'Southern' hospitality

No one knows when they will be able to return home Ra'anana opens its doors to families from the North

southern hosp 88 298 (photo credit: Miriam Bulwar David-Hay)
southern hosp 88 298
(photo credit: Miriam Bulwar David-Hay)
My sister-in-law turned up at our Ra'anana home on Monday July 17, her husband and two young children in tow. Her hair was an uncharacteristic tangle and her clothes hastily thrown together. But what was most telling was the strange, shocked look on her face. "I've had enough," she said simply. "You should see Haifa now - it's like another world. There's no one outside. The atmosphere is horrible. Even the sky looks grey there." When the missiles began falling around the Haifa area that weekend, we urged my sister-in-law to pack up her family and come stay with us. After two days of sirens and explosions, being startled out of sleep and grabbing her children to head downstairs to the bomb shelter, being stuck indoors and fearing to leave the house even for a short time, she decided to make a break and take us up on our offer. She and her husband threw food, diapers and clothing into a couple of bags and tore out of their Tivon home in-between sirens. We cleared out a bedroom for them and are now living - as everyone jokes - like an Arab hamula (clan) with two families in one house. From what I could hear of my sister-in-law's phone conversations over subsequent days with relatives, friends and co-workers from the Haifa area, pretty much everyone she knows has headed south to friendlier skies. Nearly all are staying with relatives or friends. A few are at hotels, and others are staying at the homes of kind strangers who advertised their willingness to host families from the North. No one knows when they will be able to return home. Such generosity of spirit and the simple lack of fuss with which Israelis have opened their doors to take in the flood from the North surely mark one of those lightbulb moments when we remember what makes this country so special. And not only are private individuals showing their best sides, government bodies are too. Some 200 people from Nahariya, among them about 130 children, arrived at the Kfar Batya youth village in Ra'anana soon after the attacks began. The village, a religious boarding school run by the AMIT movement during the school year, was empty because of the school vacation. Almost as soon as the bombardment of the North began, the Jewish Agency (headed by former Ra'anana mayor Ze'ev Bielski) acted together with the Ra'anana municipality and a couple of charities to bring in families from the North. At the village, they are receiving free accommodation, food and necessary supplies. The city is also putting on special activities - including a karaoke night in which mayor Nahum Hofree demonstrated his singing abilities - and providing free summer programs for the children. Putting up fleeing families at Kfar Batya is not the full extent of Ra'anana's generosity. Without fuss, the city last week began absorbing children from the North who were staying anywhere in Ra'anana into its summer programs and, given that it was the last week of the first round of camps, charged nothing for doing so. Some 90 children, including my nephew, blended seamlessly into various camps around the city. My nephew and youngest son were thrilled that they could go to a camp together, and my sister-in-law was relieved that her son would be engaged in constructive activities for a few days. The city also made the registration procedure remarkably trouble-free. The second round of summer camps began last Sunday (July 23), and the city is accepting any northern children who wish to participate. In addition, elderly people from the North are being invited to attend activities at the city's golden age clubs, at no cost. Residents from the North are also being given free entry to Ra'anana's park and country club swimming pool, and can attend free shows at the city's Mofet center. Keeping the kids busy According to the Jewish Agency Web site, some 2,827 children from northern cities and another 418 children from northern immigrant absorption centers had been evacuated to safer areas by last weekend, in cooperation with local municipalities and charities. This effort is being supported by a Jewish Agency fundraising drive overseas. Like Ra'anana, Kfar Saba is absorbing northern children into its summer camps and offering free entry for northern residents to the municipal swimming pool and shows. For more information, call Kfar Saba's moked, tel. 106. Many other cities have similar offers. In addition, some well-known attractions are offering significant discounts to northern residents, including the Nachshonit water park near Rosh Ha'ayin, the Yamit 2000 water park in Holon and the Kiftzuba adventure park at kibbutz Tzuba near Jerusalem. For more information, call Ra'anana's moked, tel: 107.