Kiryat Shmona's 'finest hour'

"Two men walked into my store and began to give me NIS 300 for each of the people who owed me money."

kiryat shmona volunteer  (photo credit: Dan Izenberg)
kiryat shmona volunteer
(photo credit: Dan Izenberg)
Three weeks after the beginning of the fighting in the north, Kiryat Shmona is surviving thanks to the generosity of organizations throughout Israel, the willingness of local residents and others from near and far to volunteer their services at the risk of their lives, and the army, which is providing much needed assistance. On Thursday, there were only about 5,000 inhabitants left in the city of 25,000. Many of those who have stayed behind do not have the financial means to escape the Katyushas and spend almost all their time in bomb shelters. These people are completely dependent on the municipality for everything from food to diapers to children's games, as well as soap, toilet paper and all the other basics of life. In turn, the city is completely dependent on the good will of the private companies, public organizations and individuals who have showered the city with largesse. "One day," said Motti Avraham, owner of the Mor Minimarket near the southern entrance to the city, "two elderly men walked into my store. I could tell they were from Jerusalem by their accents. One of them asked me if I sold on credit. I said I did. Then he asked me whether some of my clients were poor. I said they were. "He told me to take out my list of people who owed and mark those who were poor. After I did that, he turned to the other man and said, 'Take it out.' The other man took out a wad of crisp NIS 200 bills. He then began to give me NIS 300 for each of the people I had ticked off and told me to deduct the money from their debt. "I asked them who they were. They replied, 'What difference does that make?' Then I asked them to at least give me their phone numbers so that their beneficiaries could thank them. They replied that the greatest mitzvah is when the donor does not know whom he has given to." The Matmid Regional Comprehensive High School in downtown Kiryat Shmona serves as one of several district headquarters responsible for meeting the needs of residents. In one of the larger rooms, boxes containing donations from businesses and public organizations are stacked high. The head of the district, Ze'ev Glida'i, was organizing the afternoon shipment of food, water, Materna and other items destined for shelters in his district. Glida'i has expanded his services since the number of residents has dwindled; the district now delivers packages to the homes of people who have difficulty looking after themselves. Volunteers, escorted by IDF reservists, deliver the packages, using their own cars and paying for the gasoline themselves. Simcha Edri arrived in Kiryat Shmona two weeks ago from Jerusalem, where she teaches at the Tali Comprehensive School in Katamon. She was born and raised in Kiryat Shmona and her parents still live there. "It was obvious to me that I would come to volunteer," she told The Jerusalem Post. In her two weeks in the city, she has seen the best and the worst of human nature. "While our troops are embroiled in the harsh war at the front, I see people here complaining, making fun and not appreciating what is being done for them," she said. "All they want is to get more and more." Indeed, as they are working hard to distribute the contributions, Edri, Glida'i and his deputy, Uri Seri, the principal of Hamatmid, are busy making sure that people who come for parcels have not already received them. Many individuals arrived at the headquarters on Thursday afternoon claiming they had not received what they were supposed to. Edri has no doubt that some people are exploiting the situation to stockpile goods. In the same breath, however, she is moved by the spiritual and material generosity that so many have displayed. "This is our finest hour," she said. "These are the days when Israeli society reveals its greatness." "The army will win the war thanks solely to the weapon of love and giving," she said. Edri noted an unexpected side benefit from the war. While most of the soldiers working in the distribution center are secular, most of the volunteers are religious. Working in difficult circumstances at close quarters had begun to heal the wounds from last year's disengagement, at least between these particular soldiers and members of the religious community, she said. In another example of the spirit of giving that permeates Kiryat Shmona these days, two yoga teachers from the center of the country, Tzipi Monet and Ya'acov Nelkin, walk by on their way out of the building. They have spent the last day and a half giving yoga and relaxation lessons to people living in the shelters and to female soldiers who were sent to entertain children or to help out in administration. The teachers gave nine lessons and were delighted with the results. "These people are suffering from high levels of anxiety," said Monet. "Yoga helped them dispel the energy it created." Meanwhile, Nissim Piotrekovsky, a volunteer from Tekoa in Gush Etzion, was waiting quietly for his turn to deliver packages to the shelters. Piotrekovsky belonged to the second graduating class of the Kiryat Shmona Hesder Yeshiva. Although he left it 22 years ago, he and many of his friends have now been summoned by the yeshiva to help out. The yeshiva has its own delivery system, headed by a 23-year-old student, Yossi Yurocharenski. In quieter days, the yeshiva students operate a regular program to help the needy. Now, they help even more. But since most of the students have been mobilized, there are not enough people to do the work. The yeshiva has worked out a system whereby its graduates are called up for their own brand of reserve duty, and they are answering the call in droves. Piotrekovsky said he had wanted to come on Sunday but that the yeshiva told him he wasn't needed until Wednesday. He drove through the night to reach Kiryat Shmona on Wednesday morning, and has been working nonstop ever since. "This story isn't about me," he said while driving to deliver parcels in a neighborhood that was under Katyusha fire at the time. But the fact is that, together with others like him, this is exactly what the story is about.