ways. Most poignant were the comments shared by Mickey, mother to Ehud Goldwasser, one of the soldiers captured at the beginning of the war. With strength and composure, she urged the community to join her efforts to lobby on behalf of all the soldiers who remain in enemy hands. Or Ami members were impressed with the warm embrace we received from our Israeli Reform brothers and sisters (and we enjoyed a delicious home cooked Shabbat dinner too!).
We purposely programmed this exploration of the reality and effects of the war until near the end of the trip. We had hoped – as has happened – that the trip participants would first fall in love with Israel, the real country, before dealing with these contemporary issues of life and death. It provided a context of ahavat yisrael, love of Israel. When Michelle asked the panel participants why, in light of the war, they remained in Nahariya and Israel, each answered in a similar way: the beauty of the north was such that they could not imagine living anywhere else.
It was an intense day of illumination and learning. Shabbat Shalom.