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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.

el_al_airline_turkey_flights.jpgThis 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.

97351075.sF4ylwbf.2008051606.jpgChavi 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.

the-kotel-at-night.jpgOn 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.

Egged3.jpgI 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.

IMG_2770.jpgIn 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.

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