Living on a prayer: Gush Katif evacuees anticipate a bittersweet Purim

For the families evacuated from Gush Katif last summer, this Purim will be a bittersweet day, a mixture of holiday joy and mourning for the loss of community traditions. Gone will be the sight of miniature policemen and soldiers parading through the streets; all the evacuees interviewed told the Post that the security forces who expelled them from their homes and later acted with such brutality in Amona are a definite no-no. Instead, their children will be dressed as giraffes, zebras, clowns and kings, thanks to the generosity of donors from the US and Israel who sent new Purim costumes to the children. Rina Akerman, formerly of Neveh Dekalim, says, "My younger children will be dressed in animal costumes brought to our hotel by the Efrat community. No one would even consider a police costume... After what we went through, the mere sight of a soldier or policeman gives us a horrible feeling, it's like an allergic reaction. I have a son serving in the IDF who removes his uniform before he returns to the hotel, and I warned my cousin, a police officer in Eilat, to do the same when visiting us." Akerman also forecast an end to the kinds of community activities designed to bring Purim cheer to soldiers and police, who used to guard Gush Katif and patrol the borders of Gaza. "We used to begin our Purim meal very late so that not a single soldier would be forgotten, even last year when the holiday fell on a Friday. I think the soldiers on the border will feel the difference this year," she says. For Akerman, "Purim was the holiday that sustained us for the whole year. We had an especially long dining room table that not only fit our eleven children but also the friends who joined us every Purim. This year, we have no home and will remain in the Shalom Hotel. We hope at least that the hotel allows our community the privacy of a separate room for the Purim meal." The Akermans hope to continue a longstanding tradition of celebrating the holiday with two other families: one currently lives in the Caesar Hotel, also in Jerusalem, and is due to move to Nitzan immediately after Purim, the other left Neveh Dekalim a few years ago, but returned as the Akermans' guests for the two weeks leading up to disengagement. Says Akerman: "We always celebrated the meal with lots of Shlomo Carlebach songs... This year I anticipate a mix of joy and tears." Rabbi Yigal Kirshenzaft, a founder of Neveh Dekalim who was director of the Gush Katif Chabad House and organizer of the mishloach manot distribution of food and drinks to soldiers recalls: "Through my connections with the security forces, every year I put together a detailed list of every one of the 5,000-6,000 soldiers, policemen and border policemen in and along the Gaza Strip, from Yad Mordechai to Kerem Shalom. On Purim eve our community would package an individual mishloach manot for each one, and the following morning we formed twelve groups of men and children dressed in costume... "We piled into cars with loudspeakers blasting Purim music and drove from base to base, bringing a mishloach manot and a shot of vodka to every single soldier and policeman, no matter where he was... We even had permission to enter high-security areas. Until we arrived, some of the soldiers guarding their posts day and night were not even aware it was Purim." Despite his feelings of having been betrayed by the IDF, Kirshenzaft still helped to organize distribution of mishloach manot to soldiers this year, among whom, he acknowledges, may be those who removed him from his home. "The southern border is still my area and they are still Jews," he explains. "I am the only one with the knowledge and contacts to compile a complete list, so I had to do it," he says. However the distribution will not be carried out by Kirshenzaft and his fellow evacuees. "Chabad representatives from Kiryat Malachi, Ofakim and Netivot will carry out the distribution to the soldiers in the Negev. I will be too busy worrying about the expellees who are scattered across Israel, the IDF's victims," he says. Kirshenzaft, who has received the key to a mobile home in Nitzan and is due to move there after the holiday, is using an events room in his hotel to package mishloach manot for the evacuees. With the help of volunteers, including hotel guests, he has assembled 1,200 packages, and an additional 1,000 packages have been donated by Chabad. Kirshenzaft will be spending Purim day coordinating the distribution to every evacuee family, from the Golan Heights down to Eilat, before celebrating the meal at Moshav Mavki'im south of Ashkelon, with the evacuated (secular) community of Pe'at Sadeh. As for his personal mishloach manot, Kirshenzaft isn't quite as forgiving. "We always mailed around 300 Mishloach Manot to friends and acquaintances from as far back as my army days. For the past 20 years I have sent a package to [current police commander Moshe] Karadi, with whom I served [in the IDF] 26 years ago. I thought about doing so this year, but didn't send him one... I'm sure he'll notice its absence... Perhaps then he will begin to think about what happened."