Even As My Land Burns…

This is Neve Tzuf, also known as Halamish.

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Pretty, right? You might not have heard of it. Or maybe you read about in the news for the first time this week.

I hadn’t heard of it either when I first got there. I was a soldier at the time, having moved to Israel alone just a few months earlier, and the army had just assigned me to the base on the edge of this town. On my first bus ride there, all I could think was, “Wow, this place is in the middle of nowhere”. It was discouraging to calculate how many hours it would take me to get back to the kibbutz, where I was living as a lone soldier.

Because of our guard duty schedule, we had to spend every second Shabbat on base — not a pleasant prospect for any Israeli soldier. Needless to say, my first experience “closing Shabbat” had me less than excited. On Friday afternoon, a friend suggested we walk up the hill to the town synagogue for Friday night services. When I entered the small room, and faced the rows of women dressed in nice Shabbat clothes, I felt a bit out of place in my uniform. But I quickly forgot about all that as I was caught up in the familiar tunes of Kabbalat Shabbat.

Immediately after the service, a girl about my age approached me and invited me to join her family for Shabbat dinner. Pleasantly surprised, I accepted, and we walked to her house.

If I had any second thoughts about having a meal with a group of total strangers, they were almost immediately dismissed by the warm welcome I found in this house. There wasn’t any kind of “performance” in their hospitality – it seemed to come naturally to the parents and children alike. They were incredibly gracious, and seemed honestly excited to meet me, to include me in table conversations (with my broken Hebrew), to make sure I felt at home, even though they had never met me before in their lives.

I obviously accepted their invitation for Shabbat lunch, but only later realized that I had been assigned a shift of guard duty that day. When I returned to their house on Saturday, I told them I couldn’t stay long, and I figured I would leave halfway through the meal. That idea turned out to be silly, as they all happily rushed through the meal right along with me, making sure I tasted each delicious course, all the way up to dessert. As I was leaving to run back to base, they packed a bag of leftovers for me, “just in case you get hungry later.”

Back on base, I reached into the bag. Rifling through, I suddenly felt something unexpected – a little piece of chocolate wrapped in plastic, secretly placed there by my hosts. It might sound trivial, but that chocolate made a huge impression on me. It was that care, that attention to detail in that moment, that meant the world to me, a homesick American girl trying to make it in a new country. At the time, I admit, I got choked up. Even now, six years later, it still makes me smile.

Since that first Shabbat, I’ve been lucky enough to spend many Shabbats and holidays in Neve Tzuf. I’ve had the privilege of meeting other families, and the genuine warmth I’ve found there has never ceased to amaze me.

Growing up, I had always heard a lot about the feeling of community in Israel. Only after experiencing it did I begin to understand what it meant. That sense of extended family, of total strangers treating you as one of their own, of being fully “at home” in a place you’ve never seen before – all that I learned in Neve Tzuf.

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גיל קלנר, חדשות סרוגים

Last Shabbat, tragedy struck this wonderful little town. Fires ripped through a neighborhood, destroying 18 homes (which housed 20 families) and damaging dozens more. No one was hurt, thank G-d, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The lives of so many have been completely upended, and it will take a long time before they return to normal.

It’s painful to see a neighborhood once full of life, now scorched and blackened by fire. But we can help. We have the opportunity to take part in this, to provide the funds needed to buy essentials and to start rebuilding as quickly as possible.

Below is a link to the official fundraiser, through The Binyamin Fund, to raise money to buy urgently needed supplies and clothes. Any donation, however small, is greatly appreciated.

To donate, click HERE.

All donations will be processed by The Binyamin Fund and are 501c3 tax deductible.

About the Author
Hadas Austin made aliyah from Boston, MA. She served in the IDF, and is now studying Political Science at Bar Ilan University.
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