They say a child’s laugh can illuminate the darkest room. I’ve seen this firsthand as while it may surprise you, there is a region in Israel’s south nestled between the volatile borders of Gaza and Egypt where the raucous laughter of children permeates through the still desert air and the sometimes-terrifying sound of incoming rocket fire.
In fact, it’s a region Israel offered to the Palestinians during Camp David peace negotiations, however, their leadership rejected it based on an assumption that no crops could ever be grown there. Yet today, the landscape of this region called Halutza, an area started by former residents of Gush Katif, has the appearance of a chess board illustrated by lush green fields contrasted by white greenhouses and red tiled roofs. It is a community that has literally grown out of the sand dunes of the arid desert to become a symbol of the miracle that is Israel.
In Halutza, feelings of positivity, hope, and optimism are not an attitude, they are a way of life. Of course, there is no denying the reality that comes with living in this part of the world. Halutza’s residents live under the ever-present threat of rocket fire from Gaza and perhaps in the most cynical of ways, terrorists recently deployed bombs strapped to colorful helium balloons and flew them over the border into Israel. Can you imagine telling your four-year-old to stay away from stray balloons because they might explode?
Despite these challenges, Halutza’s residents remain irrepressibly optimistic. Their response to terror is as brilliant as it is life-affirming. Rather than fighting fire with fire, they build playgrounds, schools, hospitals, and recreation centers with organizations like Jewish National Fund-USA. They plant trees, flowers, and grow the sweetest bell peppers you will ever taste. Through their actions, they are combatting adversity by living life.
Recently, as part of a Jewish National Fund-USA mission to Israel, I joined our partners (donors) in visiting a beautiful almost-complete playground the likes of which have never been seen before. Picture huge firetruck-red slides, daring ropes courses, and giant seesaws. During the preliminary ribbon cutting, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of colorful balloons. How could this be given the new meaning these balloons had taken on? In speaking to a young mother, I realized what all of us were doing. We weren’t just building a playground. We were building a symbol of hope, resistance, and a promise that these children will have the childhood they deserve.
This Wednesday, Israelis and Jewish communities around the world will celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day. For 72 years, Israel has defied the pundits to become an economic, technological, and innovation powerhouse. It has also become the United States’ staunchest ally.
Although Israelis will be celebrating this year’s festivities from their living rooms and kitchens, you can be certain that the children of Halutza will continue to serve as the torchbearers of hope in our everchanging world.