“It took a while for me to get comfortable,” commented Rabbi Jonathan Stein of Shaaray Tefila of Manhattan and current CCAR President, after his stint as a tomato farmer at Moshav Nativ Ha’asara. “First I squatted, and then I put my right knee down and later the left, but by the end I was crawling freely between the rows of vines.”
Nativ Ha’asara, a small moshav nestled along the northern border of the Gaza Strip, is a place filled with memories. Named after ten IDF soldiers who perished in a 1971 helicopter accident, the community has endured tough times over the years, from its relocation out of the Sinai Peninsula after the 1979 Camp David Accords to the rocket bombardments a few weeks ago during Operation Pillar of Defense. During the recent military operation the situation was so intense that farmer Raz Shmilovitz was unable to tend to his tomato crop. A group of Rabbis participating in a CCAR Solidarity Trip to Israel volunteered to help weed Raz’s burgeoning tomato vines – for some this was the first time working with their hands in the rich soil.
In close geographical proximity to the land that just ten days earlier had been scorched by rocket fire, the rabbis happily embraced the task at hand after witnessing the vibrant signs of life all around the moshav and in addition, came away with a better understanding of the profound nuances in Israel’s Negev region.
The participants also visited Sderot and with Chen Avraham, a representative of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, to learn how residents in the area cope during times of distress. When Chen was asked why so many Israelis continue to live so close to danger she replied: “We still have hope.”
On the bus ride back to Jerusalem Rabbi Michael Weinberg of Skokie, Illinois’ Temple Beth Israel shared the following: “In a place with such a conscious awareness of trauma, it was the emotional boon – the sense of family – that made the biggest difference.”