Passover's Eternal Flame
This time of the year is always special. Spring is arriving, the weather becoming really beautiful, and lots and lots of people in Hebron.
Hebron’s Passover celebration included, this year, well over 50,000 people. Wednesday and Thursday were the ‘big days’ with all of Ma’arat HaMachpela open to Jewish visitors, including the Isaac Hall, open to us only 10 days a year.
Thursday’s music festival didn’t leave any of the tens of thousands disappointed. The shows began at 12:30 in the afternoon and continued until almost 7:30, when Lipa Schmeltzer put on a show never to be forgotten. First he sang and danced a duet with Chaim Yisrael, and then continued by himself. It was a huge amount of fun.
As were the children’s events, tours, and just seeing so many wonderful people walking the streets of Hebron’s Jewish community, following in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah, King David, and multitudes of Jews over the centuries.
That having been said, I must admit that, with all its energy and fun, and as much as I look forward to and enjoy these days, this year, my favorite event didn’t occur in Hebron.
Those of you who have read these articles over the years may remember numerous essays about Gush Katif. My favorite place in Gush Katif was, as I described it many times, the Garden of Eden in Gaza, a community called Kfar Darom. My family vacationed there several summers, having befriended a delightful family, who had adopted my oldest daughter, Bat-tzion, when she spent her year of volunteer service there.
Several articles featured the Sudri family, and among others, their oldest daughter, Tamar.
The last time I wrote about her was a few years ago, after her marriage to a wonderful man named Oneg. A couple of years ago they had their first child, a little girl.
Last week, Tamar gave birth to their first boy. Today was his ‘brit’ – circumcision. A few of us from Hebron traveled an hour and a quarter, south, to the festivity.
After the destruction and expulsion from Kfar Darom, the Sudri family was moved to an apartment building in Ashkelon. From a nice house, to an apartment. Not great, but ‘temporary.’
Honestly, I don’t remember how long they were there. Many too many years. The new homes in a new community, as they’d been promised, never materialized. About two years ago they finally received a ‘kara-villa- that is, a so-called fancy mobile home, outside a community called Nir Akiva, east of Gaza, near Netivot and Beer Sheva. The called the new community Shavei Darom, ‘Returning South.’
Speaking to one of the men there this morning, I asked about permanent housing. He pointed in the direction of a big empty area, and said, ‘there.’ “Has anything started, any building?” He shook his head no. “When?” He just shrugged his shoulders.
I get very emotional at Gush Katif – Kfar Darom events. They bring back many many memories. I walked into the small synagogue and immediately noticed the plaque on the wall. I remembered it from the Kfar Darom synagogue. A memorial sign, for those people from the community, killed there by terrorists.
On another wall, letters spelling out ‘Kfar Darom, M’az u’le’tamid’ –‘ Kfar Darom, from then and forever.’ Including, of course, photos of the community sites and people.
The baby’s brit didn’t take too much time. A great grandfather held the infant, who was named Tzvi. Afterwards, we participated in the festive meal, before heading back to Hebron.
Before the meal I asked Tamar’s mother who the baby was named for and she didn’t know. I mentioned, ‘well, Eretz Yisrael is compared to a Tzvi – a deer, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what’s behind the name. That would be fitting of Tamar. Later, when Oneg spoke, he did say that one of the reasons for the name was the idea I’d spoken of.
Actually, as much as I enjoyed seeing my friends, the Sudris, and participating in the celebration, my real focus was on Tamar. I’d known her since she was a little girl and had witnessed her evolvement through the most horrible events that can be imagined. Rocket attacks, terror attacks, culminating in expulsion.
I’ve seen her every once in a while, but this was special, seeing her with her husband and two small children. She glowed, radiating joy.
How? How does one reach such bliss with so many scars?
The answer, I think, is not difficult to fathom. We are in the midst of the Passover holiday, celebrating the exodus from Egypt. Jews had been enslaved for hundreds of years, had almost entirely lost their Jewish identity, having assimilated into the Egyptian culture. Yet they never gave up hope of redemption, and the Divine hand of G-d did redeem them, removing them from foreign bondage with miracles galore.
That is, in brief, the history of the Jewish people, time and time again. Could anyone have imagined that three years after a holocaust, the Jewish people would be able to found a State and victoriously fight a war of independence?
That flow of optimism, being able to see the light, even in the darkest of rooms, keeps us going; that’s what, I believe, keeps Tamar going. We all blessed the family that their next simcha – celebration, should take place back in Kfar Darom, including Tzvi’s Bar Mitzva and wedding.
And it will happen. We will go back to Kfar Darom, and Netzarim, and Neve Dekalim and all the other communities destroyed, they will be rebuilt and repopulated, they will grow and thrive, it will happen. Just as we were redeemed from Egypt – will will go back home to Kfar Darom.
Seeing Tamar, with her husband Oneg and their two small children – this is the eternal flame, this is the result of what happened some 3,300 years ago, that we still celebrate today.
This is what made this year’s Passover special for me.