Monday, August 29, 2005

Their Finest Hour

A First Person Account of the Evacuation of a Jewish Family

Helaine Finkelstein

In the final 48 hours in their home in Neve Dekalim, the Namir family and their supporters showed the strength and moral integrity these people are made of. This time of incredible suffering was their finest hour and I was privileged to witness how they dealt with this tragedy.

Sody Namir is a community doctor, a mohel, a Talmud chocham and an example of Jewish leadership at its best. His wife, Becky, is true Eishet Chayil, the backbone of this large family and of the whole community. Together they have created a dynasty that will rise above the destruction of their family home. They will bear their suffering as they have led their lives, in the service of Hashem.

The group of about thirty assembled in the Namir house consisted of Becky’s mother, two of her sisters and their children, a brother-in-law, nieces and several young men who had spent much time in this home over the years. Throughout the long ordeal of waiting to be forcibly removed from their home the house was filled with prayer, learning and song. The men gathered around the dining room table studying Gemara while the women recited Tehillim.

The waiting was excruciating. Each time we received notice that we had a few hours reprieve there was jubilation. We were waiting for a miracle and this would be one more chance. It was like riding an enormous emotional wave; sometimes plunging to the depths of sorrow and intense, heart-searing pain, sometimes proudly riding the crest with song and joy but always with complete faith in Hashem. I will never forget the faces of the young men so torn with anguish, their loud sobs filling the room. Or, the raw emotion in Sody’s voice as he pleaded G-d, “we have suffered so much, Hashem, do we have to suffer this too? “

We gained strength during times of uplifting song, a brief respite from the pain. Hope in Hashem’s help revived us so we could endure the endless of hours of waiting and the many unfulfilled notices of our imminent removal. We were holding a vigil over a dying loved one, only in this case it was not a person but a much-loved home and community.

Throughout this expulsion experience I felt connected to Jews throughout the ages and the many times we have been forced from our homes. So many generations who suffered expulsion and persecution. This expulsion felt so incredibly painful coming as it did at the hands of our fellow Jews. Experiencing the impassioned prayer and the quiet learning in this house, I now understood how other Jews must have spent their final hours waiting for the knock on the door

Sody’s status in the community, the army kept sending messages asking if it would be a convenient time to come; as if they were dropping by for a visit. The absurdity of the question escaped them and the response was always the same: “ no time would be convenient for you to throw me out of my home ”.

On the final morning Sody came into the room wearing his army uniform looking every bit like a general of his small troop. He assembled everyone around the dining room table and told us how he expected us to behave. Above all else, our actions had to sanctify Hashem’s name, Kiddush Hashem. We were not to raise a hand against a soldier. He wore his army uniform because he did not want his children to be afraid of the army.

We had each prepared a small bag but other than the family photo albums nothing else was packed. This home that was so filled with family memories was to be left just the way it was. Expressing belief in Hashem was more important than the loss of any possessions.

The army finally came for us at
3:00 pm on August 18. We were emotionally drained and the forced entry was a traumatic experience. The house was completely surrounded by soldiers who tried to gain access from three entrances. Pandemonium broke out inside the house as everyone, women and children included, tried to prevent their entry. Bodies threw their weight against the doors. A young man was cut with broken glass when the kitchen door was shattered requiring seven stitches. Meanwhile a huge stone was being hurled through a panel of the front door leaving a gapping hole. When we suddenly realized the whole door was giving way, we raced across the room with the dining table slamming it up against the door. But our passion was no match for their force and once the inevitable happened, we backed away. It felt like rape; the worst kind of rape, violation by a family member.

Becky, in her ninth month of pregnancy sat at the sidelines calmly soothing her children. Whatever emotion she herself was feeling herself was contained. She was their anchor in this sea of madness. Their rage boiled and they continued to hurl the same question at the soldiers that they had for the previous three days, “WHY?” The women comforted the little ones and each other as the men cried on each other’s shoulders. No one was left alone

Once the soldiers were inside the house we were able to daven mincha without interruption. Some of the soldiers joined us; many appeared deeply moved. Then Sody once again addressed everyone. He acknowledged all his teachers who were important in his formation and expressed the feeling that he was continuing the work they had started. They had given him the strength to survive this event. He talked about his home that was always filled with guests especially on shabbos. He expressed disappointment that the Charedi rabbis were not united with the settlers in this fight. He addressed his family laying himself bare before all. Finally, he expressed his deep sadness that the country had so lost its way; because this act was crazy from a security point of view as well as from a human point of view. He then presented the commanding officer with a medallion he had received two years ago at a Yom Ha’azmaut celebration where he was honored with lighting a candle. He asked that the officer keep it for him and return it to him at a time when the country had returned to a position of respect. Sody and the officer hugged and cried and everyone in the room felt their pain.

Sody’s final act before leaving his home quietly was to take his wife and each of his children to the mezuzah at the front door and do kria on their shirts as one would over the loss of a family member. This was the death of something precious, a Jewish house, the only
Temple we have known for two thousand years. Coming as this did just after Tisha B’Av, we are each feeling that destruction of our Temple very personally this year.

We have a lot of questions to ask ourselves and a lot of work ahead of us. How have we become so disconnected from each other that Jews could so callously throw fellow Jews out of their homes while others appear unaffected by the event, or G-d forbid, even cheer it? I pray that through this tragedy the country will begin to rebuild on an even stronger foundation; one built on the values of this family and this community, on a love of Torah and love of the Land.

I have presented a glimpse into the life of just one family; there are thousands of other compelling stories of wonderful families who have also suffered this terrible loss. May Hashem grant them all a refuah shlema from this terrible tragedy. Many of us were praying for a miracle to change the outcome of this decree and while that has not happened yet, what we did witness was a revelation of Hashem through the actions of those who know His Name.


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