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For half a century, Shoshana Kraus lived in a quiet, insular moshav just north of Gaza. But since August 2005, her community has been reenergized by 24 families displaced from their homes during the disengagement.
Kraus, then 13, came to Israel in 1955 after living in a ghetto in Hungary during World War II. Her father and brother died in the Holocaust, but her mother knew of Mavki'im, a moshav just south of Ashkelon founded in 1949 by Hungarian Jews, demobilized IDF soldiers who survived the Holocaust.
Kraus has enjoyed the cooperative, community lifestyle ever since.
Fast forward to disengagement. After being evacuated, 24 families from Gush Katif, mostly from Pe'at Sadeh, joined the moshav, which had a population of 320 in 2006.
"I'll tell you the truth, we were very happy when they arrived," Kraus said on Wednesday. "We had a special welcoming event for them and the connection was special immediately... We felt the community came alive again, and all of them are like my children."
She said that because both Gush Katif evacuees and the Holocaust survivor generation had lost their homes and communities, it helped the two groups to form a close relationship. Both had suffered and been forced to start new lives in unfamiliar places.
Since the arrival of the Gush Katif families, the moshav has adopted a more vibrant lifestyle, hosting community activities and expanding to include new homes and fields. The moshav also has a new synagogue, something it never had before.
Saying she loved to dance at community events, Kraus introduced Rami Ya'acov as her occasional dancing partner.
Rami lived in Pe'at Sadeh until disengagement, and then moved with his wife and two children to Mavki'im. He said the average age of the Gush Katif evacuees was between 40 and 50. The average age of the moshav members was between 60 and 70, which meant it took time to bridge the gap between the two communities, he explained.
Despite many generational differences, Rami and Kraus both agreed that a real sense of community had formed. There have been many moshav-wide gatherings and events.
While there was a feeling of "brokenness" among Gush Katif families, Laurence Beziz, projects coordinator for the Friends of Gush Katif organization, also said a strong sense of community had remained among the families. She cited "bursts of energy" and a longing that inspired the families to band together.
There was a nice connection in Mavki'im between the families who came here after disengagement and the original residents, she said. There had been an increasing need for more communal space, so the residents could hold celebrations and other events together.
"We hope that it will continue... We are seeing infrastructure built. Soon people can start gaining the stability that they need," she said.
Most former Gush Katif residents have moved to 23 communities, sticking together to preserve the community feel they had in Gaza, Beziz told a delegation from the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem on a tour of area on Wednesday.
"We are trying to stick to everything we had in Gush Katif," said Beziz, who lived in the region for 18 years being relocated to Nitzan.
The ICEJ recently donated NIS 130,000 to renovate the Mavki'im community center so the residents can host more events.
ICEJ media director David Parsons said the Christian Embassy was approached by the Friends of Gush Katif a few months ago about making the donation. In the past few years, the embassy has raised nearly half a million dollars from Christians around the world to help Gush Katif evacuees and Sderot residents. They have built bomb shelters and playgrounds, and provided social and psychological services.
Parsons said they were inspired to help out because "this is one positive story" from the communities near Gaza.
"It is a tragedy that these people were uprooted, but it's positive that their spirit has been moved to different communities and they've stayed together," Parsons said. After disengagement, which he called a "tragedy," Parsons said his organization decided it was going to do everything it could to help the evacuees.
The renovations will begin next week and will be completed by Rosh Hashana so that the residents can have an opening celebration during Succot, said Naftali Yona, a manager at the moshav. Besides the community center, there is also a new neighborhood of modern homes being built.
Yona said the residents greatly appreciated the efforts being made to improve the community life on the moshav. He is certain the new space will provide the perfect location for many joyful moments.
"We love this project because of the new life it's bringing to the community," said Nicole Yoder, director of the embassy's aid and social services. "We felt it was important to bring a sign of hope, both to the people from Gush Katif and the Holocaust survivors. It is indeed creating new life and it is exciting to see the two communities come together."
The Ashkelon Beach Regional Council will providing furnishings and other amenities for the community center.
Zion Itzhak, a former resident of Pe'at Sadeh and current resident of Mavki'im who is deputy head of the regional council, said the veteran moshav residents have been supportive and friendly, and have worked with the evacuees to help them settle into the community.
Itzhak, in his capacity as a public official, works in many communities composed of Gush Katif families. He has also been trying to reestablish the agriculture business he had in Pe'at Sadeh. He has no permanent home or stable business, which he attributes to the lack of blessing and joy he once had when he worked in Gush Katif.
For Itzhak and many other evacuees, the community feel of the moshav is a positive, even while they struggle to rebuild their lives.
While the blossoming community is one ray of hope, there are still unresolved issues for most former Gush Katif families.
"When we left our homes, [the government] promised us more... As we look back, we didn't get back as much as we lost," Rami said.
Like many other former Gush Katif residents, Rami was a farmer - in Rafiah Yam - and has encountered many obstacles to rebuilding his business in his new location.
He and his friend Reuven Ya'acov (no relation), formerly of Morag, explained that many farmers who were forced to leave their established businesses behind were unable to build both a home and a business with the government compensation. Reuven said he built a house, but has no business, while Rami's business ventures have not been so successful, and he is still living in a caravan on the moshav.
Though it has been difficult to start a new life, "there is always hope," Rami said.
According to the Hebrew calendar, the fourth anniversary of disengagement is on the 14th of Av, which falls on Tuesday.