We wish each other “Sabbath peace.” And yet, we know, better than we know what weather to expect over Shabbat, that our friends in the south of Israel will have a better than even chance of having the opposite of a peaceful Sabbath.
Because though their Sabbath is on Fridays, the Muslims and Arabs (I don’t assume they’re all religious) in Gaza will spend their time, not with family and not in houses of worship, but sending rockets, seductively colorful incendiary balloons and kites, little kids with knives (because children killed by Israeli soldiers would be so good for international press coverage), over the border into Israel to try their best to kill Jews. Even if they can’t kill many or any, they know that the warning sirens will pierce the night. They know that our little children and elderly are trying to get to bomb shelters within the mere seconds allowed, that people too old to be incontinent are wetting their beds, that the children of those communities have never known what it is like to live without fear.
Over this particular Shabbat, at least 400 rockets were fired from Gaza. This time, there were casualties beyond the ever-present emotional casualties of terror. This time, a father of four was murdered by a Gazan whose rocket indiscriminately landed near his house. The Gazan would have no doubt been happier if his four children had been outside the bomb shelter to receive the airmail “gift” with their father.
(There were Gazan casualties in the retaliation, most of whom were affiliated with Hamas, at least one of whom was probably killed by a rocket that misfired, but was attributed to Israel for the aforementioned lucrative press coverage. The little boys with knives were merely hugged by the IDF soldiers, disarmed and sent home, if you can call the people with whom they live “home.”)
You cannot really imagine what life is like in the south at times like this unless you go to see and hear and experience for yourself. The next best thing is to have friends who live there.
We call them “the Southern Belles.”
Miriam survived a heart attack four years ago, and spends part of her time keeping us informed about “the matsav,” the situation. She writes an often heartwarming blog. Invited to escape for a short time to a friend’s house in Samaria, she declines. “Thank-you. Very sweet of you but would never allow Hamas to chase me away from my house.” Rather than worrying or leaving, she expresses her anger at the enemy and her disappointment with our government, reminds all of us to pray for those who are injured or ill and for the soldiers who risk their lives to defend Israel, and sends a message to friends in neighboring towns to ask if they are okay.
Yocheved became a Southern Belle more than a year ago, but moved to a new home last week. She just had the pleasure of meeting her new neighbors for the first time in her pajamas, in the underground bomb shelter. “Helluva way to meet them for the first time.” She, too, will write about her experiences and encourage others, rather than being driven from the south, or from her new community. “I keep praying for global peace and checking in with people to learn how they’re doing, sharing a laugh if they need one.” What a life… she says. But I know she won’t desert this life she’s chosen, or these friends.
Esther prays regularly at the tomb of the Baba Sali. She no doubt tosses in a prayer for herself — but her primary focus is to pray for everyone else. If you are ill or barren or haven’t found your match or suffering financial hardship and Esther has heard of you, you can be sure you are in her prayers. She also raises money for poor brides who cannot afford to wed.
There are many others among my friends, the Southern Belles. They all share the traits of loving their fellow Jews, of passionately loving their country, of being more fierce than afraid.
Another thing they all share, that Hamas can’t seem to understand, is that they will not leave Israel, nor in all likelihood even the south of Israel. In fact, the Jewish population is inexplicably growing in the south, rather than diminishing. In many ways, our dear Southern Belles are the true warriors of Israel, right alongside the IDF soldiers whose lives are on the line every day along that border.
My prayers, as always, are with my dear Southern Belles. You ladies add so much to the good in the world. May you and yours live long lives, in good health and, eventually, sooner rather than later, in peace.
Photo credit: Dave Bender: Compelling Photography