Jewish Life Thrives in Gaza Border Communities
By Noa Amouyal
The jubilation is infectious as members of the Kerem Shalom community—religious and secular alike—proudly lift a new Torah scroll and dance along the kibbutz’s gravel pathway. Surrounding the Torah are members of the community and Ziv Lanciano, a 13-year-oldboy who celebrated his Bar Mitzvah atop Masada a few days before.
“I thought Masada was a great place to have a Bar Mitzvah, because it symbolizes the State of Israel. It’s an honor to have a Bar Mitzvah there, and it was a lot of fun,” said Lanciano.
A few days later, Lanciano celebrated again—this time in his hometown kibbutz, which is located only a few kilometers from Gaza and Egypt.
For the Lanciano family the celebrations at Masada and Kibbutz Kerem Shalom are one in the same: they both rejoice in the fact that the Jewish nation is still alive and well despite the many attempts by its enemies to put an end to them.
“This is a way to connect to our roots, because at the end of the day that’s why we're all here,” Lanciano’s father, Zohar, said of their decision to settle in the Gaza Envelope. “We didn’t necessarily come here because of Zionism, but after Operation Protective Edge in 2014, we thought there’s something to be said for standing up for Jewish values and your country. We love life here.”
The Torah scroll is also special. Front and center in both celebrations, it is encased in a velvet deep blue wrapping with Jewish National Fund-USA’s (JNF-USA) logo emblazoned on the fabric. The brand-new scroll is part of the organization’s new “Be Inscribed” program, where people can purchase a letter, page, chapter, or even an entire Torah scroll. Once a scroll is completed, it is donated by JNF-USA to the border communities of the Gaza Envelope region.
For JNF-USA CEO Russell F. Robinson, bequeathing the program’s first Torah scroll to Kerem Shalom was a deliberate choice.
“Having a Torah be inscribed on Mount Masada, where 2,000 years ago, people went in for the last time thinking this was the end of the Jewish people, to a Torah being inscribed 2,000 years later and brought to a place like Kerem Shalom—which is literally inches away from Gaza—sends a clear message, ‘We are here,’” Robinson said. “Bringing a new Torah to this place says, ‘This is not the end. Our story is just beginning.’”
The organization also sought to inject an air of positivity into a community that has experienced much hardship over the past year. As such, JNF-USA keeps a close eye on the Gaza Envelope not just in times of crisis, but also in peace so as to ensure that these pioneers will never be forgotten.
“We’re here to support the people during the good and bad times,” said Betsy Fisher, chair of the Gaza Envelope Task Force from Cherry Hill, NJ. “They deserve all the respect like the soldiers in the IDF. They live on the frontlines and they don’t get weekends or holidays off.”
“We will be proud of their continued legacy which inspires generations to come,” said Chuck Kafenshtok from Lake Forest, IL, a member of the Gaza Envelope Task Force. “Despite the tension along the Gaza border, the community of Kerem Shalom continues to attract new young families and take a stand for the values of the Jewish State and its people. They are part of the Halutznik (pioneering) movement of the 21st century.”
“Pioneers live here every day and sometimes there are difficult moments,” Eshkol Regional Council Mayor Gadi Yarkoni said. “This is going to be a beautiful community that will continue to blossom.”