Aharon Ariel Lavi
Rabbi, Economist and Community Builder

It is all about the children – Reflections from the Gaza envelope on education in times of war, and children as the eternal chance for a better future.

The tractor you see in the picture, taken a few days ago in the heat of Protective Edge operation, is digging the first foundations for a new kindergarten in Moshav Shuva, a small village approximately 5 km from the fence with Gaza. Five years ago, we established here a Garin, meaning a group of young people from all over Israel who came to live here out of an idealistic sense of public service, after Cast Led operation.


When people ask me how is it to live here, I usually say that we actually got quite used to it. And then again, when I hear myself speaking, I realize it doesn’t make all that much sense, although I consider myself a reasonable person. I mean, how can you get used to a constant attempt to slay you and your family? Maybe it’s just some sort of a psychological mechanism that’s designed to help us go through crazy times, or decades, or millennia like this, you know –  it’s a Jewish thing.

When we first arrived here there was only one kindergarten that was barely operational. In the school year that just ended there were four, some of them operating in temporary buildings and one of them will soon move to the new one being built. It will have 50cm thick walls and almost no windows, for security reasons, but I think it exemplifies the heart of the matter. Not a mere bragging about us being stronger or a slogan like: “we dig foundations for kindergartens while they dig tunnels to slaughter children”, even though it’s true.

What I mean is this: The conflict we are in has several layers, with the territorial one being almost negligible within it: it’s not the heart of the matter, hence land swaps or deals won’t solve much of the problem. It has a significant religious layer, as my teacher and Rabbi, Rav Menachem Fruman of blessed memory, claimed for decades, and there is something even deeper: the sanctity and joy of life as a basic value, vis-a-vis sanctifying murder and destruction aimed at establishing a new tyranny. So this time it’s on pseudo-religious grounds. With the communists it was pseudo-Economics and with the Nazis pseudo-Biology. But the principle is the same: satisfying the lust for power (and a few other lusts) of a violent and brutal minority on the expense of the rest of the population. In order to lure the masses into the project of enslaving themselves, the rulers have to mark an eternal and external enemy to attract all the rage and frustration generated within their own people, and lucky for them the Jews returned to the Middle-East right on time.


Choose life

The place where these kind of things are measured is: “Where do the children play?”, as one of my favorite British musicians asked a long time ago in one of his songs (long before he became a Muslim named Yusuf Islam, yet a pacifist one). He asked this in an environmental context, and I think we should expand the question to social and educational realms as well: When the canons roar, and we know it is as justified as it can be, what do we tell our children? Here at the Gaza envelope this question is no mere theory. Several artillery batteries were placed here and we hear the noise day and night, while Apache helicopters circulate above and troops are coming in and out to get some rest, a shower and something to eat. Do you want your child to learn that this is the way to “solve” problems?  Do you want him to play war? To some extent, you don’t really have a choice and chances are he/she will have to serve in the army a decade from now like you did a decade ago. You can flee from the area (or from the country), though, while telling your children that we just went on a very long summer trip. But lying is probably the worst path you can choose, as an educator and a parent.

Children playing at Shuva

So what do you choose? You choose life. You choose to do whatever you can within this chaos to sustain some sort of regular childhood, to get the smiles back on the children’s faces. That’s not just for killing time, or creating distraction. It is for making the point that this is how life should be, this is how childhood should be. Even though the canons are roaring, and they have to in order to secure our lives, we do not let the muses go silent. In the meantime, we discover the amazing strength of the Jewish people in times of need, and thanks to the generous support of Jews around the world, mostly JNF-UK in our case, our Garin is able to operate workshops and all different kinds of activities not only for our children, but for the entire area.

Wake up

Do our counterparts on the other side of the fence share the same perspective on life and death? Do they also tell their children that this is not how life should be? I’m sure many, if not most of them, do. But I am also aware of the brainwash Hammas imposes and how it recruits very young men to go on suicide missions, while its leaders hide behind those young men’s sisters and mothers.

But some day the Arabs will wake up from the nightmare of Jihad, and reclaim the lives robbed from them by a cynical gang of cruel rulers, like all dictatorships in history that eventually collapsed under their own weight. When this happens we will still be here. Not only because we’re stronger both militarily and morally, but also because we serve life and not death. That is why we will be here to cooperate with them on building kindergartens and transforming the North-Western Negev into a flourishing area. For sanctifying life in the light of G-od, instead of death in the name of Allah.

Well, when I say “we” I don’t necessarily mean me and my wife and friends, since unfortunately this process could take a very long time. But if not us, than at least our children, and their children.


About the Author
Lavi is a serial social entrepreneur, a professional community organizer and a thinker who believes Judaism can inspire and inform all walks of life. Lavi is co-founder of MAKOM: the Israeli umbrella organization of intentional communities; and of the Hakhel: the first global incubator for Jewish Intentional Communities which was awarded the Jerusalem Unity Prize in 2020. He is trained as an economist and historian of ideas, and writes his dissertation on migration of ideas between US Jewry and the Israeli society. He lives with his wife and their five children in Garin Shuva next to the Gaza border and on his free time he is a professional mountain biking guide, racer and trail builder. In 2009 he published his first book on Jewish economic thought. His recent book, Seven, presents Shmita inspired economic, social and environmental ideas.
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