Picking up and carrying on

'The sun was beating down on us, but I could not stop shivering. This wreckage was our home.'

September 28, 2006 16:58


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Many northern families with children accepted the outpouring of invitations to move away from missile range during the Lebanon war. Among them were Zvia Vaknin and her husband, Yair, and three children - Ella, one year old; Shoham, five years old; and Bar, 10. Bad news was to follow the family. As guests of friends and relatives, they watched every television transmission. On one occasion, Zvia clutched her husband's hand and said, "That's our house!" A missile had broken down one side of the house, shattering the windows of her parents' home next door. This shock was confirmed by a phone call from neighbors. But worse was still to come. Four days later, a second missile scored a direct hit and crashed through two upper floors, setting fire to everything in its path and burning out in the kitchen. As soon as they could, the Vaknins returned to Nahariya to look at what was left of their home. They stood and looked, unable to speak. "I looked, and felt nothing at all. It was as if all the blood were draining out of me. Suddenly I was very cold. The sun was beating down on us, but I could not stop shivering. This wreckage was our home," recalls Zvia. She fought back her tears as they comforted themselves that no one had been hurt. No preparation could have could have anticipated this reality, she says. The house was in ruins. "Bits of the baby's crib were strewn on the ground. I don't know why this should have made me so upset, but suddenly I felt so nauseous and dizzy that I almost fell. My husband was as pale as death and shaking. We stumbled away, hardly able to walk, supporting each other. There was no way we could cope with this." Her parents' house next door had lost all its windows. "Glass was everywhere, some of it lying in shining heaps reflecting the sun. The doors were hanging drunkenly from their hinges or flat out on the ground. We crept away quietly, not speaking. There was nothing to say. We had nowhere to live. The clothes we stood in, the few toys and books we had taken with us were all we owned," she says. For the past six weeks, the family has been living in two rooms in a local hotel. "We all sleep badly. The two older children are subdued and nervous. At least they have gone back to school, and my mother looks after the baby while I am at work. Bar, the older boy, is mostly upset by the loss of his bookcase and all his schoolbooks, and the difficulty in doing his schoolwork well," says Zvia, a municipal employee who was born in Nahariya and looks less - despite the strain - than her 32 years. Her husband is an independent salesman. "Our constant talk is how we can begin again. My husband has taken up the threads of his business, and now we are locked in controversy with the authorities about rehabilitation, repairs, and compensation. Structural damage will one day be repaired, but furniture and appliances that we saved for and bought with such satisfaction are blackened and ruined and will probably never be usable again," she says. Nahariya is a small seaside town on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. It is a civilized place, founded some 80 years ago mainly by immigrants from Germany. From the main road leading to Haifa a small stream, bordered by ancient eucalyptus trees brought from Australia when the town was founded, meanders gently down to join the ocean. Orderly, intelligent, diligent people, the immigrants turned from academia to agriculture. They kept bees, chickens and cows; and they made honey, ice cream and sausages. They made tools in their back kitchens, and after they had done their 10 hours of daily work, they made music. Some of the humbly begun enterprises are now multimillion-dollar conglomerates, internationally acclaimed and admired. These pioneers did not have time to let down their guard, as from the outset they were attacked. The internationally recognized border is a scant five kilometers from the center of town, and men and women went to work in the fields or byres carrying the old Czech rifles that were their only defense. In between attacks, incursions, raids, ambushes and missiles, the town quietly went on growing and developing. Hotels, restaurants and fashion shops turned it into a resort. The health club, beach, children's parks, riding schools and a botanical garden meant full hotels throughout school holidays and groups from Europe attracted by the friendly atmosphere. From time to time, hostile forces stirred themselves. There were bombs and casualties, but the townsfolk gritted their teeth and hung on. They relied on the army and waited for a chance to get on with their lives. This time it was different. The Hizbullah first kidnapped two soldiers, then launched their first fury onto the tranquil citizens. For four weeks the town was constantly bombarded indiscriminately as bombs with no specific targets fell onto northern Galilee. During the month-long onslaught, 808 rockets were fired into this area. In Nahariya, 50 buildings were destroyed. The town's hospital was among the buildings damaged, but as all its functions were transferred to underground facilities no one was hurt and it continued to function perfectly. The Hizbullah displayed their venom from early morning to late at night. Most houses are equipped with shelters, and those without shared with their neighbors. There were no warnings. The bombs were already overhead before the alarm sounded. The two fatal casualties were people outside safe shelter. The town was emptied of children during the war, as if the Pied Piper had lured them all away. Like many other parents, the Vaknins felt that the safety of their children was paramount. "But we are not leaving Nahariya," insists Zvia Vaknin. "This is our home. We are citizens of this city, and we will stay here. Outwardly, the town has gone back to what it was before, but scars are everywhere. Our greengrocer's produce was scattered all over the road - he picked it up and is in business as usual. No one is leaving, although there is a lot of criticism of the authorities and we have to prepare ourselves for a long wait," says Zvia. "Eventually, this will be a memory for the children; but for my parents, Yair and me, it will forever be a suppressed nightmare - not spoken of but never absent."

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