Some 70 women and children rescued by Yad L'Achim from Arab villages in daring operations participated last week in a Shabbaton whose theme was "the goal is within reach."
The women began two days of intense activities for them and their children Friday with challah baking, and fulfilled the mitzvah of taking challah. After davening that evening, they held a workshop that gave them a chance to become better acquainted with one another.
"They stayed up till the wee hours of the morning with Yad L'Achim's large staff which led discussion groups focusing on the issues that are uppermost on the minds of the women," one Yad L'Achim official said.
The featured speaker at the first main meal was the noted lecturer, Rabbi Michael Lasri, who spoke of the painful tragedy that he and his wife experienced last year when their 21-year-old son drowned off the coast of Ashdod. His powerful message - that everything Hakadosh Baruch Hu does is for the good – brought tears to the eyes of the survivors, who have endured much hardship in their lives. They identified with Rabbi Lasri and took heart, and strength, from his inspiring talk.
Rabbi Lasri and his wife continued to give classes and lectures throughout the Shabbaton.
A team of kindergarten teachers and counsellors that was recruited for the Shabbos created a special program for the children. "Besides giving the mothers a break, our goal was to run activities that deepen the children's sense of Jewish identity and helps them acquire Jewish concepts," said Mrs. S. Kostlitz, who was in charge of preparing for the Shabbos. "I was moved to see on Motzaei Shabbos a six-year-old boy who insisted on hearing Havdalah twice - once with the mothers and then again with the children. To think that just a few months ago, he didn't know what Havdalah was!"
Harav Yisrael Lifschitz, Yad L'Achim's chairman, delivered words of inspiration at the meals. He spoke of the Divine intervention that made it possible for them to start life again. His message was interspersed with words of Torah and moving stories that came from the heart and penetrated the hearts of his listeners.
"Second-generation" survivors, women who were born to Arab fathers and raised in villages, attended special workshops on Jewish identity conducted just for them. "My mother married an Arab and died at the age of 52 from a serious illness," said S., 45, who was born to an Arab father and Jewish mother.
Speaking with a heavy Arab accent, she told of the turning point that led to her rescue half a year ago: "A few days before my mother's death she told me that her dream was that one of her daughters would leave the village and be chozer betshuvah."
With tears rolling down her cheeks, S. shared that she felt she was about to realize her mother's dream; that thanks to the Shabbaton she had decided to keep Shabbos from then on.
Another survivor, R., was rescued during the most recent holidays. She told how her husband had been a wealthy man and his family was respected. But she felt she wasn't being true to herself. "The mentality of an Arab home and the way of life was strange to me," she explained. "I wasn't me! That's what bothered me."
She related that she had hidden her relationship with her husband from her family. She would ask him not to speak out loud in the street when he was in Israel proper so that no one would hear his accent. Later, came the period of terrible abuse and suffering at his hands. "That moment when you are blinded by the attention and pampering passes all to quickly until things get out of control," R. told the women, who nodded in silent agreement.
Summing up the magical Shabbos, a Yad L'Achim official said: "Shabbat Yad L'Achim is a wonderful opportunity to pull back from the hectic pace of life – both for the survivors and our staffers who care for them - and to shine the spotlight on the survivors and their children, giving them the tools and the attention they need to take the next step in their return to the Jewish people."