Plucked From Gaza

By Hanna Sender
Sunday, September 4, 2005

KIBBUTZ CHAFETZ CHAIM

Ileft a letter on the front door of our house in Gaza when I closed it for the last time. I had written it for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers who were being sent to evacuate us. "Gush Katif is our whole life," it said. "We know no other. But if this was fated to happen, it must be God's will. Even if we do not understand His reasons, we believe that everything that happens in this world is due to His will. So, I am getting up and leaving my home."

I tacked the letter to the door and turned away because it was too painful for me to wait and see the soldiers come.

You know what homeless is? We are now homeless.

We have left behind the farm where our children grew alongside the flowers in our greenhouses, and we're living in a kibbutz, near Tel Aviv. Oh, some things are familiar here. We're with the families from our old community -- that's 70 families altogether -- and in the evenings the young children play and laugh as we gather in the restaurant where we all eat. And most of our own children are with us -- though one adult son is in Jerusalem with our grandchildren. We'll be here maybe for two months. And, eventually, together with the state, we hope to build a new home. We want it to be a farm, so that we can grow flowers again. We look forward to building a new life, but it won't be the same as the one we left behind. It takes years to build a home. It takes mere minutes to be made homeless.

We could never have imagined this moment back in 1978 when we decided to join a group of 27 families who were going to establish the village of Ganei Tal. I was a student of educational psychology at Bar-Ilan University at the time and my husband, Moti, was head of the export exchange department at the United Mizrahi Bank. Butafter three years of city life with two small children in the Israeli town of Petach Tikva, we realized that this was not what we wanted. We preferred to make our livelihood from agriculture, to live as part of a community and to raise our children in peace and quiet. We wanted a better quality of life.

The people of the Jewish Agency took us to see where our village would be built, with government subsidies. They brought us to a golden shining dune from which we saw the blue sky running down to the blue sea and all around us just sand: no trees, no flowers, no birds and no butterflies. "This is where you'll build your village," they said, "one of many that will be built here." The view was enchanting, and we immediately felt that we belonged.

Friends, neighbors and relatives asked us: "What can you grow in the sand over there? Nothing can succeed in that desert. That is why it is such a desolate place." But we went anyway; we saw potential where others saw desert.

For the first year we lived in nearby Katif, where we set up our first farm -- a small greenhouse where we grew baby's breath, the decorative plant used in making flower arrangements. We both worked in the greenhouse. Since there were no day-care centers or kindergartens yet and Grandma was far away, we used to take the kids with us each morning in a baby carriage and crib, together with a lot of toys and sweets, and we prayed that it would not get too hot and that the kids wouldn't nag too much and let us do our work.

When the time for planting was on hand, we were forced to improvise. We worked with what little we had so as not to miss the planting season. Then the time came to pick the flowers and we had no packing house. So we turned our small home into one. Once the working day was over, our living room floor was all green. The kids running around the house were green too, from the leaves. But we were happy with our lives.

A year later, we moved to our own village of Ganei Tal. We doubled the size of our farm and grew roses and chrysanthemums.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company