Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Here's the full article

It's actually pretty nice, though a bit fluffy. I should be relieved though -- reporters can do pretty much anything they want with the material that they collect, and it wouldn't have taken a genius to make us immigrants to Tzfat look like a bunch of militaristic psychopaths. But we came off as fairly...dare I say it? Normal?

Don't know how long the article will stay up on-line, but I'm going to paste it here below and put up the photos that they showed of our family, since it's a good bet that the webpage won't be there for long.

Gallery: Israel now home for some Metro Detroit Jews
The sunset begins the celebration of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, in Safed on Sept. 22. For 34 days, this city was under fire. Transplanted Michiganians found themselves in the middle of a war. See full image
Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
Laurie Rappeport, who grew up in Oak Park, prepares food in Safed, Israel, last month. Despite the July-August bombings, she says she "came here for a reason. I feel very connected to America, but this is what I've chosen." See full image

SAFED, Israel -- On the first day, the rockets set fire to the mountain. And as the residents of this hill town watched the forest burn across the valley on Mount Meron, even then they didn't know quite what was coming.
It was only the next evening, as the men were walking home from the synagogues, that the first rockets rained down on the town and the people of Safed understood they were in a war.
Hundreds of Americans, many of them from Michigan, have come over the decades to Safed, a quiet, artsy town of about 20,000 in the mountains between the Sea of Galilee and the Lebanese border that one resident describes as "the Berkeley of Israel."
One day in July, it became a battle zone.
It's an Israeli jet fighter, thought Laurie Rappeport, a mother of five who grew up in Oak Park. She had grown accustomed to Israeli air force jets flying low so close to Lebanon.
Then came the explosion, and the sprint to the front porch, and the sight of her youngest daughter, stunned but unharmed, tossed from the tree she was climbing by the blast of a Hezbollah rocket.
Just a day before, the Lebanese militant group had ambushed an Israeli army patrol, killing several soldiers and kidnapping two.
"It was such a shock," Rappeport said. "In the past when there's been a war, there's been this period of people yelling back and forth at one another, and then the hostilities start. Here, it was Wednesday afternoon when they kidnapped the soldiers, and Thursday we had rockets.
"It's a strange feeling, not knowing what to do and having to make all these decisions."
For 34 days in July and August, nearly 4,000 rockets fired by the militant group Hezbollah fell on northern Israel, hundreds of them in and around Safed. Transplanted Michiganians found themselves in the middle of a war.
The artist
The rockets had shattered the peace Avraham Loewenthal came to Safed to find.
Slender, quiet and meditative, the Southfield native found himself sprinting to the sound of sirens, worried about his wife, Rebecca, and their baby daughter.
"There were ambulances in the street," he said. One man, he learned, had been killed just up the hillside. "We didn't know if we should stay or leave." Soon, though, the choice became clear: protect their young daughter.
"We grabbed a couple things, as many friends as we could, and basically we took off under rocket fire," he said.
The art gallery Loewenthal left behind links the two disciplines for which Safed has become famous: the Jewish mysticism known as kabbalah, and art.
The first has been centered here for more than 500 years, when Jews fleeing persecution in Spain settled here -- including some of the most respected scholars of kabballah.
The second dates to the aftermath of Israel's war of independence in 1948. The Arabs of what had been a mixed Jewish-Arab city fled or were forced out. Israel's fledgling government took control of Safed's Muslim quarter. Painters, sculptors and other artists took advantage of the cheap real estate and made Safed Israel's art capital.
Loewenthal was a young art student more than 13 years ago, thinking of beginning a study of Eastern meditation practices, when he learned a similar discipline existed in his own religion. He wanted to study kabbalah, and decided Safed was the perfect place to do so.
His art focuses on his religious study: One set of works is an abstract portrayal of the notes traditionally played on the shofar, a ram's horn, at Rosh Hashana.
He came to Safed for peace, he said.
"I don't know so much about politics. I just want peace for everybody. We've come here hoping to spread peace, and here people are throwing rockets down on you."
The scholar
Avraham Heller is one of Judaism's meticulous men.
He spends long hours carefully crafting mezuzahs -- scrolls of Hebrew calligraphy inscribed with passages of Scripture, which are rolled up and encased in a small box to be placed on a Jewish home's doorpost. The work is exacting -- even minor mistakes can require him to start again from the beginning.
This work -- and careful religious scholarship -- are what brought him to Safed in 1990. His family comes from Detroit, but he grew up in Petoskey, along the northern Lake Michigan shore.
"I told him, 'It's so friendly here,' said his wife, Susan, a writer. " 'You've finally found your Jewish Petoskey.' "
When the Hezbollah attacks began, the decision to leave was especially difficult. There was a strong urge to stay and not be frightened from their homes, an urge encouraged by their rabbi. But their six children, from 11 months to 19 years old, were at risk, as was his 86-year-old mother.
After a difficult, sleepless night, the decision came: We're leaving for Netanya, near Tel Aviv. As they drove down the hillside out of town, hundreds of people lined the streets, waiting for evacuation buses.
For a man who describes himself as a onetime "leftist pacifist," the temporary displacement has been political as well.
"Our situation has definitely changed," he said. "Before, there was this lack of belief in reality. This was basically a massive terrorist attack. We have neighbor countries who are absolutely hostile to us."
The ones who stayed
As the rockets fell, Ted and Moreen Greenberg, and whomever else could fit, sheltered in the basement of their small Internet cafe in the city's artists quarter. With business in Safed dried up, Ted during the conflict landed a job with a telecommunications company in Jerusalem. But Moreen, who grew up in the Detroit area, stayed behind.
She was returning by bus with a friend from a nearby town when the rockets started to fall. The fear and confusion she saw made no sense.
"You wonder, 'What are all these people doing in the shelters?' " she said. "Until you get your first taste of it."
Weeks after the attacks, they're closing up the Internet shop. Ted's job has become full time, and they're setting up an apartment in Jerusalem. But they plan to keep their house in Safed, where Moreen works as an art instructor.
"It's our home," she said.
Nor will Sarah Miriam leave, though she is not sure why she remained throughout the war.
At one point, the Highland Park native was ready to get on a bus out of Safed. A friend had invited her to Spain. Get out of there, said the friend. And yet she didn't get on the bus.
It certainly wasn't for fun. Safed was nearly a ghost town. She vividly recalls arriving back home one day from the store, sweating from the hurry and the stress. She closed the door, she says, collapsed face-down on the concrete floor, and wept.
She almost decided not to speak to a reporter at all -- she has told very few people, she says, of her feelings. Eventually, she decided to talk, if only in the hope that what Safed has endured might bring someone who reads it closer to their Jewish roots.
"Light the (sabbath) candles," she said. "It's important. It's who you are. Light the candles."

1 comment:

Travis said...

Of all the places I have been, Tsfat is one of my favorites. I love the art galleries, the old synagogues, the Tsfat Nerot candle shop, and particularly the little walking-shopping street that connects all of these. Forgive me for having been a tourist, and not knowing any other parts of the town, or understanding what it must be like to live there.

That said, I hope that you and yours are alright, and that the town, on the whole, is alright. I have seen a number of reports over the course of the summer saying that Tsfat was the target of rocket attacks, but none giving any sort of details as to the degree of destruction.

I hope to be able to visit again soon, and I hope that one of our most beautiful, historical, and spiritual cities has not been irreparably wounded.


(from New York, currently living in London)