April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Chanukah With the Children of Shlomit

Hat decorating with the children of Shlomit.

Bergen County has been astounding in its response to the war in Israel. Each week the pages of The Jewish Link are filled with accounts of giving–in all ways by people of all ages and affiliations. We would like to share one small event that took place in the Cramim Hotel over Chanukah.

As you know, over 200,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Northern and Southern Israel. Many have been placed into hotels. Most of the fathers are serving in the army. There is no structure, and no privacy, as families are living in one room next door to other families. The lobby is the communal living room space.

They are, to be sure, extremely grateful to have a home. They are also traumatized. They had no time to really grasp that they were leaving home. They had grabbed some summer clothes, appropriate for the south but inadequate for colder Jerusalem. They left thinking they would be back in a few days.

Hat decorating with the children of Shlomit.

The Cramim Hotel, outside of Jerusalem, opened its doors to the 80 families from the community of Shlomit. Shlomit is actually one of the more fortunate communities–they have been able to remain together as a group.

When you stand at the edge of Shlomit you can see the border fences of both Gaza, 40 kilometers away (24 miles) and Egypt, 700 meters away (half a mile). The community had originally been located in Sinai, which was given to Egypt in 1982. They then moved to Gush Katif, but had to move again in 2005 when it became Gaza. In 2011 Shlomit was founded in its current location. On Oct 7, 2023 they again fled, this time, be”H only temporarily.

On that infamous day Shlomit’s neighboring community, Pri Gan, was attacked. They had only two men on the Security Squad that day so they contacted Shlomit who sent nine more. Six from Shlomit were injured and three were killed. One of the injured just had a son and he named him Be’eri, which is also an acronym for his slain friends–Bezalel, Aviad and Reuven.

Manicure with the children of Shlomit.

We have a granddaughter who learned in the Midrasha in Shlomit. It was a long drive down south to visit her. It was a sunny, quiet day. Kids were riding their bikes and some people were strolling on the streets. They were so warm and welcoming. They didn’t know me other than as the grandmother of the sole American olah student. And yet, there was a big sign at the entrance of the Midrasha: Berucha haba’ah Savta shelanu, Welcome to our Savta.

Now it was time to give back and do something for the Shlomit children at Cramim. In this upscale hotel and spa, whose staff is used to serving guests, there were 350 children running around. It was striking to see laundry hanging from the balconies. We knew that the children needed structure and that Chanukah was coming so we decided to organize an afternoon of activities for them. We galvanized our own grandchildren and together with cousins, nieces and their friends we organized a variety of activities which they led. We brought most of the supplies from home, including 300 white baseball hats. There was personalized hat decorating, painting on rocks, decorating wood, making leaves out of yarn, manicures, face painting, dodgeball, futsiballi (we didn’t know what it is either–a combination of a low volleyball net and soccer), balloon shapes–lots asked for swords, yoga and acupuncture. Michael was on hand for medical consults. One mother, who was decorating rocks, said that this was the first time she felt nachat ruach, inner peace, since the war began. One granddaughter came in her army uniform and was surrounded by little boys.”Ha’Abba sheli b’Givati,” one said to her proudly. My father is in the Givati Brigade. “B’eizeh tzava at”? Which army are you in? Another granddaughter had been volunteering like this in three hotels a week for six weeks.

Rock painting with the children of Shlomit.

After the activities we had a kumzitz with a guitar and shirion. We also showed a sweet video, produced by a grandson in America, of Yeshivat Noam’s Rabbi Hagler and students reaching out to the Shlomit children with messages and songs of caring, support and hope. Each family then received two games–one for older children and one for younger. The games were selected by a Shlomit mother and purchased from a business in the south.

These activities and gifts were made possible by the generous and gracious support of Rabbi Baum of Keter Torah, and Teaneck community members. A special thank you also to Rabbi Rothwachs and Judi Resnick of Beth Aaron. The Shlomit community was enormously grateful. It brought them tremendous joy, especially the mothers.

What we saw in Israel is a people united in deep appreciation for everything that this community, and Jewish communities across America, are doing.

We also saw a people united in grief. We went to the Zusman shiva house along with hundreds of others. In Modiin people line the streets at each soldier’s funeral. Every community in Israel is mourning the fallen sons and daughters of their neighbors and friends.

Balloon twisting with the children of Shlomit.

They are also united in determination. Wherever you go there are signs that declare B’Yachad Ninatzeiach, Together We Will Win. There are buildings wrapped in enormous Israeli flags–there are flags everywhere. There are former soldiers beyond the reservist age wishing they could serve. Everyone feels a connection to the soldiers. As our children cooked for our family Shabbat they also prepared meals for 100 soldiers. This is going on around the country every week.

People are united in chesed in every possible, conceivable way, at every age and capacity, across all sectors of the communities. You have all read those inspiring stories.

This is true for us here as well. Each one of us has found our own way to give, including going on missions, sending needed supplies, writing letters, donating money, attending rallies and showing up in shuls for Tehillim and tefillah.

Perhaps the most potent symbol of Israel today are the 400 children who are going to classes in a makeshift school in Yad VaShem. Yad VaShem, the place that tells the story of a churban, destruction, is now a place where children learn and grow and are the very embodiment of the future of Israel.

May Hashem hear our beseeching and bring the soldiers and hostages home soon.

Some of the volunteers at the Shlomit Chanukah event at Cramim.

Update: A few of the mothers who received acupuncture would like to continue in the therapy. If anyone is interested in helping sustain this valuable intervention, kindly contact me at [email protected]. Thank you.

Fayge is a coach for new administrators with the Jewish New Teacher Project and Michael is a pediatric endocrinologist.

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