More than 200 survivors of Arab villages, Jewish women and children rescued by Yad L'Achim, spent an uplifting Shabbos in Tzafria designed to help them heal the wounds of captivity and prepare for the upcoming High Holydays. The theme of the event: From Awful Days to Days of Awe.
The Shabbos was run by Yad L'Achim's counter-assimilation department, which was bolstered by a team of Rabbis, social workers, child-care experts and trained workshop-leaders to meet all the survivors' spiritual and material needs.
Early Friday, chartered buses were dispatched to points all across Israel to pick up the women and children from their homes and bring them to Tzafria, in the center of the country. The women, most of whom have attended previous Yad L'Achim seminars, were thrilled to reunite with staffers and fellow survivors.
After a Friday that was packed with activities for the mothers and their children, separately, the women assembled in the dining room to light Shabbos candles. Some had taken upon themselves a commitment to light candles every week, using candlesticks provided by Yad L'Achim. Others were lighting for the first time. The moment was fraught with emotion, as these women – who until recently were living in Arab villages - covered their eyes and poured their hearts out in prayer for their children.
After the Friday night meal, a sumptuous banquet that included heartfelt zemiros, the mothers met with Yad L'Achim rabbis for a symposium on questions of faith and practice of mitzvos that didn't wrap up until 2 a.m. Afterward, many of the survivors continued talking among themselves until the first signs of daybreak.
It was an opportunity for "old timer" survivors to share their experiences and insights with those who only recently rejoined the Jewish people. It was also a chance for the newly redeemed to open up about what they were experiencing with the only women who could really understand them.
During Shabbos, an "Amen" meal was organized for the children, whereby they gathered around a table loaded with sweets, fruits and juices. Each child in turn took a treat and recited the appropriate brachah, which was answered by a resounding "Amen" from his friends. How enthralling to witness children who until recently didn't know they were Jewish, now reciting brachos with such ease. The credit, in large part, goes to the Yad L'Achim's mentors who have been assigned to the children to spend time with them informally every week and catch them up on what they missed growing up in Arab villages.
It brought tears to the eyes to see these children, with kippas on their heads and tzitzis sticking out of their pants, marching arm in arm to the shul for davening.
The morning Shabbos meal, once again a sumptuous banquet that pleased both the eye and the palate, included treats for the children and lots of joy and singing. Throughout the meals, women from Yad L'Achim's staff sat next to the rescued women and had the opportunity to give individual attention, listening to what they're going through and offering support and advice.
Shabbos was filled with fascinating workshops for the women and activities for the children. After havdallah, the children engaged in a pita-baking activity, while the mothers held a concluding session addressed by Yad L'Achim's chairman Harav Yisrael Lifschitz.
He shared the story of Itzhak Perlman, the internationally acclaimed violinist, who performed a concert at Avery Fisher Hall in New York with just three strings. At the conclusion of his performance, which brought the audience to its feet in thunderous applause, Perlman said: "You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left."
Rabbi Lifschitz concluded: "Everyone must use the tools they were given by Hashem to play a magnificent tune. It is a tune of authentic, happy Jewish life."
At the end of the session, a shofar was sounded and Rav Lifschitz wished all of the women a kesiva v'chasima tova, that they be inscribed for a good year.
The evening drew to a close with each of the survivors taking upon themselves some kind of commitment and a lottery that provided prizes to everyone
In the final moments, as the women were standing with their bags near the buses, you could see how hard it was for them to leave. The magical Shabbos had provided them with much-needed support from Yad L'Achim staffers and fellow survivors, with whom they promised to, remain in touch.
The children, for their part, had just one request: We want another Shabbos like this one!