I felt like I was the prophet Yonah, fleeing from G-d and His will. It all started at my weekly class on tefilla, prayer. One of the women in the class turned to me and asked, “How would you like to organize a bridal shower for a bride from Gush Katif?” I knew that it was a big undertaking. I quickly thought of all the daily and weekly obligations I have and said, “Sorry, I don’t have the time. (It had taken me years to learn to say no to requests such as these.) But why don’t you call Sharon Katz who organized a bridal shower last year in Efrat? I’m sure that she can give you good advice.” I thought that was the end of that.
Wouldn’t you know it that the following week I received a call from Sharon Katz. “Adina, we are holding bridal showers for Gush Katif kallot and chatanim (brides and grooms) on Monday, June 4th in communities throughout Gush Etzion, and I would like you to be in charge of the one in Rosh Tzurim.” And that was that. Hashem was making this opportunity for plenty of mitzvot (literally commandments but meaning good deeds) pursue me all the way to my home!
Under usual circumstances organizing a wedding and setting up a new home for a couple is no easy feat. Now imagine that the family has been torn from their home and their home has been destroyed. Imagine that the parents of the bride or groom or of both are unemployed and the families are living in hotel rooms in an unfamiliar part of the country. How can they possibly help their children build a bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael (a faithful house in Israel)?
Yehudis Schamroth and Shoshanna Schillit of Beit Shemesh found a practical way to help couples such as these. Over a year and a half ago they launched the idea of hachnasat kallah (helping brides) for brides formerly from Gush Katif. On February 14, 2006 the first bridal shower was held, and the gifts were given to six couples. The evening was so successful that it was quickly followed by showers in Efrat, Har Nof, Bet El, Neve Daniel, Raanana, Telz Stone, Rechovot and other places. Thus began the Committee for Gush Katif Bridal Showers, run by some dedicated and tireless women in Israel. Close to 150 couples have been helped so far.
Many of the expelled young people from Gush Katif are marrying young. They state, “We feel like marionette puppets now. We have no control of our lives. Couples are marrying young because hanging on a string is terrible. We want some anchor, some foundation.”
Following last year’s Har Nof shower, my friend Monica Paz and other women from Har Nof, went to deliver the gifts to some brides and grooms living in Yad Binyamin. Monica said, “It’s something so much bigger than hachnasat kallah. It’s not the money. These young people felt so hurt and rejected and bitter, and to see that there is so much love for them is so emotionally healing for them.”
Last year I attended a bridal shower in Efrat for five brides. Dikla Cohen, the mother of one of the brides spoke. (The brides did not attend.) She spoke about how, after the expulsion in the summer of 2005, the family lived for eight months in the Shalom Hotel in Jerusalem. “Do you know what it is like to lose your child in a hotel with so many floors? Do you know what it is like to lose one’s privacy?” She spoke about how one of her daughters became engaged and how they didn’t know where to have an engagement party. A friend of hers offered her apartment, which the Cohens accepted. Dikla related, “I stood in my friend’s kitchen and started crying. I had to prepare food and all of my recipes were in storage.” There wasn’t a dry eye at that memorable shower.
While preparing for the June 4th bridal shower I viewed a video entitled “Meet a Bride from Gush Katif.” What a small world! The bride in the video is Yikrat Cohen, the daughter of Dikla. Yikrat speaks about how her parents lived in Neve Dekalim for 21 years and she lived in Neve Dekalim for 18 years. Before they left the hotel, Yikrat met her soul mate. “Getting things organized was very difficult. Where would we have the engagement party? In a hotel room? My Shabbat kallah was held at my grandmother’s.” Yikrat tells how her mother “happened” to meet Sharon Katz “and from then on it was amazing! I went to her home and there were so many gifts awaiting me. It was like a trousseau one gets from a mother. Imagine people wanting to help you because they identify with you. People recognize that you’re going through these difficulties not because of something personal, but because of something national.” By the way, Yikrat is now a mother.
The June 4th bridal showers were originally billed as “A dozen bridal showers under one umbrella—the umbrella of ahavat Yisrael (love of a fellow Jew) and achdut (unity) of Gush Etzion.” In the end there were more than a dozen, including one in Chashmonaim and one in Baltimore, which was organized by Yehudis Schamroth. In one of Sharon Katz’s many emails to the organizers she wrote, “You are helping to make history. There has never been an evening like this in the history of Gush Etzion or anywhere else in the country…This project is meant to unite the Jewish people in both acts of loving kindness toward these lovely brides and grooms, and to give chizuk (strengthening) and encouragement to these young couples, who have suffered so greatly over the past two years. While they and their families are so discouraged by the events of the past, we hope our “hug” to each and every one of them will show them that Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) cares about their future, and blesses them as they embark on their new lives together building a bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael.
“There has never been such a festive evening of unity and purpose in Gush Etzion. The women of every town working together to show the people of Gush Katif: we have struggled at your side, we have prayed with you, we have cried with you, and now we stand with you in faith ready to help your young people rebuild their futures and begin anew toward a better tomorrow…
“The women of Gush Etzion know that if times were normal, and the people of Gush Katif were in their old homes, working their old jobs, living their old lives, the parents of these young couples would happily shower them with love and give them all they needed to start their married lives. Because so many families are unemployed, suffering from trauma, victims of terror, kassam-attacks and more, times are not normal for Gush Katifers. And so the women of Gush Etzion want to step in and show their support for these brave families.”
One of the four bridal showers in Efrat on June 4th honored Natan Heimenrat of Neve Dekalim/Ein Tzurim. His mother Shifra attended the shower and said a few words. She said that when the soldiers came to take her from her home, they said, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a house. You can get another one. She said, “I sat shiva (seven days of mourning) in this house. This house holds my memories.” Natan’s sister was killed in the Versailles wedding hall collapse. She was buried in Gush Katif and then disinterred and reburied after much sorrow to her family. Shifra sat shiva for her daughter and later for her sister, h”d, Devora Friedman, an Efrat resident who was murdered in a terrorist attack.
Valerie Seidner from Tekoa wrote a note to Sharon Katz following the June 4th shower in Tekoa, “One of the kallot said that the hardest thing from the expulsion was taking down the mezuzot….and it’s her father’s dream that his children are getting married and going from destruction to building…there wasn’t a dry eye in the house! They were incredibly grateful. They said you don’t know us and you are giving us so much….It was a true feeling of Am Yisrael, lev echad (the Nation of Israel, one heart).”
Sharon and her committee members witnessed many miracles while working on this special evening. Here are some examples: “The project was spoken about on the radio and almost immediately this brought a donor and also a person who wants to organize her former community to make a shower. There has been great support from relatives and friends outside Gush Etzion, and they have actually bought gifts on line and thanked US for giving them the ability to participate in this mitzvah. They sat thinking of ways to shower more brides/grooms and suddenly the community of Chashmonaim called and said that they think they can handle three instead of two brides/grooms. An amazing woman who has already showered our brides in America contacted us and said she is going to urge her region to give again and perhaps even twin with our showers.” Sharon concludes, “Simply put, Hashem has taken a special interest in our project, and His hand is evident for us at every moment, boruch Hashem (thank G-d).”
I wanted to share my miracle. In addition to a check, each bride/groom receives basic household items such as blankets, linen, dishes, silverware and small appliances such as a toaster oven, a small microwave, an iron, etc. I went to shop at Sharon Katz’s “store” which is located in her living room, and “bought” items such as two sets of flatware, linens, a blender, etc. Sharon told me to use the cash donations I received to buy whatever small electrical items I did not have. When I returned home I listed all of the electrical items I needed to purchase and saw that I was short about 1,100 shekel. I wrote an email to Sharon advising her of the situation. That night I prayed that I would receive the funds to make the purchases the next day. The next morning the phone rang before I davened the morning prayers. It was Rita Fuchs from Har Nof telling me that I should purchase what I can, and the rest she would make sure to get to me. The next afternoon I received a call from a friend in Efrat to come and pick up the items! (Riki Freudenstein, another member of the Central Committee had shopped for me at the Har Nof Yad Gittel Gemach. In addition to the electrical items were pots, blankets, pillows and a set of dishes.)
By the way, Rita Fuchs became involved in the bridal shower project due to her volunteer work at the Shalom Hotel following the expulsion. She, along with other volunteers, organized a bridal shower in Har Nof. “The shower isn’t just gifts. It’s difficult for many of them to accept gifts. We don’t present it as charity. We take part in their simcha. It’s such a positive way to give. It’s rebuilding.”
When I called our community’s chatan Moshe, formerly from Netzarim, to wish him a mazel tov, he told me that what we are doing “warms the heart.” He thanked me profusely for the gifts that we plan to give him. I said to him, “You have gone through a lot in your young life.” (He is 21.) He agreed and added, “I’m presently an army commander.” Prior to my conversation with Moshe I had been in touch with his mother. His parents have ten other children. (Sharon Katz told me that as a nurse in Netzarim Moshe’s mother treated many terror victims on site.)
Moshe and a friend came to our home to pick up all the gifts a week before his wedding. Almost eleven-year old Eliyahu Yeshaya made a sign on the door for Moshe and Shira his bride. When Moshe saw the piles of gifts on our dining room table he told me, “I have no words.” He said that there are gifts that one does not even get at a wedding. He smiled from ear to ear. My two youngest boys helped load the car with the gifts. I told them that they were participating in the mitzvah of bringing joy to the new couple.
American-born Anita Tucker, formerly from Netzer Chazani in Gush Katif, has this to say about the bridal showers. “This personal contact between the givers and the receivers and all the others involved in this chain of chesed is more important and more dynamic, I think, than any of you can even imagine.
“It is my opinion that this personal feeling and connection alone can begin to heal the pain and loss of the Gush Katif families and of Am Yisrael. Perhaps slowly it can repair the chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) caused by the destruction of Gush Katif and all that was involved in it.
“This is the one and only way, I believe, that we can help people understand that what happened to the people of Gush Katif must never ever happen to anyone else from Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael (the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel).”
If you would like to organize a shower in your community for brides/grooms from Gush Katif please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Tax deductible checks are also welcome: From the US:
- Central Fund of Israel (earmarked GK Brides) c/o Judy Landsberg, 1263 East 23 St., Brooklyn, NY 11210
- American Friends of Yad Eliezer (earmarked GK Brides) c/o Rita Fuchs, PO Box 43159, Har Nof, Jerusalem 95400, Israel
In Israel you may send a tax deductible NIS check to:
- Yad Eliezer (earmarked GK Brides), c/o Rita Fuchs, PO Box 43159, Har Nof, Jerusalem 95400
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.