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Eternal Roots

Eternal Roots

Former Gush Katif family tells their story of unshakable faith and determination


Like plants, Jews have spread themselves throughout the world with remarkable success. Our roots are planted in places as far flung as the Congo to Tasmania to New York.

But there is one place we are still struggling to truly plant ourselves. To truly allow our leaves to blossom and connect with the land: Israel.

The Silberscheins are one family that has spent their lives determined to plant their roots in the soil of Israel. This began with their moving to Gush Katif, where they lived for nine years. Located in southern Gaza, "It was a wonderful place to bring up children," Tammy Silberschein says. The sun shone almost every day, and their town was located right by the sea. Like the Jews from the Torah, "We had a lot of agriculture... a lot of organic farming."

And just as the Jews of the Torah struggled There are not many people who are willing to take their kids to school with an army escort. to make a true Israel a reality, so too did the Silberscheins. Just by living where they were living. Just by being who they were. Despite its beauty, and because of its location, Gush Katif was continually subject to attacks by the surrounding Palestinians. As Tammy put it, "You needed to be idealistic to survive there."

There are not many people in the world who are willing to take their kids to school with an army escort. There are not many people who would put up with an hour wait every time they left their own town. "It was a place of living your faith," Tammy explains. It was a place to grow the seed of Judaism in Israel.

As time went on, and as the community became more and more cut off from Gaza and Israel, the Silberscheins' town of Netzarim learned to find ways to prosper on its own. "We just got stronger and bigger. We built a yeshiva. We had a petting zoo, a pool, a library." They built their town on faith. And from that it sprouted into a prosperous and beautiful community. "It was just like the Garden of Eden."

In Netzarim
In Netzarim

Unfortunately, like the Garden of Eden, it was not meant to last. First, it began as whispers. Small leaks to the press by the government. But as time went on, the voices grew louder. Until the voices of their own people were demanding that the Silberscheins uproot themselves. That all of Gush Katif be rent asunder, and that the delicate community they had planted be weeded out.

It happened quickly. One day they were there and the next they were taking only their necessities with them to Ariel, their new home in the West Bank.

Right before they left though, Elkana, Tammy's husband, asked a crane operator to take a tree out of the ground. He was going to take it with them.

The Silberscheins quickly planted their new tree next to their caravan in Ariel.

"When we got the tree again, it looked awful. But it was there."

Although the move was incredibly difficult They believed, their leaves would soon be as high as their roots were deep. and taxing, the Silberscheins took comfort in knowing that their mission was not over. "We decided that the answer to the disengagement was to engage. To connect. To connect to the people of Israel. To bring the soul of Gush Katif to the world." They were rooting themselves to another part of Israel. And soon, they believed, their leaves would be as high as their roots were deep.

Just as Jews for centuries wondered how they could live their entire lives in a community only to suddenly be uprooted, the children of the Silberscheins had a difficult time understanding and dealing with what had happened to their family.

To help the children, the Silberscheins brought a psychologist over to help. "She took me aside at the end and told me that some of my children were very stuck. She would ask them questions about Gush Katif and they would get all choked up and start crying. I needed to find a way to channel them in a positive direction.

"We said, let's go to our tree."

And so the Silberschein family used the tree that they brought from Gush Katif to help cope with their loss. The children responded immediately. "They started writing poems to the tree, and songs to the tree, and drawing pictures of the tree."

The first anniversary of the tree's replanting
The first anniversary of the tree's replanting

Out of these projects and out of some learning, the children were able to comprehend how their world, like so many Jews before them, could be so shaken and disturbed.

"We talked about the tzaddik who walked by a leaf and saw it fall and asked it why it had to fall. In the end, he was told that the leaf fell to give shade to a worm. And our children learned this as a way of understanding that everything, even our difficulties, are part of divine providence."

But even more important, the entire Silberschein family came together to understand that the expulsion may have hurt their branches and leaves, but the tree and its roots were as strong as ever. Stronger.

"We learned about Rabbi Kook's idea of how when you first grow a tree, it starts off in a small pot. But then, you eventually need to move it. But this is only so that it can grow even more. And not only that, it brings with it everything that it had earlier."

The culmination of all the Silberscheins' projects was a shirt that the entire family designed. On the shirt was a picture of the tree with its roots deep in Netzarim. And then the tree goes much, much beyond. Beyond Netzarim.

On the shirt was one line: "Whoever has very deep roots has fruits that blossom."

Elad Nehorai is originally from Chicago and now studies at a yeshiva in Jerusalem.
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sue Kanata, ON February 16, 2009

to Helio Rochlin For some reason only known to their family Doctor (if they have one) kids like to smash glass.
In Canada, where the viciousness of the cold snow can drive a person to death, sometimes in a few minutes, the children are still stupid and rude enough to smash the fragile bus shelters meant to at least give a tiny bit of safety to people who will sometimes wait in the freezing cold over half an hour for a suburban bus.
It is sad to see that in our modern, civilized areas, youth has not been given an education in the value and meaning of thoughtfully erected structures of any kind, or that their emotional natures are that troubled. Reply

Anonymous Fresh Meadows, NY February 12, 2009

A beautiful story A similar story took place during the First World War, when a Jewish spy killed in the Sinai had date palm seeds in his pocket. On the site of Avshalom Feinberg's death, a palm tree sprouted. It later became the settlement of Dikla- Palm. After the Sinai withdrawal in 1982, Neve Dekalim in Gaza carried on the name. In 2005, this town was also demolished for political reasons.

Let's hope that the palm planted by the Silberscheins has roots as deep as the tree planted by Feinberg. Reply

Helio Rochlin Rio de Janeiro, RJ/Brazil February 10, 2009

A sharp contrast The Jews uprooted from Gush Katif exhibit an inconditional love for the land of Israel. In contrast, the Palestinians of Gaza, have destroyed millions of greenhouses graciously donated by American Jews philanthropes ready to produce flowers and fruits. Reply

sue Kanata, ON February 10, 2009

Good for you! "Whoever has very deep roots has fruits that blossom."
Sweetness, flower on. Reply

Menachem Kovacs Baltimore, Md February 10, 2009

Return to Gush Katif Let us continue to pray & work to return to Gush Katif, an integral part of the Holy Land Reply