For the small business owners of this picturesque town, the war in the north has brought them to financial disaster.
Just northwest of Metulla lie the beautiful orchards farmed by the Bez family. Metulla’s fruits - pears, apricots, cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines and apples - are well known in Israel and around the world for their exquisite taste.
Ophir Bez has been running the family’s 25-acre orchards since his father retired six years ago. “Our activities for the entire year are focused around the harvest season, which fell exactly when the war broke out,” he explains. “All our time and money spent in bringing the fruit to its maximum has been for nothing. We were not able to go to the orchards and pick, and the fruit is just rotting in the fields."
The day that the cease fire took effect, Ophir put a crew together to pick some of his finest plums, which he had personally nurtured. "They were already too ripe, and had very little market value, but I wanted to show the Hezbollah that the Israeli people will not be beaten," says Ophir.
The Jewish Agency is providing immediate emergency funds to help put small business owners back on their feet. This critical assistance will allow these hard-working individuals to pay some of their most pressing bills, such as water, electricity and rent, and kick-start the painful task of rebuilding their businesses.
Erez Shemesh was shocked when he returned to Kiryat Shmona after the cease-fire to see his beauty salon in ruins. "I have to start completely over," says Erez. "I don't know where to begin."
Erez was born and raised in Kiryat Shmona. Despite his tremendous losses he is adamant that he will not leave. "This is where my home and family are," says Erez. "This is where I belong."
Erez supported the war, but feels that he may be in the same situation in another few years, with Hezbullah attacking from Lebanon, and Kiryat Shmona residents taking the brunt of the rocket attacks. "I worry about my family and my livelihood, but we're not running away," states Erez.
"July and August are, by far, the two busiest months in the tourist industry. We have lost 70% of our annual turnover," says Reuven Wineberg, owner of the Alaska Inn, which has been in his family for almost sixty years.
“My parents, holocaust survivors, established the hotel in the late 1940’s. Times were tough then, but they worked very hard and managed go forward,” Reuven recalls. When they passed away, Reuven took over the running of the hotel. However, it has never been easy to operate a business in the North, especially in Metulla, as there have been many attacks over the years, he explains.
Reuven was injured while serving in the Israeli army during the first Lebanese war and still walks with a limp. His late father-in-law, Eitan Grundland was killed when an Iraqi-fired Scud missile hit his home in the center of Israel during the Gulf War.
For Reuven and his late parents, the hotel is a symbol of their determination to live a normal life within their own country. “I won’t be leaving, despite the heavy losses we will incur this year," says Reuven. "I don’t know how we will survive it, but we will,” he says with determination.
Photo Credit: Naftali Hilger
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