Residents of Kedumim are welcoming Gush Katif's refugees while preparing to fight to ensure northern Samaria's Jews won't lose their homes as well.
Friday night, as song filled the large sanctuary of Kedumim's main synagogue, an entire unit of Nahal Brigade soldiers made their way in to pray with the community. Kedumim's young people and many of the veteran residents cringed visibly at the sight of soldiers in uniform encompassing the masses as they prayed. Many had been in synagogues in Gush Katif less than 24 hours before and still held images of soldiers surrounding and dragging them and their friends out by force in their minds.
At the conclusion of prayers, a prominent founder of the community got up from his seat. "Soldiers!" the grey-haired man boomed, "the army that you are part of committed a grave destruction this week." He was immediately interrupted by another man who yelled, "They are not guilty for what others did!"
"Anybody still wearing that uniform as our own brothers and children were dragged out of there by force is guilty," shouted a young visitor. Chaos ensued as clapping and cheers for the initial outburst echoed through the sanctuary.
"A synagogue is not the place for this," one resident said.
"But the synagogue is the place where truth can be stated clearly," argued his neighbor, "it is exactly the place for this."
The soldiers, religious students from the Hesder yeshiva in Otniel, gathered in groups outside the synagogue to await the families who were to host them for the Sabbath meal. "Just refuse orders," one young activist beseeched them. "His family lived in Ganei Tal [in Gush Katif]," answered one of the young soldiers, pointing to his friend, who shuffled nervously. The presence of an entire unit of religious soldiers seemed like a fluke to some, but most residents suspected that large number of soldiers being brought into neighboring army bases are set to take part in the blockade of the northern Samaria communities slated for expulsion.
Some of the same youngsters who shouted out their support for the grey-haired man's statements were outside talking with soldiers - some obviously old friends. There was no visible anger, but the issue of the unquestioned respect and honor that used to be granted the IDF- no matter what its actions - has been brought to the forefront in the community, itself at the forefront of the Land of Israel movement. Kedumim was the very first Jewish community in Samaria.
The issue of refusing orders is one that cuts to the root of the disagreements between two camps of anti-expulsion activists within the Religious Zionist community. It also illustrates one of the key ideological differences between the residents of Gush Katif and those living in Samaria. Signs reading, "There is no such thing as despair" plaster Kedumim's bus stops, sponsored by the "A Jew does not expel a Jew" movement, which pushes refusal and stiff resistance to the expulsion. Leaflets advising soldiers on ways to refuse orders are also taped up on public buildings.
"I do not understand how they can remain in an army with a Chief of Staff that sees the expulsion as a national mission, with standing orders aimed at implementing a goal negating not just commandments of the Torah to settle this land and not hand it over to gentiles, but with the obvious goal of demoralizing and crushing the leadership goals of the National Religious community," one resident told this writer. "I know they were raised their whole lives to be proud of the uniforms they were wearing, but where is their education? Does the fact that something has done good and holy things make it immune from evil and error? This idea that we hug the people who have come to implement this crime, erasing all accountability from the equation, is ridiculous and has no basis in our tradition."
"Many of them told me that they have considered refusing, but suspect they will be stationed at checkpoints leading to Homesh and Sa-Nur," one of my fellow visitors told me. "Also, their rabbis have not told them to refuse, and that is where they look for moral guidance." Although former chief rabbi and head of the Markaz HaRav yeshiva Rabbi Avraham Shapira has unequivocally called on soldiers to refuse orders, several influential Religious Zionist rabbis opined otherwise. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who is particularly influential in the pre-army mechinot academies, of which Otniel is one, is one of the leading forces behind continued reverence for the IDF and its symbols despite the expulsion.
A soldier could even be seen eating the third Sabbath meal with the new Jewish refugees of the seaside community of Shirat HaYam, who were thrown out of their homes Thursday and immediately welcomed with open arms by the community of Kedumim.
Nineteen of Shirat HaYam's 23 veteran families are now living in the dormitories of the girls' high school in Kedumim. Residents have brought copious amounts of food to the high school's kitchen, including fresh fruit and a vast array of cakes. "Within ten minutes of a community announcement that the families from Shirat HaYam had arrived, the place was filled with food, drinks, sheets, pillows - everything anyone could think of," my host told me. I later saw a community beeper message reading, "Shirat HaYam residents request that people stop bringing sweets."
The group meal was somber, though there were smiles and singing. "It is like visiting someone who is in mourning," a fellow visitor said. "They try to act like everything is normal, but everyone there knows what an awful tragedy they have just undergone."
"This Sabbath is called Shabbat Nachamu ['Consolation Sabbath']," a man stood up and told his former neighbors. I saw the same confidence and hope in his eyes that I had seen in Shirat HaYam two weeks ago. "We of Shirat HaYam lived through the very real trepidation of the three weeks this year, leading up to Tisha B'Av - when we witnessed the actual destruction of our lives and homes," he said. "This Shabbat of consolation is also just as real. We are still here. We are full of tears, but unbroken - and we have been embraced by our brothers and sisters here in the most loving way, making it obvious that their embrace is the embrace of our Father in Heaven."
Noam Livnat, brother of Education Minister Limor Livnat and stalwart refusal activist, went to live at Shirat HaYam four months ago. An administrative restraining order removed him from the community less than a month ago, but he has now rejoined his neighbors at the quiet, grassy campus of the Kedumim school. "One does not start mourning when a loved one is in a coma," he said at the meal. "Your homes are still standing. I cannot promise that it will win the battle, but reentering Gush Katif and returning to your homes is possible and should be considered."
A woman who looked like she had done a lot of crying, but with a small smile coloring her words, then spoke from the heart, partly addressing her neighbors and partly G-d. "In this week's Torah portion, Moses, who dreamed of entering the Land of Israel, was told he could not enter," she said. "We are waiting for G-d to allow us to reenter Shirat HaYam. It will always be our home and if it is 24 hours from now, a week from now, or months or years from now, we will surely return."