Posted on 08/02/2011 @ 10:31 AM
We began our travels today by going to Kibbutz Sa’ad in the northern Negev desert. The kibbutz is a national religious (Orthodox) institution situated 5 kilometers from the Gaza border. There we met a lovely Anglo immigrant (from Ireland) named David Jackson who described the dire security situation of the kibbutz during the War of Independence in 1948. We learned about the serious material privations and vicious battles against the Egyptian army that the early pioneers of the kibbutz endured. Many of us were very moved by the bravery of those early pioneers and impressed by their capacity to create a new sort of social experiment - a wholly modern, yet religiously observant, communal Jewish settlement.
Our group then traveled a short ways away to a Negev development town called Netivot. Netivot was founded to house a large wave of North African Jewish aliyah during the 1950’s. Netivot has gained fame in Israel as the burial place of the famed Moroccan rabbi and baalei mofet (miracle worker) Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira – popularly known as the Baba Sali (praying father). While in Netivot, we spoke to an Israeli anthropologist who discussed the Moroccan Jewish custom of venerating the tombs of tzadikim (saints). We also learned about the influence that various mekubalim (kabalistic rabbis) have in Netivot and in the broader Israeli society. Many of the trip participants expressed surprise that the Jewish tradition contained within it such concepts as miracle workers and the veneration of the graves of rabbis.
We concluded our day by visiting the Israeli city of Nitzan. Nitzan is the relocation site of many of the families that were evacuated from the Israeli settlement bloc in Gaza called Gush Katif. These families were forcibly evacuated from the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army during Israel’s unilateral disengagement plan in 2005. Many of the residents of Gush Katif had developed a strong sense of communal cohesion and requested that they be resettled together as a community. The residents of Nitzan have constructed a museum documenting the former communities of Gush Katif as well as video testimonials of former residents. Many of the program participants thought that the museum would be an opportunity to view Israeli “right wing propaganda.” They were surprised to discover how professionally the museum was developed and how moving the testimonials of former Israeli Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip were. Although many of the program participants continue to believe that the evacuation of isolated settlements in largely Palestinian areas is both a necessity and an inevitability, they gained an appreciation for the anguish of the settler community and the human toll that any evacuation places on the Israeli polity.