Itai Levi, Chairman of Netiv HaAsara together with Young Israel of New Rochelle on an “Adopt a Community” tour of Netiv HaAsara with Sulamot.
Atufim and World Mizrachi: Rebuilding Lives, Embracing Evacuated Communities, and Paving the Path to Return Home
Living in distant hotels far from their homes and grappling with grief, the evacuees of communities from the Region of Revival (formerly Gaza Envelope) continue to face the stark reality of October 7th. In this interview, Rabbi Aron White spoke with community leaders from the Region of Revival about their experiences during the challenging first months in temporary accommodations. They also shed light on the transformative impact of the community-focused arm of the Atufim Project, led by founder Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon and a joint initiative of Sulamot, La’Ofek, and the World Mizrachi movement, which offers employment assistance for evacuated individuals and a glimmer of hope for the future of Israel’s southern communities.
Meet Itai Levi, Chairman of Netiv HaAsara:
Itai, take us back to those initial days when your community first arrived in the hotel?
Itai: Those initial days were the darkest our community has known. We were all reeling with profound loss. Within the confines of a hotel, we knew we needed something to connect us to our home but also to help us deal with the terrible atrocities we all experienced.
How did you first encounter the Sulamot team?
Itai: They just suddenly showed up. No one called them. They asked for nothing in return. These are true “Anshei Eretz Yisrael” who care about the future of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. They came with good will and an ability to make connections and make things happen. Sulamot gives me pride; they are connected to their roots in the Land and help us find the meaning we need to continue and return home to Netiv HaAsara.
How did they help create a memorial within the hotel?
Itai: We worked with Sulamot’s team to create a memorial within the hotel to honor the 20 souls murdered from 14 different families. Together, we crafted this special space with pictures, memorial candles, and Israeli flags. Sulamot blended heartfelt compassion with the professionalism demanded by this unfathomable situation and helped our community feel embraced.
As you plan for the future, what challenges does Netiv HaAsara face?
Itai: Netiv HaAsara faces a dual challenge. It’s a sobering reality that governmental support alone falls short, covering perhaps 50% of our needs at best. After this kind of catastrophe, it is imperative to find assistance from external sources, organizations, and compassionate individuals. The reconstruction of Netiv HaAsara hinges on this crucial support, without which the clock cannot be turned back to October 6th.
How has Sulamot helped bereaved families in Netiv HaAsara?
Itai: Sulamot has played a pivotal role in directly channeling funds to those bereaved families who lost loved ones on October 7th. The moshav endured the profound loss of 20 individuals from 14 different families, forever altering their lives and ours. Bureaucracy does not deal well with emergencies, but Sulamot does.
Why do you need the Netiv HaAsara Emergency Response Team? Doesn’t the IDF defend the moshav?
Itai: Netiv HaAsara’s Emergency Response Team is crucial to our survival. Our moshav is situated on the border fence with Gaza; our homes, kitchens, and kindergartens are situated in the direct line of fire. It’s imperative to recognize that both the IDF and the government are doing an excellent job, but they do not cover all security requirements – neither physically nor financially. To fortify our security components, we rely on support from private individuals and organizations. Our civilian response team needs weapons safes, armored cars, security cameras, and the funding needs to be raised from independent sources.
What message would you like to convey about the future of Netiv HaAsara?
Itai: I promise you this. We will return to the pathways of Netiv HaAsara, we will return and be strong and give strength to those who need it. But we need you, and we need Sulamot by our side. I have only gratitude for them and for you.
Organizing Emergency Resources, Logistical Challenges and Solutions: Meet Yaniv and Sisi Elbaz from Netiv HaAsara
Tell us about the challenges you have faced since being relocated to Kibbutz Ma’aleh HaChamisha’s Hotel?
Sisi: We received hundreds of donations of necessary items from people all over the world, but it needed to be organized or else no one would receive what they needed. My husband Yaniv and I set up this special place at the hotel, almost like a general store. There were hundreds of items, and so many people needed things. It was logistically overwhelming. I myself was emotionally overwhelmed, being evacuated and going through so much.
How did Sulamot’s team step in to assist?
Sisi: Sulamot’s team helped us create this space inside a hotel, making it a systematic process and breaking down each thing that we needed to do into stages so that we could meet the needs of everyone who came by the store. People were desperate. They needed diapers: now. Clothing: now. They also needed more serious things like glasses and medicine.
Threads of Strength, From Adversity to Empowering Apparel: Meet Yaniv and Anat from Kibbutz Zikim
How did you navigate the aftermath of the terrorist attacks?
Yaniv: Anat and I were relocated to the Yearim Hotel along with the rest of the kibbutz. We own an apparel printing business and were determined to continue to work even from the hallways of the hotel. We managed to bring our portable labeling machine from the kibbutz, transforming the hotel hallway into a makeshift workshop.
Sulamot’s task team, who were in the hotel every single day, suggested we use this as an opportunity for all of us to contribute to the healing process and to increase unity. The media was using this term “The Black Shabbat” and we decided it was time to do something empowering.
How did you work with Sulamot’s task team to bring this initiative to life?
Together, we created a concept of sweatshirts that proudly bear the message “October 7, 2023, Am Yisrael Chai” and “Together We Will Win.” October 7 symbolizes our survival and showcases our strength and resilience.
Was the initiative successful?
Yaniv: We distributed the sweatshirts to hundreds of displaced people in various hotels. While simultaneously offering my family a financial anchor, our goal was to infuse hope and unity into the hearts of those who had endured unimaginable loss and displacement – and it succeeded.
Together with Sulamot’s task team, Anat and I echoed Rav Rimon’s sentiment that “Am Yisrael is strong, and we need to be united to succeed.” The sweatshirt unity campaign stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of our people, and it is a privilege to have played a role in fostering hope and unity during these challenging times.
Tzochar’s Battle Before and After October 7th: Meet Yaniv Levi, Executive Director of Tzochar
What sets Tzochar apart from other communities in the Gaza border region?
Yaniv Levi: Tzochar is a yishuv kehilati, a community-based settlement, of 190 families and their livelihood is not dependent on agriculture. Unlike some of the other 32 communities in this region, even before October 7th, Tzochar lacked the financial strength and entrepreneurial initiatives needed for independent growth. We provide services for the other communities and kibbutzim in the region, but with no independent factories or initiatives. Before October 7, I was appointed by the regional council to help Tzochar overcome these obstacles and promote both community and financial resilience.
How has Tzochar’s situation changed post-October 7th?
Yaniv Levi: Today, we are fighting for Tzochar’s survival, especially after the government’s decision to place us just 200 meters beyond the security demarcation line for additional security funding. People are displaced, they are in trauma, and they can leave to Tel Aviv to relocate. They are scared to return to Tzochar. But this is exactly what Hamas wants, and it is our responsibility to make sure that every family feels safe enough to return home to Tzochar.
Why is the stability of the entire region at risk?
Yaniv Levi: If even one of the 32 communities in the Gaza border settlements is abandoned, it would be a blow to the entire region, playing into Hamas’ desires. Tzochar is the weakest link in the regional council. If Tzochar is not rebuilt and repopulated, this situation poses a serious threat to the stability of the entire region.
How does working with Sulamot impact Tzochar’s outlook?
Yaniv Levi: Sulamot, with its unwavering commitment, has become our lifeline, promising to work with us to ensure that every family can return to Tzochar. They decided to adopt us, offering support at a time when governmental authorities and agencies are not yet functioning optimally.
This organization has a heart; they deeply care about us. We gave them a long list of needs, and they didn’t balk. They gave us a warm feeling that we have a ‘father,’ someone to depend on. In the midst of the darkness, there is light. We are so glad and filled with pride that we are privileged to work with wonderful people like Rav Rimon, Rav Eli Taragin, and their team.
Join us as we rebuild lives and extend our embrace to eight evacuated southern communities: Netiv HaAsara, Tzochar, Holit, Zikim, Shokeda, Yachini, Talmei Eliyahu, and Kerem Shalom.
Your support is the cornerstone of change. Contribute to the Atufim Project, and play a vital role in revitalizing these communities: www.atufim.co.il/en