Reserve Duty in Gush Katif - Rafiach Yam



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The Last Miluimnik

By Yonatan Sredni

I had never done anything 'historic' in my life, but this last week I believe I set 3 unintentional records in regards to the disengagement from Gush Katif.

I had just returned home a couple of days ago after 17 straight days doing guard duty as a reservist in Rafiach Yam, the southernmost settlement in Gush Katif. Rafiach Yam is a small settlement established in 1984 composed of 25 mostly secular families. As in other areas of Gush Katif, many of the residents earn their living through agriculture. Rafiach Yam, as its name indicates is located right next to Rafiach and the Mediterranean Sea and also lies near the Egyptian border and the famous Philadelphi Route.

As Rafiach Yam is not a religious settlement, we reservists didn't encounter any of the many obstacles that other settlements had to deal with. We didn't have any orange clad teens sneaking into the settlement and camping out on the lawns, we didn't have mass demonstrations against the disengagement plan, and in fact we didn't even have much press hanging around (they all bypassed us looking for the 'hot' stories in places like Neve Dekalim and Kfar Darom).

In fact, all the residents of Rafiach Yam seemed to be very pragmatic and planned to be long gone by the time the final deadline arrived to leave the Gaza Strip. Most, if not all, had already found other housing, in "Cara-villas" in Nitzan or elsewhere. Of course they all leave with a heavy heart, many of the residents have been there since the beginning, over 20 years, and for many of them this is the only home they have ever known.

And so it was on the Shabbat morning of August 6th, after what turned out to be the last Shabbat morning service in the small caravan synagogue of Rafiach Yam, I was invited to have Shabbat lunch with Shuki and Rachel Atias and their family. Shuki is known to all residents of Gush Katif as the school bus driver and Rachel is the ganenet (nursery school teacher) in the nearby settlement of Morag. Sure enough their children and grandchildren were there too, but over the course of the meal when all the talk was about disengagement and where and how they were going to move during the coming week, it became painfully obvious to me that I had become the last Shabbat guest (soldier or otherwise) of this family in their home in Rafiach Yam. After 20 years of hosting guests in this beautiful home overlooking the sand and the sea, I was the last person on their long guest list.

Three days later on Tuesday morning I went to pray by myself at the Rafiach Yam synagogue/caravan but I had to maneuver around boxes stuffed with siddurim and chumashim and other religious articles as all the shelves were now bare. As I put on my tefillin and took in the scene, Shuki appeared and quietly went about his business filling the remaining boxes with holy books. Now I realized that I was the last person who would ever pray in this synagogue.

As fate would have it, two days later, last Thursday, I was guarding at the main gate of the settlement in the late afternoon. For years and years, groups of miluimnikim (reservists) just like myself, had done 3 weeks stints of guard duty at Rafiach Yam and then would be replaced by another group of reservists. It was not so this time. In the early evening some young 18 year old soldiers performing regular mandatory service replaced me and my fellow reservists at the front gate of Rafiach Yam. Once again I had made the record books, I had become the last miluimnik to guard Rafiach Yam.

In 1999 my younger brother Yair and I went to a baseball game in San Francisco to watch our beloved Giants play. 1999 was the last year the Giants played in frigid, blustery Candlestick Park before they would move to their sunny, beautiful downtown ballpark in the heart of the city. All season the Giants promotions department hyped the move and the farewell season at 'the Stick'. Their longtime radio announcer Lon Simmons had a famous home run call "Tell It Goodbye" every time a ball would sail out of the yard, and that became the Giants slogan as well for their final season at Candlestick.

At the game we attended each fan got a large beach towel sponsored by Coca Cola and K Mart. The towel had a drawing of the outside of Candlestick in the background and in the foreground cartoon people celebrating and dancing in orange t-shirts (the Giant's team color) with the words "The Going-Away Party 1999" below it. Not one of the 40,000 Giants fans questioned the contents on the towel as we all knew well that the Giants were moving from a dump of a ballpark to a really great stadium, so why not celebrate.

I reached in my closet and took out that towel this week and thought about the people of Rafiach Yam. No going-away party for them. They would not be dancing and celebrating this week. They have already packed up their belongings and left their homes quietly before the deadline. Their future is unknown.

As we drove out of Rafiach Yam last Thursday afternoon, I took one last look back at the sand, and the sea, and the houses on the hill. "Tell it goodbye!"

from the September, 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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