At the end of the Shabbos, women wrote down one additional mitzvah that they would take upon themselves in the future
They arrived at Yad Binyamin from all across Israel. Dozens of women and more than 100 children rescued from Arab villages over the past year had been picked up by Yad L'Achim's chartered buses and delivered to the spacious campus of the Tzvia girls' school for an unforgettable Shabbos experience.
On entering their spacious rooms, they found light refreshments, a copy of Yad L'Achim's new monthly magazine Achoti (My Sister), designed to maintain regular contact with survivors of Arab villages, and a siddur with their name embossed on the cover.
After settling in, the activities began, run by Yad L'Achim's staff of Rabbanim, social workers and early-childhood teachers. While the children were busy making mezuzah covers, their mothers participated in an orientation meeting where they got to know one another. In one exercise, each mother was asked to share what made her happy. Several responded "Yad L'Achim makes me happy," prompting others to nod in agreement.
With the approach of Shabbos, the women gathered to light candles and the children participated in an activity in which they strung together candies to create a sweet wreath for their mothers.
The girls remained downstairs with their teachers for an "experiential Kabbolos Shabbos," while the boys went upstairs to daven with the "big brothers" they were assigned by Yad L'Achim shortly after their rescue.
Throughout the Shabbos, the boys had a chance to forge personal relationships with the Rabbanim who will keep in touch with them and serve as much-needed father figures.
After an uplifting Kabbolos Shabbos, the women were addressed by an artisan who shared the emotional story of her return to Judaism, evoking laughter and tears. The sumptuous Shabbos evening meal, held in the main dining room, began with recitation of Kiddush by Harav Yisrael Lifschitz, chairman of Yad L'Achim.
The theme of the meal, addressed by Harav Krotzi, was the importance of joy, especially in the month of Adar. The women were swept up by the atmosphere of pure joy that filled the room.
After the meal, while the children were preoccupied with organized activities, the mothers assembled for a riveting symposium on topics of faith. They sought guidance on how to ensure the Jewish identity of their children, whose fathers were Arabs; how to ensure that they didn't cross over to the other side.
The questions came from the depths of their pained hearts and the staff worked hard to provide reassuring answers. One woman would ask and others would nod along in solidarity and understanding. When an answer came back that brought relief to the questioner, a smile crossed the faces of many of the women in the room.
The symposium wound down at 3 a.m. to give the participants a chance to rest up for the next day's activities. But some of the women continued to sit and talk until daybreak. They didn't want to waste a single precious moment of that special Shabbos.
After the morning tefillos and meal, the mothers and children again split up into workshops and then took a short rest break until minchah and seduah shlishit. At the conclusion of the meal they stood in a circle and each woman gave her name and one word to describe what she took with her from Shabbos. Strength, said one. Faith, said another. Confidence. Love. Hope. Joy.
After havdalah, the children enjoyed a magic show and "purchased" prizes with tickets they had earned throughout Shabbos for their participation in the programs.
Meanwhile, the women gathered together to hear parting words of inspiration from Harav Lifschitz. Each was given a piece of paper on which to write down all the mitzvos she had merited to fulfill over Shabbos, as well as one particular commitment she would undertake for the future.
The resolutions were inspiring: Modesty, attendance at Torah classes, enhanced Shabbos observance, Kashrus and more. Their responses were later attached to magnets to be hung from their refrigerators as reminders.
In the final event, the women held a lottery with prizes. One woman who had no children won a game, which she gladly gave to a mother she'd met that Shabbos. The women had become family. Many of the participants commented that it was a Shabbos they would never forget, one that imbued them with spiritual strength that would help them continue on their path back to Judaism.