The last couple of weeks have not been easy for us: a flood of missiles, rockets, and mortars in southern Israel, a major terror blast in Jerusalem, and a terrible murder of an entire family in Itamar. Yet all these horrifying moments couldn’t stop us from living our lives and enjoy them greatly. What is even nicer is the fact that we were not left alone. Here are some snapshots from recent days:
Jerusalem: Only two days after the bombing. 10,000 runners from all over the world participated in the first Jerusalem marathon in over 3,000 years. I found myself running (only 10K, I am not that brave) between a group of IDF paratroopers and a group of MASA participants, both singing “Jerusalem of Gold” while climbing from the old to the new city.
Kibbutz Erez (on the Gaza border): Only a few days before the recent major escalation in shelling and mortar attacks, participants of the MetroWest ICE (Israel Center Experience) Mission, visited their MetroWest “family” on the kibbutz. Together with the local kids they danced the hora in a bomb shelter that they helped to renovate.
Beersheba (the Grad missile attacks): ICE participants Jim and Kala Paul, who had decided to stay and volunteer in Ofakim, found themselves facing yet another Israel experience: missile attacks. They admirably didn’t change any of their plans. Here is how Jim describes their unique experience:
We were fortunate that the first set of rockets occurred when we were at the home of our friends at 6:15 in the morning. We had a moment of panic. Then we all got into the center of their home on the floor. They had talked about doing that the evening before. It was certainly a shock when we were awakened by the siren. Around 11:30 a.m. Kala and I were walking by ourselves in the old part of Beersheba when the siren went off again. We actually did not panic as much as we did when the first attack occurred in the morning. Going through it once helped. Not too many places to get into. We found a spot next to a solid wall and lay down on the ground and just counted. After the rockets hit, we got up like other people and continued on. A little shaken, but not too much. If it happens again when we are in Beersheba, Ofakim, or even Sderot, it will be easier. Not necessarily fun, but easier.
For us, it was an important part of our understanding of life in Israel. It helps us feel a bit more connected to the people here. In part, this is what the trip is about. Maybe it will help us when we talk to people back in New Jersey about the work that we can collectively do to help people here.
Ofakim (the last few Fridays): Alpha, the Ofakim development fund that we support, organized tourist attractions in town and in the vicinity. This is part of a Negev festival called Darom Adom or “Red South.” The name was originally given due to the blooming of the anemone flowers in the region but received a horrifying meaning when the missiles, sirens, and “red alerts” joined the party. Yael Racov is the volunteer chairperson of Alpha. She is working with us hand-in-hand to better the quality of life in our partnered region. Here is the letter from Yael:
Friday morning: Blue skies, green prairie dotted with yellow and red; fresh breeze; clean trees washed after the rain; a few cars in the car park; picnic blankets and baskets; children playing.
No, it's neither Toscana nor Normandy — it's the Darom Adom (Red South) Festival in Ofakim!
Ofakim joined this end-of-winter festival in the Negev, named after the red carpets of blossom. With limited resources, Alpha offered a special tour of the local attractions. Visitors were directed to the Ofakim Park where they could visit the old Turkish fort and the cave and children could enjoy supervised activities with guides.
In the car park, a large 45-seater "Safari truck" offered a tour of Ofakim taking in the house of the local artist, Tedgy, with the distinctive sculpture garden, the Jerba synagogue, and the Friendship Park.
The tour ended at the Sayeret Shaked Forest where veterans of the reconnaissance platoon regaled the visitors with stories of the wild, adventurous, and heroic old days.
They also showed the visitors the monument and the old train bridge, the longest metal bridge in Israel.
The festival went on for three consecutive Fridays and attracted a few hundred visitors. Many of them enjoyed a delicious lunch at the fort, cooked by Ossi and Nava from the women’s ethnic empowerment group, or took food away to eat at home.
It's now official — Ofakim is on the Israeli tourist map! It took only one different vehicle to move people from place to place thus creating a unique experience.