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Toys from Telfed - a solidarity tiyul to the south

- by Peter Bailey

The spate of attacks from Gaza in the form of rockets, fire kites and balloons as well as attempted incursions which peaked in May and June, placed the Israeli residents of the area, particularly the children, including many ex South Africans, under great stress.  Telfed C.E.O Dorron Kline suggested in June that the Telfed Tiyul Club should consider a solidarity visit to some of the Gaza envelope communities with a strong South African connection. This idea came to fruition on the 12th of December when a 60 strong contingent of Southern African olim boarded a tour bus in Raanana headed on our way to carry out the suggested solidarity visit. We were thrilled to have the visiting editor of the Cape Jewish Chronicle, Lindy Diamond, with us for a day which she found to be most interesting and instructive, her recorder and camera working overtime. Also on the bus with us was Sid Shapiro, former Executive Director of Telfed, who was involved in the establishment of many of the kibbutzim and moshavim in the Northern Negev with a strong South African presence. Sid gave as an extremely interesting talk about days gone by, with anecdotes about events when these communities were being established.

Target areas of the rocket attacks faced by the Gaza Envelope Communities. Talmei Yosef and Sde Nitzan are a few kilometres east of Keren Shalom

Our first stop was the City of Sderot, where we were met by former South African Adele Rubin and her husband Mike, who had left his native United States in 1948 to fight as a volunteer in Israel’s War of Independence. By previous arrangement, Adele and Mike, both longtime residents of Sderot, had purchased a large quantity of toys from the local toy shops on our behalf. Adele and Mike had really gone out of their way to assist us in the selection of suitable toys as well as arranging for us to hand some of the toys over to the Sderot City Council for distribution amongst the children in the city. After the handover of the toys, Mike joined us on the bus for a brief tour of Sderot, highlighting the enormous growth in the city over the past 5 years, despite the ongoing rocket attacks. Due to time restraints we were unable to see more of the beautiful city, but thanks to Mike for a great tour!

Sderot representative accepting toy packages from Joel Klotnick and Peter Bailey

From Sderot, our next stop was Kibbutz Kfar Aza, literally a stone's throw away from the 1948 Armistice Line that marks the boundary between Gaza and Israel. Fresh outcrops of greenery were on view in the fields on our route, evidence on the new growth coming up to replace the vegetation destroyed by fires caused by fire kites and balloons sent with malicious intent from Gaza. We were given an enthusiastic welcome to the kibbutz by two longtime residents of Kfar Aza, former South Africans Mervyn and Leah Poliak. We were guided to the kindergarten complex which houses approximately 60 children in two classes. A huge box of toys for the young kibbutz children was handed over to the staff while the children were out on a walk, but soon arrived back and we witnessed great excitement as they saw the toys. We were then given a talk by Etty of Gan Narkish, who gave us a number of insights into the lives of the children of Kfar Aza when facing rocket attacks. Her information was absorbed by a very attentive and stunned group of listeners.   

The next stop was at Moshav Talmei Yosef where our first port of call was the dining area at the Salad Trail, which is a highlight of any visit to Talmei Yosef. After a few wrong turns, we found ourselves at the lunch venue, where we were enthusiastically welcomed by host Uri Alon and Ivan Fleisch, our contact person on the Moshav.  We enjoyed a most delicious potjiekos (poyke in Israel) lunch followed with a talk by former South African Peter Harris, who is an English guide at the salad trail. Peter told us how rockets that land on Talmei Yosef are being converted into art by a metal sculptor on the moshav.

After lunch and the talk, we were able to buy honey, olive oil, spices and other local products, doing out bit to help the economy of the moshav. Loaded with our purchases it was back on our bus to be driven to the kindergarten complex to hand over toys. The reception we received from the kids and the teachers left many of us in a very emotional state seeing joy on the young faces at the sight of the toys. The photos below say it all.

Our next stop was at Moshav Sde Nitzan where we were welcomed to the home of former South Africans Joe and Eve Isaacson. This most hospitable couple somehow succeeded in seating all of us comfortably on their patio, where we were served delicious homegrown naartjies (clementinas in Israel). We then listened most attentively to an extremely interesting and topical  talk by their son Elan, who is  Head of  Security for the Eshkol Regional Council, which includes the majority of the Gaza envelope communities. This region has been one of the most frequent target areas of rocket and other attacks from Gaza since 2000, with many areas also having been devastated by fires ignited by fire kites and balloons in the past 6 months.

Joe and Eve Isaacson are also members of a volunteer group that has established a kiosk at a nearby public transport hub which serves the Eshkol region. This kiosk provides hot and cold drinks as well as sandwiches for soldiers who are passing through on their way home or back to base after time off. We presented them with a heat wrapping machine so that the sandwiches can remain fresh in a sealed plastic wrapping. The volunteer group make 150 sandwiches daily, starting at five every morning, providing a most valuable and welcome service for soldiers who have the difficult task of ensuring the security of the region and its inhabitants. The cost of the wrapping machine was sponsored by former South African, Eric Jacobson, who although currently resident in the United States, was in Israel for a visit and joined us on this memorable tiyul.

Following a drive past the kiosk so that we could fully appreciate the wonderful work being done by the volunteers, we set off on our journey back to Ra'anana. I found this to be one of the most rewarding days that I have spent in a long time and judging by the comments from my fellow tiyullers, most of them felt the same way. A tired, but very satisfied busload of travelers arrived back in Ra'anana after an incredible visit to the communities in the south.


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