We woke up Wednesday morning frustrated and upset that, for the third time this week, the schach of our sleeping sukkah was disrupted by powerful winds and rain which are not typical for this time of year in Israel. Apparently, the different methods we had used to secure the mats were not effective enough and would require us to start once more almost from scratch. With plans already in place for the day, we had to rush out early, and we left the house feeling annoyed by the reality that we would return tired and at a late hour, only to have to begin putting the sukkah back together yet again.
And then we spent the day humbled by the amazing people of Israel.
We joined a group of families visiting from Boca Raton, FL who are supporters of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and were traveling to experience different projects firsthand that JNF sponsors across the country.
Our first stop was a new farm near Latrun. The farm was started by a few Ethiopian immigrants who made the difficult journey to Israel and then found that things were not simple as they and others from their community searched for ways to use their skill sets to contribute to and build this land. They teamed up with JNF and HaShomer HaChadash, a volunteer-based movement which works to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of Jewish farmland from agricultural crime, vandalism and theft. In this way HaShomer HaChadash helps ensure both that the land remains in Jewish hands and that the farmers and ranchers maintain their livelihood.
Listening to the farmers describe their journey, we thought about the unique hardships of the Ethiopian aliyah and how the struggles we faced moving to Israel from America paled in comparison to anything they had faced and overcome–and we were humbled by their fortitude and courage.
From there, we drove south to the Halutza region, on the borders with Gaza and Egypt. There lie three communities which were started by a handful of families who were evacuated from Gush Katif in 2005. We ate lunch in a sukkah in Naveh, a village founded by former residents of Bnei Atzmon, itself the continuation of a community from Yamit in the Sinai that was evacuated in 1982. We heard from Rabbi Eli Adler about what it was like to live in Gush Katif, to suffer a terror attack in the mechina (pre-military Torah academy) there and to then be forced to leave.
He spoke about life in Naveh; the rockets from Gaza and the five seconds they have to find cover; the live ammunition they hear at night as soldiers from ISIS and Egypt fight each other just a few miles away; and the difficult weather conditions of the desert.
But then he showed us the huge and gorgeous synagogue that has just been completed, the new homes being built, and the fantastic playgrounds in the area. We saw the etrog groves and the greenhouses and some of the families that have moved to Naveh—and we were humbled by their resilience and faith.
Our final stop was a visit with Yaron Bob. Yaron’s yard is filled with the remains of thousands of rockets that have been fired from Gaza into Israel. Yaron is a metal artist who is a very talented designer. From these metal fragments, he fashions beautiful and unique chanukiyot, flowers, jewelry and other artwork. From the remains of the Iron Dome he makes mezuzot to protect people’s homes. His work is a living fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 2:4: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” His business is named Rockets into Roses, which aptly captures his goal of turning terror into beauty.
Yaron described the time he lay on the ground with his hands shielding his head as a rocket exploded ten meters away. Although he was not physically injured, he told us about the involuntary shaking he experienced later that night and how the only thing that succeeded in calming his nerves was molding a piece of a destructive rocket into something beautiful and sweet.
As he spoke, I thought about the amazing ability of people to channel their challenges into opportunities, to make the most of what they can, to look for the bright spots, to pick up, to start over, to rebuild, to forge on, to hope, to believe, and to live life to the fullest—and I was humbled yet again.
At some point during the day, my husband turned to me and whispered that if the people of Gush Katif could rebuild, then we might just manage to find a way to put our broken sukkah back together in a way that will be more secure and stable.
And last night, close to midnight, he came down and told me he had succeeded.
Every Sukkot, I think about “אַ סוכּהלע אַ קלײנע” (A Sukkaleh a kleine), a Yiddish song that my grandmother, of blessed memory, would always sing in our sukkah. It speaks of a sukkah that almost breaks apart from the strong winds around it, and a daughter who cries to her father because she is worried about what will be. Here is an English rendition by Rabbi Avi Shafran:
A sukkaleh, quite small,
Wooden planks for each wall;
Lovingly I stood them upright.
I laid thatch as a ceiling
And now, filled with deep feeling,
I sit in my sukkaleh at night.
A chill wind attacks
Blowing through the cracks;
The candles, they flicker and yearn.
It’s so strange a thing
That as the Kiddush I sing,
The flames, calmed, now quietly burn.
In comes my daughter,
Bearing hot food and water;
Worry on her face like a pall.
She just stands there shaking
And, her voice nearly breaking,
Says “Tatte, the sukkah’s going to fall!”
Dear daughter, don’t fret;
It hasn’t fallen yet.
The sukkah’s fine; banish your fright.
There have been many such fears,
For nigh two thousand years;
Yet the sukkaleh’s still standing upright.
My grandmother fled Poland as a young girl. She came to America with an older sister on tickets that a brother in the US had sent for them. Her last memory of her father is of his running after her train screaming “Sasha, Sasha!” as it pulled away. She knew she would likely never see him again.
My grandmother had only two sons, born after her daughter died of a brain tumor at the age of 5. But between them they have 35 grandchildren, 31 of whom live in Israel with the rest soon on the way. Several of them, including my daughter Tzofiya, are named after my grandmother, who also went by Sophie and always had her eye turned towards Zion — עין לציון צופיה.
The winds have been blowing strong for over 2,000 years. They let up here and there, but then they start up again.
But for now, at least, our sukkah is once again standing upright, and our courageous brethren have given us renewed confidence that it won’t ever be knocked down for good.
Am Yisrael Chai.