Living on a Prayer, May 11

Evacuees take center stage in Beit Shemesh 'Diaspora.'

katif girls 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
katif girls 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While most Gush Katif evacuees have settled - temporarily - in small caravan communities where they can stay together, others have struck out on their own to rebuild their lives. Roberta and Alan Bienenfeld, who moved to Gush Katif after making aliya from New York in 1981, raised their four daughters in Neveh Dekalim. Shortly after the family's evacuation to a Jerusalem hotel they moved to an apartment in Ramat Bet Shemesh, where they already had connections and where Roberta worked before the disengagement. The Bienenfelds try to keep up-to-date with their former community through the Neveh Dekalim newsletter, but Roberta concedes, "It is hard to be a part of them now... we rarely get to see or speak to most of our old neighbors... they call where we live the Diaspora." Roberta Bienenfeld explains: "Unless you were a teacher or in agriculture it was hard to get a job in Gush Katif, so I traveled to Bet Shemesh where I worked for Lema'an Achai, a non-profit organization... I left when they closed the road in and out of Gush Katif... it was just too complicated... Lema'an Achai tried to get social workers down there to help families, but the army wouldn't allow them in. I think it was then that they formed the idea of a Gush Katif Fund to help families afterwards to get their lives back on track. "Ramat Bet Shemesh is a very supportive community... we are lucky that so many people here feel as we do... and were active in the protest movement to save Gush Katif... but it is hard because the people here can only imagine what it is like to lose a home. We have to face that reality... it can hit us at any time, for any reason... that we cannot go back. "One of the reasons that we are not with the group is that we felt we had to get on with our lives, but at the same time we cannot forget what was done to us and who did it... We take life day by day and hope that we can fall asleep at night. "Unfortunately there are people who do not understand our strong connection to the land... that we did not move from choice. We were expelled just as the Jews have been expelled throughout history - from Spain, England... Lives were torn apart and communities broken... strong communities where people cared about one another and helped one another through the hard times and celebrated when things were good. We can never retrieve the lifestyle that was lost. Good, productive families are now suffering... the tensions have caused divorce, breakdowns and heart attacks." Roberta had this to say about St.-Sgt. Hananel Megged-Dayan, who refused to shake Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz's hand during a reception for outstanding soldiers at Beit Hanassi on May 3. "I knew Hananel's grandfather very well... for a short time his grandparents were our neighbors... their chickens laid eggs on our grass. I worked with his aunts and uncles in the technological incubator in Gush Katif... my children went to school with his cousins. It is hard to believe that we now have a government that can punish you for not shaking hands with someone." Megged-Dayan, who lived with his family in Gush Katif until a few months ago, was protesting the evacuation of his family and the subsequent death of his grandfather. She explains that in Neveh Dekalim, "Because I was an English speaker, I was an unofficial spokeswoman for Gush Katif and would take people on tours around the area... I worked in the technological incubator before it was shut down by Meretz, and helped the Russian olim and other families who moved to Gush Katif." One way Bienenfeld maintains a connection with her old neighbors is by helping to raise funds for the Gush Katif evacuees through her advisory role with the Lema'an Achai Gush Katif Fund. She is excited about the latest Lema'an Achai fundraiser - "With an Outstretched Arm" - an English-language women's musical to be performed next month in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. Playwright Miriam Kaplan describes how she became involved: "When I saw the pictures of the disengagement, I cried, but as a mother of young children, I felt limited in my ability to help. Over the months, I have seen how the masses of volunteers who were there for the evacuees at the beginning fell away, and only the core volunteers stayed... The excitement and anger died down and it became yesterday's news. "Donations have slowed to a trickle because nine months have passed and most people don't know that there are still over a hundred families in tents and guest houses, there's massive unemployment and families have to live off the compensation with which they are supposed to build their homes. "I found this very upsetting, so I suggested writing a play, both as a fundraiser and to raise awareness... we are fortunate to have gathered an incredible cast of talented women and girls from all sections of the Anglo community." Kaplan interviewed evacuee women and teenagers in their Jerusalem hotels, to accurately record their emotional reactions. "Their responses were extraordinary... almost a biblical response... They have a tremendous amount of faith. Anita Tucker [formerly of Netzer Hazani] said, 'We feel that we are going to the wilderness,' and that gave me the idea of comparing the Exodus from Egypt with the exile from Gush Katif. Despite the differences, there was a similar sense of fear, a sense of the unknown... and like the women who walked into the desert, the women of Gush Katif had to hold their families together under difficult circumstances," Kaplan says. Bienenfeld has been amassing original articles, photographs and artwork about the disengagement; they will appear in a commemorative playbill. "So far most of the articles have been written by the people from Gush Katif," she says. "Now we are looking for articles from people who were there and shared the experience. We are also hoping for ads to help defray costs... The funds raised will help families who are unfortunately mostly living off their reparations."