November 11, 2006
By Gil Hoffman
TZFAT, Israel — A newly repaved crater in the main street of Tzfat. A tree split in half near a Haifa sidewalk. Shards of metal kept as a keepsake in a synagogue.
For recent New Jersey visitors to this town in northern Israel, these were the few bits of evidence of the war that ravaged northern Israel just three months ago.
In fact, most of the visitors didn’t even catch a glimpse of any of the sites of conflict, and some left disappointed that they didn’t get to “fully experience postwar Israel,” as one put it.
For most of the participants in the Zahav Statewide Mega-Mission, sponsored by the state Jewish federations in the Partnership 2000 consortium, the visit was testimony to the rebuilding effort that began the moment the war ended.
And while they noted that the physical damage of the war has been almost entirely fixed, the emotional damage inflicted upon northern Israelis remains an open wound.
“I told people that they wouldn’t see rocket damage,” said mission leader Stanley Stone, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. “Israel has learned to clean things up quickly. It’s part of the Israeli uniqueness and vitality, always moving on and never making the site of an attack into a shrine.
“But we did meet individuals who were traumatized by what happened, and those holes are still there. They can fix bricks and mortar, but it’s harder when you are dealing with people’s lives.”
The 77 mission participants, half of whom were from the Central federation area, heard horror stories from shopkeepers in Tzfat’s artist colony and people they met on a visit to Haifa. An Ethiopian immigrant in Afula told them that children who live in her neighborhood are frightened by school bells, because they sound too much like the sirens that warned of impending rockets.
Central federation president Robert Kuchner said he visited a synagogue in Tzfat that had been hit by a rocket. The damage had been repaired, leaving no sign of the war except a few metal shards from the rocket. The synagogue’s rabbi kept these to demonstrate how powerful and destructive the attacks were.
For his part, Kuchner said, he was not surprised about not seeing any damage. “I was proud to see that the Israelis were not brought down by this war, that they were still upbeat and that they continue to live for the future. It’s all part of the typical Israeli desire to move forward.”
Before traveling north to Afula, Tzfat, and Haifa, the mission went to Tel Aviv and Kibbutz Ein Gedi, which is part of the Tamar Regional Council, Central federation’s sister community in the Jewish Agency’s Partnership 2000 program.
In Ein Gedi, the participants attended a celebration in honor of the anniversaries of the partnership and the founding of the Dead Sea-area kibbutz.
In Afula, Gideon Herscher of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee praised the Central NJ federation for being perhaps the only one to send a mission to northern Israel during the war. He contrasted the sounds of schoolchildren during this mission to the silence in empty schools during the war.
The delegation visited Afula’s Gvanim Elementary School, where a storage room has been converted to a multipurpose area — for a high-tech study center, after-school playroom, and therapeutic “warm room” — by Sylvia Scheininger of Union in memory of her daughter, Ellen Scheininger, who died two years ago. The warm room will serve children traumatized by this past summer’s war; it includes a loft of soft pillows and stuffed animals where the school social worker and guidance counselor can help children work through trauma.
Sylvia Scheininger’s grandson Justin, who is studying in Israel, attended the event and said his aunt “would have been thrilled to be associated with such a worthy cause. Her soul was getting naches from seeing how the donation would help the school’s developmentally challenged children.”
At the school, the group observed language workshops with children whose families had immigrated from Ethiopia, Morocco, and the former Soviet Union. The children drew “hamsa” good-luck charms for their visitors from New Jersey.
On the last day of their trip, on a visit to Hadassah Ein-Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, the group surveyed another program that helps children. Kav-Or is a long-distance learning program designed to assist children who miss school due to illness and have them communicate with peers who have gone through similar circumstances.
Rafael Yudasin, the head of Hadassah’s pediatric unit, said that through the program, children and parents learn about medical procedures the youngsters are facing so they will know what to expect in advance. UNESCO has endorsed the program, which has been presented in Tunisia and Qatar.
©2006 New Jersey Jewish News All rights reserved