Posted 10 April 2010on:
The sun is shining, spring has arrived and I’m sorry; I know – it’s been a long time! Now Pesach is over my houseguests have left. It seemed uber-hard work this year (I must be feeling my age) still, for all that, the effort is really rewarding and I won’t deny it, I love a full house. The family stayed with me for ten days and I even had Jon stay a couple a days the week before as he was in London on business. Now my home is back the way it was – very clean and very quiet – it can never be too clean, but it can be too quiet!
So what’s been going on? Lots, but for this post I’m focusing on my last trip to Israel which seems so long ago – and I’ll be back there in a couple of weeks taking my ol’ ma to see her great-grandchildren – I’ve booked the flights, just need to sort accommodation! We’ll probably rent an apartment with a pool in Herzliya so Bridgitte can bring the children over after school, which finishes at 1.30, and Jon can see us after work as his office is there. We’ll work something out.
Back to the trip – last year we were a small group of nine souls; this time there were nineteen of us! It was fast-paced and hectic trying to fit so much into four days. Much was familiar to us old regulars although some in this year’s group had never been to Israel before or had only done the sun sea and sand thing and some of the itinerary was new ground even for us Israel frequent flyers. I won’t repeat it all as much is déjà-vu from last year, particularly the Old City, Rachel’s Tomb, Hebron and the Caves of Machpelah the burial place of our Patriarchs. However visiting Sderot, an Israeli town literally across the road from Gaza – a stone’s, no, a rocket’s throw – was a real eye-and mind-opener. It hit home the enormity of their situation when we saw the racks of ketusha, qassam and grad rockets fired relentlessly on the town’s residents, when we saw the war room, when we saw a playground where shelters are disguised as animals so the children can come out of their homes and when we saw streets where no house escaped damage.
and this is the response of the Mayor of Sderot – not what you may have expected; the word peace comes from the lips of Israel, not hate!
From Sderot we went to Independence Hall in Tel Aviv and the Etzel Museum in Jaffe – we met incredible, brave, heroic people who were there when independence was declared; who fought for our right to exist and when you see the first video above, nothing has changed in our fight for survival.
I hadn’t managed to get to Kibbutz Kfar Etzion before, which was in fact not so far from where Jon lived in the Gush. The story of this now thriving kibbutz is one of life and death and life again and they have set up a museum to relate its history and its legacy – it was poignant and moving especially when praying at the bunker. At Kfar Etzion, one of four kibbutzim in the area, the captured Jews were gathered together by soldiers of the Arab Legion and told they were going to be photographed, instead the soldiers opened fire and murdered scores, according to eyewitness accounts from Jewish survivors. The wounded from the battle had taken refuge in a cellar bunker. After the village surrendered, the Arabs blew up the bunker with grenades killing everyone in it. Only then were any survivors taken to captivity in Jordan.
I gathered acorns from around it and brought them home to remember – if the tree can survive, so can we.
I know I often fly off to Israel for my baby fix, but for me these trips are also as important, illuminating and valuable – I try to spread the word to my friends to go, to listen, to learn, particularly when we visit the victims of terror and hear their terrible stories or work the soup kitchen or pack challot and provisions with the beautiful Liore for over 400 destitute families who have nothing – poverty in Israel is a major issue. My synagogue has been raising funds and been supporting these poor people since the start of the intifada and it is humbling also to meet the wonderful volunteers in Israel who give so much of themselves. As a community we still raise much needed funds and visit them today as we did seven years ago and they know and appreciate that Chigwell still cares and they know they are not alone. After initial pain and grief, the scars and trauma last for ever; so must our endeavours.
This year I met two lovely families, one from Russia, the other from Latvia, whose lives were destroyed through terrorist attack and whose stories of healing I may tell another time, but their progress and rehabilitation could never have happened without the hard graft and sheer dedication of one truly remarkable lady, Delysia Jayson, a true Eshet Chayil, a Woman of Valour…
“a woman of valour… she invests herself with strength… she opens her hand to the poor and reaches out to the needy… she is robed in strength and dignity and she smiles at the future… give her credit for the fruit of her labour and let her achievements praise her at the gates.” (Proverbs 31: 10-31)
Delysia sadly died shortly after our visit, on her 67th birthday. Maybe it sounds odd to say I was lucky, but I was lucky to have had the opportunity to spend precious time with her again, to have walked beside this angel on earth, to have had the honour and privilege to have known her at all. On our first day in Jerusalem she drove us to visit families in their homes and the following evening I sat with her at a dinner for more victims, their families and volunteers – always a brilliant evening of shared stories of despair and hope – for example beautiful young men cruelly injured by mines and suicide bombs whose survival hung in the balance and now they were loved and embarking on marriage, something they had never dared to hope for, something that was just a dream.
Delysia was the founder of Keren Klita – her voluntary work started in the early 70’s with a group called the “35’s Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry”. Reading her tribute brought back memories – I recall playing a small part in those days, just going on rallies and occasionally volunteering in charity shops to raise funds to help get those poor souls out of Russia and to raise public awareness of their plight. I remember wearing a pendant that bore the words “Let My People Go” and years later twinning my sons’ Bar Mitzvahs with 13 year old boys in Russia who could not get out, who could not celebrate openly as we could in the land of freedom, who could not live freely as Jews, whose families were imprisoned on false charges because they wanted to leave the Soviet Union. It was a very big thing then and Delysia courageously made perilous trips to Russia to see for herself and to do what she could.
When we saw Delysia again in February we knew something was wrong – she was a shadow of her former self, yet she was still working tirelessly for her cause. I wonder if she realised she had mere weeks to live; she knew she was sick, she told us she had cancer but when questioned she dismissed it as a nuisance, like one would flick a hand at a pesky fly. Please please read this tribute to her – it chronicles her life and her strength of character and determination and was written by someone who followed in her footsteps to help others, by someone who will miss her like everyone all over the world who got to know and respect and admire and love her. Her death leaves a void, an enormous loss to her family, her friends, her colleagues, her community and the many many thousands of people she saved. Future trips will not be the same without her.