This past Shabbat, my wife and I decided, after much thought to take a few days off to celebrate our 21st anniversary. During a “normal” year, we would not have thought twice about going away, but now, in the middle of a war, were were not sure if going on a vacation was the right thing to do. We decided to spend Shabbat in Jerusalem, a place that could bring us both a welcome break from routine, as well as a spiritual connection to everything which we hold important.
When we arrived at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, we immediately sensed that this was not a regular Shabbat. The amount of kids that were playing in the lobby, and the large number of families that were moving in every direction of the hotel were impossible to ignore. We very soon learned that 160 families from Kfar Maimon were actually living in the hotel. So, in a way, we were coming in as guests, not to the Leonardo but into their homes. For those who may not be familiar, Kfar Maimon is a small religious yishuv about 10 minutes from Kibbutz Be’eri and 12 minutes from Kibbutz Kfar Aza. Miraculously, the Kfar Maimon community was spared the same fate as those kibbutzim, but with the current state of the South, all of the residents of the community were forced to relocate. The Israeli government “resettled” a majority of the community at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel.
Think for a moment about what it would be like to live in a hotel for 5-6 months. When we first thought about it, the situation did not seem so bad. Afterall, the hotel provides 3 gourmet meals per day, and they get to live right in the middle of Jerusalem. Not a bad deal at first glance! As we began speaking to some of the Kafar Maimon residents, we began to realize the sacrifice that all of the residents were making. Within a few days, they were forced to leave behind everything that was familiar. They left their schools, jobs, familiarity, and of course their homes. Shabbat morning, we shared an elevator ride with Shlomi, a soldier serving in Gaza who was “home” visiting his wife and small children. As he put it, “one moment the kids had a room that was 120 meters. Now they had 20 meters.” It was then that I began to realize what it really meant to be relocated from your home. Yes, they were staying in a luxury hotel, but in many ways, their stay has been anything but luxurious. My wife met another woman who was a teacher in Kfar Maimon but was now reassigned to a temporary school at Yad Vashem. I can relate as a teacher how jarring it can be to switch schools in the middle of a school year. One of the other families commented that the hardest part for them was not being able to let their children run free. In a yishuv, everyone knows each other, and there are very few places which kids can hide. Staying in a public hotel in the middle of a large city removes a lot of the freedom that the children once felt. These are the sacrifices and hardships that we do not always read about in the news. While we all know about the atrocities committed on October 7th, we do not all know about others who were affected, or about what it really means to have your world turned upside down.
As we made our way to our room on Friday, we met Netanel, a high school teacher who was hanging signs on each floor with the times for Shabbat. If someone did not know what was really happening, it would look like a Shabbaton or a sheva brachot weekend. This was of course not the case but with so many people to be concerned about, these schedule sheets helped to create a feeling of community and togetherness. The schedule even included a special concert by Yehuda Katz, who came to bring joy to the Kfar Maimon community. Over Shabbat, we began to feel the resilience and hopefulness of the community. While it would be easy for any of them to feel depressed or to complain about their current states, we actually felt the opposite. When Shabbat came, the community sang with happiness, and despite the fact that they were not in their homes, there was a true feeling of joy and thankfulness. As we continued to speak to Kfar Maimon members, it was easy to tell that this is a special community. It would be so easy for the children to be miserable and for the adults to be angry. When this war is over, my wife and I look forward to visiting Kfar Maimon as it is clearly a special community with amazing people.