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Reflections from our BDJ Members in Israel #5 Part 1

02/15/2024 04:32:34 PM


Stacy Kent

Kibbutz Gvulot

I began the day at Kibbutz Gvulot, which was the first Jewish settlement in the Negev in 1943. It is in the Gaza envelope but it was not hit on Oct 7th. It is close enough that the kibbutz community needed to be relocated to a hotel in Elat, but it is not within 4 kilometers of the border so Gvulot does not receive additional and much-needed benefits from the government.  At Gvulot was the first time I heard an Israeli, a kibbutz member refer to the Gaza envelope as the Israel envelope. I asked more about that and he shared that the local Kibbutzniks want to be associated with and defined by Israel, not by Gaza, and this term speaks to the core of who they are and where they have built their lives.

The first job of the day at Gvulot was to pick the weeds that have overgrown in the last 109 days. The grounds need attending to because Gvulot hopes to re-open school for the 32 settlement communities in Askol (the region/school district in the south) in two weeks. As I began, I yanked, I tugged and I tried to twist and all I can say is that our roots run deep! These roots were not easy to extract from the ground. As I continued to uproot the weeds I began to see beetles crawling around in the dirt. This very real visual repulsed me, both physically and metaphorically. The beetles were infiltrating the land of a kindergarten playground- they did not belong there, how dare they roam in our community, where our kids play? Watching the beetles caused a shift in the feelings I had when I was in America of fear and anxiety, to anger.  It has been a relief to let go of the anxiety that I held in the US, being here has calmed me, but it has also provoked very raw anger. 

After pulling weeds and painting benches, I took a break to meet Bella, a founding member of the Kibbutz. Bella is Yotam’s grandmother. Yotam is one of the three hostages (the red head) who tried to escape and fell by friendly fire.  Yotam’s mom Iris, Bella’s daughter-in-law was the heroic mom who publicly made sure that the soldiers who ended her son's life knew that she and her family understood what happened, and Iris invited them to her home and into their families' lives after they had taken the life of their son. Iris is a true Tzadeikis. Iris is modeling for all of us how to choose life. Iris’s words and actions prove that we are a resilient people and her mother-in-law, Bella, a Holocaust survivor is an ordinary grandmother who is living through the extraordinary, again. 

More conversations with the kibbutzniks helped me understand that the main casualty of Oct 7th is trust, we need to work on getting that back (the government, the army, etc). Trust is a hard commodity here, I am not so sure when or if that is going to happen. 

There are 80 people out of 400 in total from Kibbutz Gvulot who stayed to make sure there was a place to come back to. The Regional council comprised of 32 settlements is depending on Gvulot to house this school , the Kibbutz needs to agree to do this, it is not easy to bring 400 students in, secure teachers, deal with PTSD as well as physical accommodations. The kibbutz took a vote and it was unanimous YES! They know it will be hard but the kibbutz will be full of life and that is what they need now.

PS - It is two weeks later and it brings me great joy to share that Kibbutz Gvlout did indeed reopen both an elementary and high school for families returning to the region. There are 370 out of the total 420 residents who have begun their journey home. May their homes and their schools be a place of learning and inspiration and a place that they will continue to choose life. 

Mon, June 17 2024 11 Sivan 5784