Atufim and World Mizrachi: Rediscovering Hope in the Gaza Envelope’s Lesser-Known Communities

BY INBAR GABAY ZADA

In the heart of the Gaza Envelope, amidst the rugged terrain of the Negev, a narrative of resilience, unity, and triumph is unfolding. The communities of Shokeda, Tzochar, and Talmei Eliyahu, generally overlooked by the media and lacking in supplemental security funding from the government, radiate hope in a region well within the line of fire. 

Under the visionary leadership of Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon, Sulamot has embarked on a journey to adopt eight communities affected by the terror of October 7th through Project Atufim. This project, in partnership with World Mizrachi, not only sheds light on the challenges faced by these communities but has also brought incredible moments of joy as our joint effort begins to yield fruit and people slowly begin to return home. This is their story. 

Shokeda: A Story of Resilience

Surrounded by eucalyptus forests and anemone fields, Shokeda stands as a testament to its people’s unwavering spirit. On October 7, as terrorists targeted neighboring kibbutzim, Shokeda faced a harsh reality: they were simply not prepared for such a crisis. Already contending with regular rocket fire, the community’s trauma deepened. Its primarily young families endured a hasty evacuation and four months of displacement as their loved ones served on the frontline.

In response to this crisis, Sulamot acted swiftly, recognizing the need for leadership and support. Through thorough assessment, an executive director was appointed to spearhead rebuilding efforts and tend to the community’s emotional well-being. Sulamot’s collaboration with Shokeda has guided the recovery journey, implementing long-term rehabilitation plans. 

The return of Shokeda’s residents in mid-February marked a poignant milestone. Amongst the familiar trees, children played and neighbors reunited, brimming with joy and relief. Reflecting on the journey of the past few months, Rabbi Eli Taragin, Sulamot’s CEO, was invited to plant a tree – a symbol of growth, resilience, and enduring partnership. As the saplings take root, it will serve as a poignant reminder of Shokeda’s strength and the transformative power of hope.

Rabbi Eli Taragin, CEO of Sulamot, joins the children of Shokeda in planting tree upon their return home in February 2024.

The joyous Hachnasat Sefer Torah celebration in Shokeda marks their first return home since October 7th.

Tzochar: Strength Amidst Vulnerability

Though Tzochar narrowly avoided a direct attack on October 7, the community suffered the tragic loss of three of its members who died while defending their main junction during the assault. With insufficient protective measures and a lingering sense of fear, residents were adamant about not returning home without security and stability. Unfortunately, government funding was denied due to the town’s location – just 200 meters shy of the bureaucratic line determining eligibility for assistance.

In a remarkable turn of events, Sulamot’s relentless fundraising efforts have yielded a triumph: by mid-February, half of Tzochar’s community returned home. 

Thanks to the generous support of Jewish communities and individuals across the world, Sulamot secured vital funds for a comprehensive security camera system, transforming Tzochar’s streets into places of safety rather than fear. This remarkable achievement not only signals a pivotal moment in Tzochar’s journey but also underscores the profound impact of the collective action of Jewish communities that partnered with Sulamot’s Atufim project in the face of terror.

The entrance to Tzochar, where community members tragically lost their lives to terrorism on October 7th.

Talmei Eliyahu: Beyond the Headlines

Despite its significance, 9 out of 10 people have never heard of Talmei Eliyahu. Yet the lives of several hundred individuals hang in the balance as the future of the northwestern Negev moshav is determined.

On that fateful October morning, members of the emergency squad stood as guardians, creating a human wall to deter terrorists from infiltrating on October 7th, bravely defending their home from terror. Yet Talmei Eliyahu faces an uphill battle. Adjacent to Tzochar, it also falls short of government security funding, even as it is well within the line of rocket fire.

Undeterred, Sulamot is addressing critical security gaps and nurturing the dreams of Talmei Eliyahu’s residents. Through collaborative efforts and unwavering determination, the community is reclaiming its sense of security and unity.

Without our support, an entire Jewish community in southern Israel may be abandoned, depriving its residents of the chance to return home – something we are determined to prevent.

Tomato picking in Talmei Eliyahu resumes after the events of October 7th.

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” 

Sulamot founder Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon says that in order to rebuild shattered communities, young people must play a pivotal role. “These families are in trauma and they need to want to return. If the children feel excited about their return, the parents will too. Rather than focusing on fear, we want these young families to focus on a hopeful future.”

Echoing this sentiment, CEO Rabbi Eli Taragin elaborates on Sulamot’s holistic approach: “Through Project Atufim, we’re not merely focusing on security; we’re also leading the development of parks and promenades in Tzochar and Talmei Eliyahu. Each playground area is designed to assure children that they are safe and strong.”

Fulfilling Queen Esther’s poignant cry for action, “Go, gather together all the Jews” (Esther 4:16), individuals, alongside Jewish communities from around the globe, have rallied to support the Atufim initiative, ushering in a new dawn of hope and renewal for these lesser-known communities. 

“The eight communities we’re partnering with are emerging stronger, united in their determination to overcome adversity.” Rabbi Taragin further emphasizes, “Every initiative that Project Atufim advances, whether it involves physical spaces or programs enhancing emotional well-being, is meticulously crafted. Each endeavor represents empowerment, safety, and the enduring vitality of Am Yisrael.”

As blossoms of hope unfurl in the Gaza Envelope, a new chapter begins – one filled with promise, possibility, and the enduring spirit of Am Yisrael.

 

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

 

Inbar Gabay Zada is Director of Development at Sulamot.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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