In the shadow of U.S. President Barak Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel, feelings of tension and unified purpose filled the room at the Gush Katif Museum Dinner in Crown Heights Saturday night, as speaker after speaker, recalling the pain of the expulsion of 10,000 Jews from their homes and the destruction of their communities, demanded that it not happen again.
Calling on Americans to send a message to Obama, keynote speaker former Arkansas Governor and 2008 G.O.P. presidential candidate Mike Huckabee declared that they should say, “Mr. President, Americans stand with Israel because they are a mirror image of our freedom and our democracy in this country. And, we suggest that before you make any demands of the Israelis to give anything, you sit down and look the Palestinians in the face and ask them ‘What have they given up?”
He continued, “Rather than say to the Israelis, “Stop building in Judea and Samaria,” I would suggest that you build as rapidly as you can, and as much as you can, and as many houses as you can! And tell the Palestinians that if they don’t like that, the way they can fix it is to sit at the peace table and sign an agreement that they recognize Israel’s right to exist, within the borders that G-d gave them and to exist with safety and security! That, my friends, will probably never happen! So I say, pour the concrete, build the houses and let Israel be strong! That is the message we need to give to the world!”
Close to 500 participants joined at the second annual dinner to support the museum established five years ago by Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpo to remember and support the expellees from Gush Katif in Gaza and educate visitors to prevent further destruction of Jewish homes. Organizers of the dinner included the International Committee for the Land of Israel, founded by Dr. Joseph Frager, Dr. Paul Brody, Rabbi David Algaze and Odeleya Jacobs, and Helen Freedman, Executive Director of Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI).
Other speakers included Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson, representing the Rabbis of Crown Heights Synagogues, and Mrs. Rivka Goldschmidt, a refugee from Gush Katif. Rabbi Sholom Ber Drizin, philanthropist, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Rabbi Algaze, Rav of Congregation Havurat Yisrael in Forest Hills, and Helen Freedman were the guests of honor.
In a personal interview and in a speech, Rivka Goldschmidt, recounted meeting and marrying her South African husband Michael and their decision to leave their apartment in the center of Israel for a tiny house in the barren sands of the Gaza Strip.
They took up agriculture and, after various tries, began cultivating and ultimately selling amaryllis bulbs to America. They raised a family, building a comfortable home and a successful business in the tight-knit community of Ganei Tal, in spite of random acts of terrorism by the Arabs in the Gaza Strip. After 28 years of growth, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the evacuation of the 10,000 Jews in Gaza and the destruction of the Jewish towns there. “If that was said about any other area (no Jews) the country would be shocked,” said Goldschmidt. “We protested, we prayed, we made a human chain from Gush Katif to the Kotel. It didn’t help. Eventually the day came.” They were told not to raise a hand to the soldiers by the Rabbi of their town, that they are “our brothers and sons, victims of the system.” The day of the evacuation, a group of soldiers materialized between two majestic eucalyptus trees Rivka had planted in her front yard 28 years before. “I was in shock, speechless, I had soft knees. It was frightening. Instead of protecting us it looked like a duel. I thought that the IDF was a symbol of the unity of the people of Israel and their being used to expel us; that is a very bitter feeling.” She pointed to the Second Lebanon War in 2006 as directly connected to the pull out from Gaza in 2005. “When the Arabs see weakness,” she said, “they attack.”
After the evacuation, although her son had declared to the soldiers who came that he would no longer be a part of the reserves, when he was called up for Operation Cast Lead, he went. “I begged him not to go,” said Rivka. “We were human shields to the southern border, why endanger yourself now?” “Someone has to do the job,” he replied, “and we might get home.”
The community of Ganei Tal has stayed together even after the evacuation, during its stay in the guesthouse of Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim and in temporary homes in Yad Binyamin. They are building once again, a new Ganei Tal, in spite of many setbacks, in what were once cotton fields by Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim near Gedara some 20 miles northeast of Gaza. “When a crisis comes along and a family is strong, they overcome it despite differences,” explained Rivka. “We had arguments but we dealt with the crisis.”
When asked before his speech about his support for Israel, Huckabee said that people wonder why he supports Israel as an evangelical. “People can be Jewish without having a relationship with Christianity but people can’t be Christians without a connection to Judaism,” he stressed. “Our spiritual roots” are in the Bible, in Judaism. “Every Christian believes and every Christian understands—that Israel is G-d’s Chosen Land, and we recognize that and respect it and understand that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed.”
Huckabee pointed out that his first visit to Israel was in 1973 after the Yom Kippur War. He has visited many times since, including to the Gush Katif Museum in 2009 and recently to Yad Vashem, calling them vital places for all government leaders to visit and learn from. He questioned why America is giving $250,000,000 and weapons to Egypt, a country rife with anti-Semitism, the judgment of leaders who make decisions against the good of Israel, the Arabs not acknowledging Israel’s right to exist and the importance of Israel’s true borders. “If our President makes the absurd suggestion that Israel should go back to the Pre ‘67 borders, I’m thinking “Well, if they are going to roll back, let’s just roll all the way back to Abraham and let’s let the borders be the borders that originally were established which goes as far back as we can go!”
He also condemned the president for demanding that Israel stop building bedrooms for their children in their own land instead of demanding that the “Iranians stop building bombs pointing at Israel and the rest of the free world!” He noted that Israel wants true peace and built the security wall to successfully protect its people from those who “strap bombs to their bellies and board a bus and kill innocent children and citizens.” No one would tolerate even one rocket fired into their communities, he said, yet Israel was expected to accept thousands of Katyushas shot into their schools, homes, hospitals, and synagogues.
Other speakers included Rabbi Jacobson, who emphasized that “the world will only come to respect the Jewish people if the Jewish people respect themselves, only when Israel cherishes itself, believes in itself and respects itself….(they) uprooted its most idealistic men, women and children”…that “Jews can live anywhere except in Eretz Yisrael” and that “the Oslo agreement made peace synonymous with death.”
Rabbi Algaze recalled that “Gush Katif was a Gan Eden (paradise) that was destroyed’ because of a “virus, the apathy of the Jewish people.” “People who loved the Land were not there for Gush Katif,” said Hikind. “Does anyone not realize today what a terrible tragedy that was? You gotta be involved, you gotta do the right thing.”