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A thousand brides
By BARBARA SOFER
01/30/2014
The Human Spirit.
 
An intriguing e-mail invitation: Looking forward to seeing you at Dames of the Dance – benefit performance for Gush Katif Kallot Project on March 5 in Jerusalem celebrating 1,000 brides.

You might need a glossary to work this out.

Gush Katif: That narrow band of land along the explosive Gaza Strip. In the 1930s, farm land was purchased there by Jews. In the War of Independence, the villagers were evacuated by the British Mandate officials. Jewish presence was returned in the late 1960s at the insistence of general/statesman Yigal Allon.

The first civilian town was inaugurated by prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1977. Seventeen towns were built and the farmers grew bug-free celery and cherry tomatoes on the barren sand dunes. By 2005, 8,600 Jews lived there and 4,000 Palestinians worked there. Financial assets were estimated at $23 billion.

In 2005, our government decided to remove our citizens from Gush Katif as a painful concession in the need to take risks for peace. Palestinians and their supporters claimed that life for the Arabs of Gaza would be good if only the Jews would leave. The homes were bulldozed and but it was decided that the European Cooperation Foundation would contribute $14 million to transfer hi-tech greenhouses to the Palestinians so they could continue to earn a living and produce food.

On August 15, 2005, the 8,600 Israelis were forcibly evicted from their homes by the IDF. Instead of taking over greenhouses, the Palestinians tore them apart.

Instead of exporting tomatoes, they plowed the land with missile launchers.

The Israeli government plan to help evacuees quickly reestablish their livelihoods and lives proved ill-thought-out and ineffective. The former residents were left in limbo, years went by without proper housing and guidance in relocating.

Meanwhile, the evacuation was largely forgotten, both by those engaged in the so-called peace dialogue and by the average citizen.

Gush Katif Kallot Project: Started by 10 middle-class, observant Jewish women, themselves immigrants, working and bringing up their own families. They felt awful about the fate of the residents of Gush Katif and sought to do something meaningful. They realized in the instance of launching engaged couples into married life how hard it must be for a family struggling to reestablish itself, dealing with financial ills and trauma.

They wanted to help, but didn’t want to shame the children or their parents. In the end they decided to throw showers for the Gush Katif brides and grooms.

In 2005, Shoshana Schilit, a former New Yorker who lives in Beit Shemesh, heard about a bride whose mother was too depressed to get out of bed. She began seeking help among her circle of friends. Eight years later the women are still making showers, and will soon reach their 1,000th bride. Schilit says that many Israelis have illusions about how wealthy Gush Katif evacuees have become. “Most are under- employed – working only part-time with few financial prospects. They’ve been able to raise between $1,000 and $1,800 per bride.”

It doesn’t matter if we were for or against the evacuation, the democratically elected government of Israel evacuated you, but we have not forgotten the enormous price you have paid for this decision. We remember you and we want to celebrate your happy occasion. This is a hug from the Jewish people.

Yad Eliezer: is an NGO that feeds the hungry, Yad Eliezer accepts donations for the Kallot Project. Before 2005, a lot of the vegetables were contributed to Yad Eliezer by Gush Katif farmers.

Dames of the Dance: One of the growing movements of women-only dance groups flourishing in Israel, particularly in the towns of Judea and Samaria. A dance-school sends out teachers from Kiryat Arba and a women-only dance festival takes place in Shiloh. Dancers are religious women who follow codes of modesty that preclude dancing in front of men. Dames of the Dance was founded in Efrat in 2007 by Sharon Katz.

Tickets to performances generally go to impoverished local families. Repertoire includes jazz, hip-hop and breakdance and the dancers are from age 12 upward.

Kallot: Hebrew for brides. Either the bride, the bridegroom or both are from Gush Katif. Most of the young couples were teens when they were forced to leave their homes. Many had disrupted schooling and emotional upheavals. Most have nonetheless completed military and national service. Many are students. Many live near their parents in new, no-frills pioneering villages being established in Israel’s periphery. Take Einat Yefet, for example. She needed a glossary, too, when a woman with an American accent phoned her and said she wanted to give her a “shower.” She didn’t know what that was, so she phoned American-born Anita Tucker, the famed celery-grower of Gush Katif, who assured her that this shower was a good thing.

Yefet, now 27, was born in Netzer Hazani, the very town inaugurated by Yitzhak Rabin. The family business – mom, Rahel; dad, Benny; and the seven children – was fresh herbs: parsley, coriander and dill for export. One brother, Itamar, a teen who excelled in surfing, was shot in the head by a terrorist and died in 2000. Einat was 18 when their home was bulldozed. She did a year of national service and then she stayed abroad for a year. When she returned, she and her long-term boyfriend Shoham Bloch decided to marry. “I was on the young side, but I had a strong impulse to establish a home,” she said.

The only instruction she received from the woman on the phone was that she should come in a large car. And so, she arrived in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Gathered at the women’s seminary Midreshet Harova was a mix of young and middle-aged women. They sang and danced as she came into the decorated room. “And they showered me with gifts,” said Yefet. “One gift after another – I was astounded. A microwave, mixer, sets of dishes, bedding, pillows, silverware, a Shabbat heating platter, a hot water heater – everything I would need but knew I couldn’t have for a long time without going into debt.” There was also cash enough for a major appliance.

For Yefet the event also erased a lingering feeling that she had of “being abandoned and at square zero.” Suddenly I realized there were people out there helping me with a beginning.”

Another bride wrote to the women’s committee, “Your gifts are a reminder for us that the families of Gush Katif are not being forgotten, and as we continue to build our lives, Am Israel is with us and we are all one people” Whether we think every new Jewish home in Judea and Samaria is a blessing, or that the so-called settlers are the root of all evil, the bungling of the treatment of the evacuees is a national ignominy.

The government failed to prove the pain of painful concessions wouldn’t be multiplied by inept bureaucrats. The Palestinians failed to show that any Israeli concession wouldn’t be a turned into an opportunity to multiply attacks. The mess of the evacuation of Gush Katif is indeed more convenient to forget. That’s what Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now has suggested. He recently petitioned Education Minister Shai Piron to abolish the once-a-year Gush Katif educational programs in schools.

And while that debate goes on, the 10 women of the Gush Katif project will gather their toasters and blenders, meet brides and grooms and help them to establish their new lives. That’s why the women of Efrat are dancing to celebrate and raise money for the next thousand brides.

Say the sages, “a person who celebrates with a bride and groom is considered as though they have rebuilt the ruins of Jerusalem.”

Or, in this case, of Gush Katif.  The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns are her own.
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