There's nothing like being home for the Holidays. But sometimes
home is not where one physically lives full time – it can also be a beloved
home away from home.
This past New Year 5774 began with a visit to Israel for our
Monsey, New York Office Manager, Chavi Lieberman. She traveled first to
Jerusalem to be with her siblings who live there and to enjoy her nieces and
nephews too. And, as all of our readers know, a trip to Israel is not complete
without traveling to numerous holy sites that traverse every corner of this
tiny country from south to north and from east to west.
Chavi told me that Israel was full of tourists soaking up the
county's spirit, its ancient history and its unique aura. From visiting the
grave sites of the biblical forefathers and foremothers, to seeing and touching
antiquities, to walking through modern museums and learning old and living
history, to commemorating the innocent heroes at memorials to those who
perished in the holocaust – Chavi's Israeli itinerary was filled from early
morning to late night.
On one particular afternoon during the intermediate days between
the Holidays, I received a call from Chavi. It was very late at night in
Jerusalem, since I subconsciously checked my clock. There's a 10 hour
difference from Pacific Standard Time in California, where I reside, to Israel time.
It was close to 3 AM there. I asked her “What's going on? Is everything all right?”
Chavi answered me with a trepidation in her voice, a tone that was totally unfamiliar
to me. “What happened?” I asked again. She finally cleared her throat and told
me about her bus ride that evening to the Kotel – the Western Wall.
I soon heard a frightening tale, typical to occurrences
in Israel. It was on the eve of Hoshanah Rabbah, when the
Jewish people believe that their fate is sealed for the next year and they feel
the urgency to pray fervently for a good outcome, that Chavi was on her way to
the Kotel. She continued by telling me, in a hushed voice as to not wake up her
nieces and nephews, of how she was on the #3 bus, riding along the streets to its destination, when suddenly she heard loud shrieking and then a sound
she never heard before. The bus was
being pelted with rocks. Boom – boom was heard as the stones hit the metal body
of the vehicle. Chavi said, “It sounded like bullets!” That's when the driver
yelled for everyone to get on the ground. All the passengers obeyed the warning
and scrambled to the floor. The driver put his foot to the metal and
forged ahead. Later, Chavi learned, that there was a girl in the bus behind her
that was injured during the stone throwing incident.
Chavi also told me that she heard an Israel police SWAT team
screaming at the perpetrators through bull horns and then what sounded like
warning shots fired. She later learned that it was common for such incidents to
take place whenever there are peace talks.
Finally arriving at the Kotel's stop, the passengers thanked the
brave driver as they hastily disembarked and quickly made their way to prayers
at the Wall. After beseeching the Almighty, Chavi returned home. She was drained and found herself shaking.
She reflected on her experience saying, “People in Israel live with these fears
daily. Every time they get on a bus, they look around them, their eyes scanning
their surroundings. From a young age, children know this behavior.” She
continued by telling me, “In America, we read about these sad occurrences, in
the newspapers and online. It's happening far away from our safe haven and we
feel bad. But we really don't understand what it feels like to be there.” This
particular night, Chavi felt the daily fear and resulting stress Israeli men,
women and children experience every day of their lives.
On Monday, September 30th, Chavi was ready to visit the girls at
the Home in Netanya for the third time since she began working for Lev LaLev.
Recalling her bus ride the week before, Chavi chose to take a shuttle van
from Jerusalem for the hour and 45 minute ride. Arriving at the Home around
lunchtime, Chavi was warmly greeted by some of the girls who she's met in her
past 2 visits. Several girls recognized her immediately and came running up to
her, giving her hugs.
In the Home's lobby, Chavi noticed girls sitting quietly,
studying and doing their homework. By that time, Bracha Runes, the Programs
Director made some time to see and talk with Chavi. She told her about 7 new
girls who arrived at the Home after summer vacation. They are precious and
adorable little girls, Chavi tells me, ranging in age from only 5 to 8. Slowly,
she rose to say hello them, and waited patiently for them to return the
greeting. The young girls were not necessarily traumatized from one very scary
bus ride, but from another journey – their lives so far, have scared them to
the core. At the Children's Home, we pray that they will trust, believe and
enjoy every day, without fear.
Chavi Lieberman, unshaken, is back at her desk in Lev LaLev's
home office. But the faces of our abandoned, neglected and abused girls in
Netanya, are always in her mind.