Tuesday, August 9

My husband, Yaakov, and I get up early and drive down to Atzmona to babysit our granddaughters. Our daughter, Naama, is part of a Gush Katif women's theater group and today is their last performance -- at a conference in Bar Ilan University. Her husband, Avner, a career officer and captain in the IDF, will be home late. She takes her 3-month-old son, Oz Naftali, with her, as she is still breastfeeding him.

I think how appropriate his name Naftali is -- for it is after my father, who died this year, who loved to travel. Oz Naftali has also been all over Israel with his mother's theater group. They perform an original play that expresses their doubts, their fears and their faith in these troubled times.

The community of Atzmona looks like it does every other day. There are no moving containers, no unusual activity. No one in Atzmona is packing. This is a community with no televisions and no secular newspapers. Many of the residents are teachers in yeshivot and schools. The others are farmers who are a part of Atzmona's successful agricultural community. Their farming industry has paid off well, but they live modestly, with mid-size homes surrounded by lawns and flowers. But some of the homes, including our daughters, have black indentations in the outside walls -- from the shrapnel of mortars that have fallen here. One fell 20 feet from our daughter's home, among the blooming yellow alemandra plants.

We drive with our granddaughters, Tehila and Shirel, to Neveh Dekalim, seven minutes away. Our plan was to take them to the petting zoo, but there is a sign that it is closed, some people say, because of the nine days leading up to Tisha B'Av, when one doesn't partake of entertainment. But as a former camp director, I know that zoos are among the few activities allowed, and I suspect it is closed because some of the animals have already been transferred to other zoos. My suspicions are confirmed by a friend who lives in Neveh Dekalim, who tells me how they gently tied orange ribbons around the donkeys' ears before they sent them off to Kibbutz Saad, so everyone would know they were from Gush Katif.

The lawns and shopping center are full of vibrant young people, reading, playing basketball, eating and just talking. It is a blazingly hot day. The local ice cream and coffee shop, well air-conditioned, is brimming with soldiers, local residents and visiting journalists with laptops. We stop in at the local medical center to visit the girls' other grandmother, Ruti Cohen, whose sister and brother-in-law were shot dead three weeks ago by a Palestinian policeman on Tzir Kissufim, the main road leading in and out of Gush Katif. This is Ruti's first day back at work. As she holds Shirel on her lap, we watch a dentist wheeling the contents of his clinic out of the center. A doctor and several psychologists who have come from Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh to volunteer their time look in and say hello. Magazines about the Land of Israel are on the tables in the waiting area, along with toys and dolls.

While my granddaughters climb and slide, I look up at the sky, and wonder what God wants from us.

We continue to a large and beautiful playground. While my granddaughters climb and slide, I lie on my back, look up at the sky, and wonder what God wants from us. I look at the sun and the sea, and at the immense beauty that has been created here, from out of the sand dunes.

Later that day, when it is cool enough to go outside, I play with Tehila and Shirel and their friends. We sit on their grass and catch imaginary fish, make imaginary honey, prepare imaginary challas for Shabbat. But when I suggest that we (pretend to) pick oranges and make orange juice, they run to a bush with red flowers, pick some branches, pull off some of the red flowers, pretend they are oranges and suck the nectar. They tell me this is a trick they have learned on their way to pre-school - to suck the nectar from the red flowers.

Later, the farmers from Atzmona drop off a large sack of potatoes in front of every home -- a gift. The girls make a game out of pulling the potatoes out of the sack, one by one, and lining them up in front of the kitchen door. This keeps them busy for about 30 minutes. Such are the activities of children growing up among farmers, with no TV.

Naama, Oz Naftali and Avner come home together. Yaakov and I have already fed and bathed the girls. I have made Tehila five pigtails, as she asked, and a little braid for Shirel. They hide under the sheets and jump out at their father. I take Oz Naftali out for a long walk to help him quiet down, and stop to visit a friend who is the sister of the rebbetzin of Atzmona. Chaya is a parent advisor and she tells me how she is trying to explain to the women that it is "okay" to put some cherished objects into a backpack at least, even if they don't want to pack, that they should save the children's special collections and other items, in case they are lost when the soldiers come to pack.

I fall asleep broken hearted.

Wednesday, August 10

I get up before the others and decide to drive to every single community in Gush Katif that I haven't visited yet. As I make my way from one to the other, I see that some look like any other day, and a few, like Pe-at Sadeh, have moving containers in front of the homes, or the homes have already been left, and there is orange graffiti on them, anti-disengagement, or saying "I love you Gush Katif." I see a horse in one of the yards, whose owners have not yet left.

I drive along the seashore to Rafiah Yam, where I know the Atia family. I knock on their door, to say hello. There is no answer but a reserve officer named Dan tells me that they must be sleeping. There are boxes in front of the house. Dan invites me around the corner to the soldiers' quarters where he has the Atia's cell phone number. While I wait for it, I see that this makeshift soldiers' quarters has religious books and pamphlets lying around. Dan is from a moshav in the Negev and he says, "It is hard, it is hard to be here now."

As I leave, I stop the car, and salute in the direction of the settlement.

I continue to B'dolach, Gan-Or, Gadid? As I enter each community, I nod and say hello to the soldier on guard. As I leave, I stop the car, and salute in the direction of the settlement. I choose to salute because they are like soldiers, who have been sent here by Israeli governments. I, too, was sent to Efrat in Gush Etzion by the Israeli government. I salute them as one soldier to another.

I reach Shirat Hayam and Kfar Yam, where hundreds of families and young people have created tent cities. I see a young neighbor from Efrat, Rivka Bedein, who is studying medical clowning, and has come to entertain the children.

I drive back to my daughter's home and we get ready to leave. At noon, we will be attending a brit mila in Ganei Tal. A new grandson has been born to other in-laws who live there - the Asis family. I whisper to Naama as I hug her, "I am so proud of you." She, Israeli that she is, replies, "Stop, Ima, you're embarrassing me." As I leave Naama's home for what I fear is the last time, I turn around and exit backwards, like in a synagogue. This, I think to myself, is like the Temple in Jerusalem. I kiss the mezuzah as I step out. I am leaving a sanctuary of faith and love.

Shirel, who just ran through someone's sprinkler and got wet (yes, they are still watering the lawn one week before the expulsion), has taken off all her clothes. She is only three years old and I laugh as she runs, naked, all the way to our car, enjoying her freedom and the fact that her mother, unlike me, isn't thrilled about her lack of attire.

We drive to Ganei Tal and see a crowd that is not only friends and family, but supporters who have used the excuse of a brit mila to enter the Gush. The baby's grandfather tells us that he has made five trips that day back and forth to Ashkelon, to which he has transferred his greenhouses of geraniums and spices. Everyone, even those of great faith, recognize that it may be the last brit mila in Gush Katif, and the atmosphere is heavily mixed with joy and sorrow. The lawns surrounding the synagogue are filled with well-wishers, the tables laden with cold drinks and watermelon slices. The child is named Amichai -- "my nation lives."

During the festive lunch (at tables decorated with orange ribbons and napkins), the rabbi of the community, Gabi Kadosh, the baby's other grandfather, says, "I invite you all to join us here for Amichai's Shabbat hatan (the Shabbat before a wedding)!" One of the caterer's workers rolls his eyes in disbelief. But I say to the people at my table, "Amichai's father married young -- at 19. And I remember how the children of Gush Etzion returned to their homes after the Six Day War in 1967, 19 years after they were driven out in 1948 when Gush Etzion fell to the Jordanians. These children, too, will return one day."

I finish my little speech of hope and Hanan Porat enters the hall, to wish the family mazal tov. Hanan was the leader of the Gush Etzion children who returned in 1967, and I declare it to be an omen that my prophecy was true, and that the children of Gush Katif will return, one day, to this strip of land.

Friday, August 12

We leave for a day and are now returning for Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av, the Shabbat during which we read Parashat Devarim, which tells how Land of Israel that was given to us. We spend Shabbat in Ganei Tal. Naama is also there with her family, as is another daughter, Noa, also married to a boy who grew up in Ganei Tal; they have decided to spend this Shabbat with his parents as well. Our daughter, Ephrat, 22, has been in Gush Katif for a week already and Matanya, 15, comes in with us. We have "passes" to be in Gush Katif till midnight Saturday night. I express the desire to leave, therefore, after midnight -- my tiny protest against the government. Ephrat and Matanya say they will be staying on. As it turns out, there is shooting on Tzir Kissufim Saturday night and we delay our leaving till the next day.

Friday night, the air conditioning in the synagogue shuts off as prayers are about to begin. There are several hundred visitors in this community of about 70 families, and the hundreds move outside to pray, in a plaza surrounded by trees, where wedding feasts are usually held. Naama and Avner, whose chuppah took place on the grass overlooking the seashore, held their wedding feast here, as well. I cannot believe that after this week they will not be able to return to the site of their chuppah, to the site of their wedding. The prayers are so powerful, so deeply wrenching, that I feel we are standing on the eve of Yom Kippur. I half expect, after the reciting of "Shema Yisrael," to hear the congregation add the next line, "Baruch shem kavod?" aloud, like on the eve of Kol Nidre, not quietly, like the rest of the year.

The next morning, there are tears in shul. Nobody can escape the thought that this is probably the last Shabbat in Ganei Tal.

The next morning, there are tears in shul. Nobody can escape the thought that this is probably the last Shabbat in Ganei Tal, though most people still speak with a tone of hope, praying for a miracle. The rabbi speaks from the pulpit about the power of miracles and how God can do anything, but his final words are, "In the coming days, let us feel also a sense of joy, and give thanks for all the good we have received."

The man to close the ark after the returning of the Torah is Zalman Deutsch of Alon Shvut, the architect who built this shul more than 20 years ago. He pulls the curtain closed and leans forward to kiss it gently. During the repeat of the Musaf Amidah, the kohanim ascend the steps at the front, turn and bless the congregation. I have a son-in-law up there and I watch him and his brother and father as they face the ark, after the blessing. The kohanim remain up there for longer than usual, unable to part, knowing this may have been the last time they bless their friends and neighbors.

A grand Kiddush follows, the cakes and kugels provided by supporters throughout Israel who have sent their love and food to Gush Katif. A man announces that the Kiddush next Shabbat will be on the lawn of one of the residents. People cheer, knowing that there may not be another Shabbat here in Ganei Tal. There are tears and laughter throughout the day.

There are two concepts that keep guiding me and that I think we have to keep in our minds. One is our own hishtadlut, doing whatever we can to avert the decree of expulsion. The other is that God has His plan.

These two concepts are not contradictory. The Holy One can do anything.

Shabbat afternoon Rabbi Elisha Vishlitzky of Jerusalem gives a class in the Cohen's home, in memory of her sister and brother-in-law, Rachel and Dov Kol. He tells the story that appears in Isaiah, chapter 38. Isaiah says to King Chizkiyahu, "You will die and not live" and the sages of the Midrash explain: "not live" means also in the next world. Chizkiyahu asks why, and Isaiah says, "Because you did not marry."

Chizkiyahu explains, "I did not marry because sons will come forth from me who are not honest." (He knew that Menashe the evil king would come forth from him.) Isaiah responds, "Who are you to make the accountings of the Holy One? You must do what you must do, and God will do as He wishes."

So Chizkiyahu says, "Then give me your daughter for a wife." Why Isaiah's daughter? "Because maybe from your daughter and my son, honest children will come forth."

Isaiah answers, "The decree has already been made. It won't help that you take my daughter." Chizkiyahu replies, "Ben Amotz (Isaiah)! Stop your prophesying and leave!" Why? "Because this is what I have received from my father's house -- even when the sword is against a person's throat, he should not despair!"

The second story Rabbi Vishlitzky told was about King David. It is from 2-Samuel, ch. 24. The short version: There was a plague, everyone was dying (not a great time to be dealing with real estate), yet King David bought the location of the Holy Temple, and the plague was stopped.

Rabbi Vishlitzky, who has been in touch with the Gush Katif community throughout the last year, entreated people: "Stay with us, even if you send out your possessions in advance and sleep on mattresses, stay here. Do not despair." But at the same time, he speaks of the spirit, the faith of the people of Gush Katif, "that will go on throughout the land," the unspoken words being, "wherever you will be."

Saturday night, Tisha B'Av begins and we listen to the reading of Lamentations which describes the destruction of both Holy Temples. The symbolism is overwhelming. Again, the plaza is filled with young people and old, mothers under trees with babies, like in days of old. Everyone is struck by the words in Chapter 5 -- "Our inheritance has been turned over the strangers, our homes to aliens."

Sunday, August 14

Let no one tell you that the people who are packing up their belongings are leaving "willingly" as the press is trying to paint it. We know one family that was packing, even, appropriately, on Tisha B'Av, as a sign of the destruction of the Temple. They planned to leave at the last minute, but decided they did not want to leave even a light bulb for the Palestinians to loot. The father of the home, alluding to a biblical verse, said, "They have murdered and they will also inherit?" Ruti Cohen, on the other hand, said to me, "I will walk out of here with only two Shabbat candlesticks and a photograph [of Rachel and Dov]."

We do not know the ways of God. But the togetherness and sanctification of God's name over the last year, must count for something.

We do not know the ways of God. But the togetherness and sanctification of God's name over the last year, must count for something. One area in which we've already witnessed the result of this Kiddush Hashem is in the changed tone of many of the TV reporters.

Many reporters join the hundreds of residents at the Gush Katif cemetery, where 48 people - many of them victims of terror -- are buried and will have to be exhumed. They stand under the blazing sun and pray, and sing songs pleading for salvation.

Monday, August 15

My husband and I have left Gush Katif but have stayed in close contact with our children and other relatives there. The people of Ganei Tal, until then considered a suburban, boomer-aged community that would go quietly, block the entrance to the moshav. The army actually has to turn around and decides to give the expulsion notices later. An officer from the Golani brigade, now a civilian and staying in Morag, meets his former commander who has come to give expulsion notices. He bursts into tears and asks, "How can you do this? Our enemy is over there (pointing to Khan Yunis). We fought shoulder to shoulder. They have been killing us. How can you throw us out. We love you?" The senior officer embraces him and tries to hold back his own tears.

In Netzarim, a strongly religious settlement, it is business as usual. People continue to build several new houses and to plant trees. There is a joke going around that, when the miracle happens and a feast of thanksgiving takes place, the people from Netzarim won't understand what it's all about because they never acknowledged the disengagement to begin with.

A woman from Ganei Tal is asked by a reporter, "What will you do when soldiers enter your house and tell you that you have to leave?" "I will give them a history lesson," she answers.

The youth are everywhere, especially in Neveh Dekalim. The army cannot control them. They did not know what awaited them. Even the youth from the northern settlements of Gaza, like Alei Sinai, mostly secular, from which some residents have left, have barricaded themselves and refuse to go.

A professor of psychology from Ben Gurion University is interviewed by Israel TV. She says that the previous week she examined both adults and youth in Gush Katif. Her comment on the youth: "They care about the country. They care about the army. They care about democracy. And there is one way is which they are especially different from the secular youth we usually see: They don't care about money."

Tuesday, August 16

Avi Farhan is interviewed on the radio. When Israel gave the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1983, he was uprooted from Yamit and walked all the way to Jerusalem. Now he is about to be expelled from Alei Sinai. Farhan says, "I cannot transplant a tree twice -- once when I move into temporary housing and then again when we move into another permanent house. Any agronomist will tell you that when a tree is uprooted twice, it will die. Except for the olive tree. It can survive a second uprooting. I hope that my children will be like the olive tree."

The day has passed with clashes in Neveh Dekalim and elsewhere. There is much discussion on the news about the "illegals", mostly -- but not exclusively -- teenagers, who have managed to sneak into Gush Katif. They number in the thousands. A few of them get out of hand and burn or puncture tires. Some people pack, others live as usual. There are complaints from communities that have been split up, and even some of those -- particularly from the northern settlements -- who have gone willingly, have had a rude awakening by the shoddy, tiny caravans to which they were sent.

I speak to Ruti and to Naama in the course of the day. Naama is busy, taking the girls from activity to activity. Volunteers have poured into all the settlements to help with the children.

By nightfall, the people left in Gush Katif -- and it is still the majority, even though they have been told they will lose one third of their compensation -- await with trembling the knock on the door. For on Wednesday morning, the real expulsion will begin.

The author recommends visting this related site: www.katif.net