[Rabbi Anita Steiner is an RRC graduate and a long-time resident of Ashkelon. She is the chair of Rabbis for Human Rights. Read her story from Wednesday. Ed.]
Shalom to all.
How I wish my simple message of shalom could reach many people!
Yesterday, Shabbat was very difficult.
The last time I had davened (prayed) in a miklat/ bomb shelter/ fortified room was during the Second Lebanese War. A group of rabbis and other volunteers traveled up north to support the people there. We davened in the miklat which served as a shul for the Masorti congregation of Mauricio Balter the rabbi in Kiryat Bialik, north of Haifa. It was Tisha B'av. We davened a 'regular' service,' read Eicha /Lamentations and studied. Afterwards we scampered to a few miklatim to deliver toys to children who were living in the miklatim. A colleague and I did help a young woman who was having difficulty functioning. She could not leave the shelter for any reason, and her life had completely stopped. Yes we helped by listening and giving hugs.
At shul (synagogue) yesterday we davened in a state of the art fortified room which is part of our nursery school building. I sat facing the huge pipes that were part of the ventilation system, which was adequate for 30 people, didn't have a minyan till we were able to do the repetition of the Amidah.
Any comfort and feeling of hevra (camaraderie) that I may have wanted to give and receive being with my congregation ( I am not the rabbi of the congregation, just a member) was ruined when a close friend who helps out nights on an emergency "open line" for people who need some help or someone to talk to, said forcefully that the only important thing is what our army does. Nothing else matters. This so upset me, that I had trouble davening.
Well this wouldn't be the first time, nor the last that I have had trouble davening. In no way was I going to disagree with him publicly. But the feeling seemed to be that the most and only thing we have to do is to watch out for ourselves and to defend ourselves. Agreed I hear this every day from many people, including close friends and certainly on the radio, TV, email and internet. But I guess hearing it in shul, surprised me. I had considered the shul to be a safe place. This didn't make me feel safe.
I don't think that anyone in the minyan knew how horrified I was of the content and intent of their talk. No one mentioned the 'other,' praying for "yoshei tevel (anyone besides Jews). No one spoke of human rights, the killing of hundreds of non combatant women and children, our bombing of a UN school that was housing refugees in Gaza, giving ambulances a chance to evacuate the injured, etc etc.
I appreciate what I am learning from my colleagues in the States about making a shul a welcoming place, where people can feel comfortable expressing their opinions and not be attacked for them. But I have a tremendous amount to learn and to implement what I am learning. We all feel so strongly. By the middle of the tefillot (prayers), I just wanted to hug my friend, and to say 'yes, we disagree.'
After shul I was sitting outside in my yard and it was absolutely beautiful. Four rockets then landed within a short period of one another. I no longer wanted to sit outside and my stomach was upset. I had to cancel my plans for seeing my sons in Tel Aviv. My younger son had been at his home for a few days, and had planned going back Sunday, but got called back to his unit Shabbat afternoon. It seems more frightening this time then when he went in last week. Maybe because we hoped it would end quickly? But who knows how long this violence and senseless killing will continue.
There were 6 or 7 attacks total Shabbat. I lost count.
What should one be doing? So many invitations to stay somewhere else. Perhaps 40,000- 50,000 residents of Ashkelon have temporarily left home. Am I being reckless staying in my home? But it is definitely awkward elsewhere. At least here I have my very accessible miklat and computer. I can even go out in the sun... and get back to the miklat in time.
Sunday morning, a cousin called to say she was on her way to somewhere near Beer Sheva with her kids. One of her sons is in the tank corps and has been in Gaza since the ground troops went in last week. His unit had few hours off and when asked said they were really hungry, so my cousin called a schwarma place near there and ordered 40 schwarmas to take to the boys.
In the makeshift village Nitzan, one of the "cara villas" that was set up north of Ashkelon for some of the families that had been evacuated from the Gaza strip in 2005, there are no shelters or fortified rooms. Out of necessity the government thought of a creative way to sort of solve the problem. With cranes they brought in huge fortified water pipes that are large enough to stand in and put them all over the place.
My friends, whose one story home has no miklat and no fortified room are looking into how they can protect themselves. One of the huge water pipes mentioned above would cost about 15,000 shekels before taxes, including having it placed in their garden. A ready made fortified "room" would cost about 70,000 shekels, and a few other options. A structure that was not officially approved would cost less. They were going to the bank to see if they could arrange for a loan. They are convinced that even if there is a ceasefire, either the rockets or threat of them will continue for years.
Pray for peace. Pray for peace.