Rosh Pina weathers the storm with a sense of civic duty

Even when the sirens go off in Rosh Pina, as they do frequently, Tami Badash's bistro stays open.

nahariya life shelter 88 (photo credit: AP)
nahariya life shelter 88
(photo credit: AP)
Tami Badash, owner of the legendary Ja'uni bistro in Rosh Pina, was on her way to the airport with her daughter for a vacation when, as she put it, she made a U-turn and headed home. It was Wednesday evening, July 12. Earlier that day, she had already heard a few Katyusha explosions but thought nothing of it. For one thing, Katyushas had never fallen on Rosh Pina. For another, she was used to hearing these far-away sounds during the 11 years she had lived in the North. But on the way to the airport, she heard that a Katyusha had fallen on Kibbutz Mahanayim, just across from Rosh Pina on the other side of Highway 90. Another fell just outside Rosh Pina, setting fire to a beautiful forest outside the old town, where its cemetery is located. The following day, Thursday, Ja'uni opened as usual, but Badash could tell that her employers were under great stress. When the sirens went off in the early afternoon, she sent them home. According to Home Front Command instructions, she could not force them to work, but even if they had agreed to stay voluntarily, she did not want to be responsible if anything should happen to them. That day, Badash made another decision. With the help of her daughter and two nieces, she decided to reopen the restaurant. It has been open ever since, with the four women serving as cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and whatever else needs doing. Even when the sirens go off in Rosh Pina, as they do frequently, the bistro stays open. "I did this mainly for myself, to cheer myself up," said Badash. "It was so depressing to see empty streets. I like to see life around me... Our restaurant has become an institution over the years. We are known all over the country. It's only natural that Ja'uni will be here, and not just in the fun times." Ja'uni is not the only business that has stayed open in Rosh Pina since the fighting began. The Ma'ayan supermarket in the center of town has stayed open from day one of the fighting. Yehuda and Ashi Sheetret have kept it open even though half the regular staff is not working. Yehuda mans the cash register most of the day. "We felt it was our obligation to our customers to provide this service," said Yehuda, even though at least half their customers have left Rosh Pina. "Secondly, it was a matter of conscience. How could we sit in a bomb shelter all day long knowing that people we serve throughout the year cannot buy food?" Cynics may say that the brothers have kept the store open for profit, but Yehuda says it is currently operating at a loss. "Last Thursday, we received 12 orders for fruit and vegetables from our suppliers," he said. "On Sunday, we had to throw all of them out." Rosh Pina, which started off as a moshava, is now a small town with a population of about 2,700. According to Gadi Ben-Shimol, a high school physical education teacher during the school year, manager of the community swimming pool in the summer, and a member of the local council in charge of welfare, the town is closely knit and well organized. When hundreds of people left Rosh Pina at the beginning of the fighting, the community established a volunteer force to patrol the streets at night to make sure no one tried to rob the empty houses. The council held its first emergency meeting on Thursday. It immediately established a round-the-clock information service to handle inquiries by anxious residents or register complaints and calls for assistance. According to Ben-Shimol, the center receives a flood of phone calls after every warning siren from residents wanting to know whether it was safe to come out of the shelter or protected room; where the Katyushas had fallen; whether there were casualties, and so on. The council also established teams of local council workers who were dispatched the same night to check all of the 45 bomb shelters in town and see what problems each one had. In shelters lacking water, the council supplied water containers. Electricians were sent in to make necessary repairs. The next day, residents spent six to eight hours in the shelters. The council reconvened on Saturday to take stock of the situation and see what more could be done. According to Ben-Shimol, the meeting room was overflowing with residents who had come to volunteer their services. One of the problems they encountered was how children were faring. Not only were many of them traumatized by the sirens and the thunder of outgoing artillery fire, they were also bored, as all the summer day camps, the pool and the community center, which includes a movie theater, were shut down. The council arranged for army teachers to come to the shelters and keep the children busy. It also distributed games to each shelter. There were other problems to deal with. The local infirmary shut down by order of its national headquarters. But because of the sense of community in Rosh Pina, the nurses agreed to open it for a few hours to dispense badly needed pills to the sick. In cases where elderly people could not reach the infirmary, Ben-Shimol delivered them in person to their homes. Such arrangements stand in stark contrast to the need of an elderly man from the former Soviet Union, who barely spoke Hebrew, to walk, cane in hand, along Highway 89 towards Safed from one of its suburbs. All on his own, he was on his way to one of the health fund clinics to get his prescriptions. Back in Rosh Pina the banks were closed and at least one of the two cash machines was empty. Elderly people who lived from pensions and did not have cash reserves quickly ran out of money. In some cases, the council gave them cash loans. Since then, the banks have ordered their branches in the North to make sure their cash machines are full at all times. The situation in Rosh Pina appears to be much better than in other towns and cities in the danger zone. In Safed, for example, residents do not seem to feel the same sense of community support. In the town's run-down city hall, angry residents clashed with municipal property tax officials this week over how much compensation they should receive for the damage to their homes from Katyusha hits. The atmosphere in the city was one of "us against them."