Akerman family 88 298.
(photo credit: )
'Most people have received part of their compensation to build new homes, but since they have been unable to find work, they have no choice but to live off it. The joke is, "Yesterday we ate the windows, today we are eating the doors"'
Rina and Eliahu Akerman and their 11 children were evacuated from their home of two decades in Neveh Dekalim. After eight months in the Shalom Hotel in Jerusalem, they moved to a caravilla in Amatzia, a small village near Kiryat Gat.
Two years ago, Rina sat nursing her baby in her spacious home in Neve Dekalim, talking to The Jerusalem Post amid the constant traffic of her children, their friends and the guests who had come to protest the disengagement.
The first anniversary of "The Expulsion," as they refer to it, was commemorated in bittersweet fashion through the marriage of their oldest son to the daughter of the friends who washed their laundry during the months they spent in the hotel. The young couple decided to symbolically start their life together on the date of the destruction.
This year there was no wedding to take away the bitter taste. The recent funeral of one friend and the heart attack of another set the tone for an anniversary that Akerman finds much harder.
"We are doing relatively well," she says. "My husband [director of psychological services in Kiryat Arba] worked outside of Gush Katif, so he still has his job, but I see what is happening to my friends around me... The situation is catastrophic... Most people have received part of their compensation to build new homes, but since they have been unable to find work, they have no choice but to live off it. The joke is, 'Yesterday we ate the windows, today we are eating the doors.'
"Our family dentist in Gush Katif came here from France 30 years ago. He has been victimized by the Disengagement Authority which refused to give him compensation, questioned his Israeli citizenship and summoned him to a hearing last month to prove he is a dentist. Under this tremendous stress, he had a heart attack at the hearing and was taken straight to the hospital.
"Suddenly, cancer and similar diseases are hitting the community. I have met so many women who have suddenly discovered cancerous growths. It simply wasn't like this in the Gush.
Akerman herself fainted the morning of this interview, "I am weaker than I used to be, I think the body is just reacting to the stress. I used to tell people that it wasn't difficult to care for 11 children because they come for help one at a time; the expulsion changed the balance and now I feel overwhelmed trying to care for each one's needs at the same time."
Akerman is also mourning the loss of Ya'acov Freiman, a legendary figure from Neveh Dekalim, who though in his 70s was still very active and involved. "In the hotel, he would try to raise everyone's spirits, telling us, 'Though we have been exiled, at least we are in the holy city of Jerusalem.' They made a film about him [In Freiman's Kitchen], but after he moved to Ein Tzurim he just took sick and died. At the funeral, his wife said that all his life he tried to look at the bright side, but his last words were: 'Nothing hurts me, only that my brothers expelled me from my home.'"
FOR AKERMAN, the biggest disillusionment was the betrayal of her community by various mechanisms of the state. In July 2005, she told the Post, "My faith in man has plummeted catastrophically. I have watched our political leaders, the legal system and the IDF fail to protect us, and even place our country in more danger. It is clear that we do not rely on mankind, only on God."
Today she stands by her words. "We don't have faith in the government, in the police, in the establishment. I don't watch the news. But this is a common crisis that also affects those who didn't live in Gush Katif."
Akerman's faith has not wavered, "On Tisha Be'av eve this summer, Channel 1 screened Katif Dream. The producer came to our home two days before the expulsion and followed my husband Eli to the synagogue. He asked, 'Everyone here is praying, but how will you respond if God responds "No?"' I answered that He is not working for us, we are working for Him. If He decides we need to be somewhere else, then that is our task.
"I would say the same today... It says in the Torah that when Moses asked to see God, He responded: 'You cannot see my face because no man can see me and live,' but He did allow Moses to see Him from behind. My rabbi taught that from this we learn that God's actions cannot be understood by mankind when they take place. Only in hindsight can we see what God wanted of us. And that can take days, years, even centuries.
"Yes, we have lost faith in the state and its institutions, but we have not lost faith in the people of Israel and the kindness that they do... The people of Kiryat Gat, 15 minutes from Amatzia, are wonderful people... They see us with our orange ribbons and say how much they want to help. Over the past two years, people have appeared like angels, just when we needed them"
Akerman has taken on a surprising new role, teaching Jewish studies to border policewomen on a nearby base. "A group of 20 new recruits who knew nothing about Judaism asked their army chaplain to arrange lessons and he invited me. We never discuss the disengagement, but they know I am from Gush Katif. The uniforms are hard for me, but I try to look beyond them."
Rejecting a common assumption that the youth of Gush Katif have lost their religious bearings, Akerman says, "There has been a severe loss of faith in, and respect for, the spiritual leadership and the rabbinical institutions... a feeling of betrayal by those who ruled that they should follow army orders... but while they may not turn to the rabbis for answers, they still have belief in God, they are just searching for the answers themselves."
When asked if she regrets establishing her home in Gaza, she responds, "My son asked me if I knew how everything would turn out, would I have moved to Gush Katif? My immediate response was yes. I don't regret we lived there."
WHAT DOES upset her is feeling that the lessons of the disengagement have not been learned. "The expulsion was a tragedy that blew open everything that was rotten in Israel. And we did begin to see more searching, questioning, revulsion at the corruption. Perhaps our tragedy was needed to reveal the depth of the problems... but now we see that things aren't changing after all - look at [Ehud] Barak's return [to political leadership] after what he did in Lebanon. This has completely destroyed my morale. After everything we went through, it is returning again. Everyone told us that if we just leave Gush Katif, everything would be peaceful. I eat my heart out every time things get worse... perhaps if we had fought the expulsion harder, the people of Sderot wouldn't be suffering from missiles."
Last summer, while her husband was on reserve duty in Sderot and older sons in the army, Akerman's daughter heard a news report that Sderot families had been evacuated to the Shalom Hotel and went to help. "She said it was dÃ©jÃ vu coming back into the lobby... the staff welcomed her like family. She called me for the telephone numbers of families that had done our laundry, so she could give them to the Sderot families."
Recalling her spacious home and garden, it is her inability to host others that proves most frustrating. "We all built large homes so we could welcome visitors to our out-of-the-way location. Now we barely fit in our caravilla [of 109 meters]. We have four bedrooms, each just large enough to fit a bunk bed with a third bed that pulls out beneath and a closet. No room for a desk. My daughter had to move to a friend's house to study for her psychometric examinations.
"We broke down the wall of one bedroom so that we could fit our dining table into the caravilla - we made a family decision that we wouldn't survive emotionally if we couldn't sit together as a family around the Shabbat table, so two daughters moved into a cinder-block extension brought from Homesh [an evacuated settlement in Samaria]. When the authorities brought it, it was in dreadful condition. They repainted it, but failed to seal it properly. In the winter, it was so damp with mold, one wall was completely black. We had to throw out their clothing and the girls slept in the living room all winter. For months we pleaded and shouted for them to repair the mold problem. They only came last week - during the summer vacation!"
For Independence Day, the Akermans trekked to Homesh, feeling the importance of supporting a return to the evacuated communities, even while building new communities in the Lachish region. "Someone asked where I am sinking my roots. We are entering the shmita [sabbatical] year and agriculturists are researching if plants can develop roots in water without earth. I feel I am growing roots in water - half here in Lachish and half there in Gush Katif. Everyone is spread around the country and at times the longing to return is overwhelming.
"I read something by Hanan Porat recently that helped me... He said that after we lost Kfar Etzion [in the War of Independence], the members went on to establish flourishing new settlements. But every year they held a ceremony and gazed at the Etzion tree. Most of the founders of the second Kfar Etzion [after the Six Day War] were the children of the previous founders who had kept the connection alive. On the anniversary of the expulsion, we went to Kissufim. It is clear to me that we will return to Neveh Dekalim, the only question is how long it will take. If we don't return, our children will."