It started with a sign and it ended with a sign.
On Israeli Independence Day this May, in a massive rally in Gush Katif attended by tens of thousands from all over Israel, the sign behind the dais proclaimed: WE WILL BE HERE FOREVER! It was a conviction shared by almost all Gush Katif residents as well as many other Israelis.
A prominent rabbi rented out Jerusalem's largest hall for Sunday, August 21, for the celebration to thank God for the miracle he was sure would come. Indeed, as the nation counted down to the scheduled date of the disengagement, most Gush Katif residents refused to pack their belongings or make any plans for the day after.
The ubiquitous sign on front doors in every community read: "Together we will prevail." Even once the evacuation had begun in villages in southern Gaza, further north in Netzarim, the men stayed up all night dancing in anticipation of the miracle they were sure would save them.
The miracle did not come.
Families were taken out of their homes of decades amidst tears and pleas. One palm-tree lined community after another was emptied. Synagogues were stripped of their holy trappings and Torah scrolls. A traumatized nation watched scenes of soldiers crying together with the families they were uprooting.
Judaism is a religion conceived out of a miraculous redemption, the Exodus from Egypt. It is a mitzvah of the Torah to remember the Exodus every day, to remind ourselves every day that God has redeemed us and can redeem us and will redeem us. The hope for redemption is imprinted into the Jewish soul. That is why Jews on their way to the gas chambers sang, "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah." Ultimate redemption is our promise and our destiny.
The Jews who were evacuated from the settlement of Netzer Hazani on Thursday, August 18, were loaded onto buses to take them away. They told the bus drivers, "Take us to the Kotel [the Western Wall]!" Word spread throughout Jerusalem and its environs that the banished Jews of Gush Katif were on their way to the Kotel, for millennia the site of Jewish joy and tears. By midnight a couple hundred people were gathered at the Dung Gate to greet the evacuees. By 1:30 a.m., when the buses finally arrived, the crowd had swelled to thousands.
People lined the access road singing the line from Psalms: "God will not abandon His people, nor the land of His inheritance." As the first busload descended outside of Dung Gate, weary, tearful mothers, fathers, children, and youth trudged toward the Kotel. They were greeted by girls handing them large, orange marigolds, women handing out their home-made cakes and candy, and hastily-made signs proclaiming: "We love you and are with you."
Hundreds of men linked shoulders and danced the evacuees toward the Kotel, loudly singing the refrain: "God will not abandon His people."
The Gush Katif residents who alighted from the buses made their way through the throng, amidst tears and song. For an hour, a huge mass surrounding a lone Torah scroll beside the Kotel sang and wept.
Amidst the thousands who had gathered to receive the evacuees was a woman who had lost her daughter in a suicide bombing. Even she, who knew that miracles do not always happen, was incredulous that, instead of a miracle, this calamity had befallen the Jews of Gush Katif.
So what do Jews do the night after? What do Jews do when the longed-for, prayed-for miracle does not occur? The final word of the night, the final word of the Disengagement, was emblazoned on a large sign brought by the evacuees and hung on a fence near the Kotel. It was a sheet painted with light green letters: "FROM THOSE BANISHED FROM NETZER HAZANI," and then in meter-high red letters: "HASHEM HE IS GOD."
The Divine name indicated by "Hashem" refers to God's quality of mercy. The second Divine name in the sign refers to God's quality of stern judgment. The sign's bold statement, the identical credo of faith embodied in the Shema, is: The merciful God is the same God who judges us sternly. This is the way, for millennia, that Jews have accepted upon themselves calamity, in the faith that even the harshest fate is dictated by a merciful, loving God.
That sign, and the faith behind it, is the true miracle of the Disengagement. That is the miracle that did happen.
Support for Needy People of Gush Katif:
1. Avital and Natan Sharansky have started a short term emergency fund for families who have been evacuated from Gush Katif. They are evaluating each case carefully and would like to have funds available in an account so that they can give funds to these people who are currently in crisis as soon as possible to help them with their immediate needs. Thus far they have helped families having weddings in the coming weeks and several other short term emergency needs. There are many families with serious needs.
Checks can be made out to Avital Sharansky and mailed to:
Avital and Natan Sharansky
c/o Richard Kovler
Rechov Mishmar Ha'am 1/4
Questions or further information can be obtained from Richard Kovler who works closely with the Sharanskys at firstname.lastname@example.org
2. An organization called Lemaan Achai -Emergency Campaign for Gush Katif- is trying to be the coordinating body of all those interested in helping. One can call 1-700-501-300 to donate items, services or to volunteer one's time. People willing to donate funds are being asked to call 1-800-351-012 and to specify that the money is for Keren Lemaan Achai. Israeli tax deductible receipts will be issued through an organization called Paamonim.