(photo credit: Kever Rachel Fund)
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On Sunday, Ella and David Hoffman fled their hotel for a couple of days.
Speaking from a friend's home in the tiny Samaria community of El-Natan, Ella said, "The hotel was getting to be too much. It is so confining and there are hundreds of childrenâ€¦ they have no place to go so they are everywhere! We're lucky there are only the two of usâ€¦ the larger families don't have any place to go for a break"
They also came to visit their dog, Puppo, who was much too large and boisterous to bring to a hotel after the disengagement.
"We looked at a kennel but were unhappy with the conditions there, so our friends here in the Shomron offered to care for him until he can return to us," Ella said. "David's out running with him right now. He's very happy to see us and we can't wait to have him backâ€¦ we really miss him."
The Hoffmans are resigned to waiting another few months until they can take Puppo back. They have signed up for a temporary caravilla community in Amatzia, with seven families from Neveh Dekalim, the majority of Moshav Katif and perhaps the families of Tel Katif - who are still fighting for official recognition as an expelled community.
"We were in Amatzia yesterday," Ella said. "They broke ground for it, but who knows when it will be ready? Meanwhile, there are rumors that we will be moved around to a different hotel."
The Hoffmans chose Amatzia as the location closest to where they hope they will build their permanent home, Ella said, adding: "Most of the Neveh Dekalim families couldn't deal with the current isolation of Amatziaâ€¦ They are waiting for the infrastructure to be built and meanwhile are going to Nitzan or Ein Tzurim, both of which are closer to jobs and schools in Ashkelon. But we felt that it was preferable to come straight to where we hope to stayâ€¦
"It is easier to get oriented to where you live instead of starting all over again in a couple of years, and it should be easier to get [the government] to do so something if we are local and we hope to speed up the building right away."
Meanwhile, the evacuees appreciate the occasional event that brightens up their circumstances.
"On Motzei Shabbat [Saturday evening], three shuls on missions from Baltimore and Teaneck [New Jersey] brought a band to the hotel and we had a solidarity party," Ella said. "There were bat mitzva girls from Baltimore and Gush Katif dancing together. It was a lot of fun."
Rabbi Moshe Hauer, spiritual leader of Baltimore's Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation and one of the leaders of the mission, said it was important that they focused on the Gaza evacuees.
"I feel that we are representative of many, many Jews in the US," he said. "There is a very strong level of concern and support for these people. We feel their sorrow asâ€¦ people who have dedicated their lives heroically and strongly to build the Land of Israel in a way that was appreciated at the time and then, literally overnight, they went from heroes to forlorn and lost familiesâ€¦ We wanted to do something to give them back their sense of whom they areâ€¦ to provide support and affirmation."
Keren Traub of Baltimore, who came on the mission with her husband and two daughters, Racheli, 12, and Ayala, 13, was particularly moved by the bat mitzva twinning ceremony at Rachel's Tomb arranged by Kever Rachel Fund director Miriam Adani.
"Our 10 bat mitzva girls were introduced to 20 girls from Neveh Dekalim and their mothers," she said. "We baked hallahs together and we really made a connection.
"We came to show we care and we're behind themâ€¦ Our daughters had brought glove, scarf and hat sets for each girl and they gave our girls candlesticks. When they met up again on Saturday night, our girls gave them pretty notebooks and they all exchanged names, telephone numbers and addresses.
"Some of the girls from Gush Katif said they don't have an address or an e-mail because they don't have a computer and they hope not to be staying in the hotel much longer but they promised to keep in touch," Traub said.
Adani said the hallah baking was a valued activity that the Gush Katif mothers had been unable to do for many weeks, since they lacked kitchens.
Both Traub and Dikla Cohen, one of the Neveh Dekalim mothers, mentioned Rabbi Hauer's address to the bat mitzva girls, in which he spoke about the difference between a house and a home.
"He described how the girls from Gush Katif may not have houses but they are home in Eretz Yisrael, whereas our girls have houses but they are not living in their true home," Traub said. "I am amazed at the deep faith of the women - they are not complaining, though there is a lot of pain in their eyes. I hope that if there's something we can help with, they will let us know."
Traub's daughter, Racheli, said: "Meeting these girls who have lost everything has made me appreciate and be happy with what I have. I definitely hope to stay in touch when I get home."