Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More Day 2- From Rabbi Uri

January 14, 2009

Dear Friends,

So here I am again. It's 2:15am, and I'm trying to unwind and process all that I've seen and experienced today. Also, due to technical difficulties, I cannot upload pictures for this email... so I'll have to send them out another time...
As I write this, I am sitting in our Chazzan Ofer's bedroom in Sderot! There is a cute picture of our illustrious cantor, at the age of six - I would guess, over the bed I hope to sleep in at some point tonight. I have been warmly welcomed by Ofer's family, and I just spent the past 4 hours polishing my Hebrew with his parents and playing guitar with his siblings, Orit, Meirav, and Ariel. The other sister, Gila, is married Itai and lives elsewhere. (This would be an appropriate time for me to pass on a message to Ofer from his family that they love him, miss him, want him to get married, and still wonder how he ended up in New Orleans!) Ofer's family has also extended a warm welcome to any of you that wish to visit here. They have a wonderful home, beautiful voices, great food, and overflowing love...
I have been given the full tour of the house - including the quickest path to the bomb shelter on the ground floor, and the beeper by my bed that is sure to wake me if for some reason an air raid siren does not! Though no rockets have fallen on Sderot today, I'm not sure that makes me feel any more at ease. Every few minutes, all of the windows in the house rattle loudly from the aftershocks of Israeli tank fire into Gaza. And supposedly, it has been a relatively quite day on the front..

But we did have a little excitement in another city in Southern Israel this morning. Our group went to Saroka Hospital in Be'er Sheva and visited with those that have been affected by the current operation. There I met Yiftach (ben Amos and Ruti), who was in good spirits despite the bullet wound in his foot. And I spoke with Naftali (ben Raizel), who fell three stories off a building during movements within Gaza. I also met Ohr (ben Rachel), who was recovering nicely from a morter attack that left him with shrapnel embedded in his abdomen. On these visits, I brought along my guitar, some gifts and card, and our group brought many smiles to many faces. Yet, in the end, it was these young men who inspired us with their courage and sacrifice, and their love for their country.

Then, as we were heading down the main corridor to leave the hospital, an air raid siren began screeching. In Be'er Sheva, which is nearly 40 kilometers away from Gaza, you have 60 seconds to find shelter before the rocket is expected to land. I have never seen a group of 25 Rabbis move so fast in my life! Scary for us, the first door we tried to open leading to a secure area, was locked! I must attest to the lump in my throught... But we quickly slid across the corridor and ducked into a safe hallway. Inside we were surrounded by Jews and Muslims, young people and old, Bedouins and settlers, new babies and teens... And a guitar. It seemed clear to me what we should do. While the siren sounded, we played and sang and danced to songs of peace. People's tears of fear turned to tears of joy, and we seemed to transport ourselves, even if just for the moment, to another reality all together. One that I hope will be realized soon throughout the region.

We then traveled from the hospital to Sderot, where we were met by the Head of the Sderot Yeshiva, Rabbi Findel. He gave us a tour of Sderot and pointed out our proximity to Gaza. As we were walking through neighborhoods that have been repeatedly hit by rockets, I caught up to him and he asked me where I was from... I told him, "New Orleans." To which he responded, "New Orleans!? Isn't it dangerous there?!" That got him a double take.

There is so much more that I can share - such as the the experiences we had distributing baby supplies to families in Nitzan (a community who used to live in Gush Katif, and are now within range of missiles fired by Hamas out of their old homes); or handing out warm clothes not provided by the army to our holy soldiers; or the stories of children we met who are seven years old, and only know a world of bomb shelters and rockets; or the countless examples of miraculous survival and goodwill that we have witnessed throughout the days here.

But for now, I need some sleep.
Rabbi Uri

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