Kassam rockets at the Sderot Police Department

Gaza Border

Courage and Determination
along Israel's Gaza Border

This website is dedicated to those individuals who live in the Sderot, Israel, area, and are within range of the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza in the past several years.

 

Rachel Bar-On
One of the Founders of Kibbutz Nir-Am

Rachel Bar-On's eyes shine with a brightness of someone with a great love for life.  "Almost 84," as she describes her age, she seems eager and alert as we begin our conversation. I've asked Rachel's granddaughter Mayan to provide translation, although Rachel speaks some English, along with several other languages.

"Tell me about what it was like when you first came here," I begin.

"When we came here in 1943 we had a desire to build a new country.  From Gadera to here there was nothing but sand...  a few Arab houses, but no water, no electricity, nothing.  Klum (nothing), klum, just a desert, just sand.  In the start we came with just men, and young women who were not married, no children.  That's the only people who came here."

Rachel Bar-On
Rachel Bar-On holds up a photo showing
some members of her family.

Rachel first came to what was then the British mandate of Palestine in 1941, and was sent to Deganya Bet, a kibbutz on the south shore of the Kinneret, or the Sea of Galilee, as it is more widely known.  She left Czechoslovakia when her parents purchased Hungarian papers for her to travel, since her Czech nationality would have prevented her from entering the British-controlled area.  When I ask about her parents she says simply, "They were killed by the Germans."  Her eyes dim for a moment and I do not pursue this question.

At Deganya Bet she worked half the day and studied half the day, learning Hebrew.  "There were Russians and Romanians and people from other countries," she says.  "Then twenty-two of us came here."  They had been at Deganya Bet for two years, and moved to what is now Kibbutz Nir-Am.  I asked her about the difficulties.

"In the first years we had no water," she says.  "No water, no electricity.  We first built warehouses where we could store what we raised on the farm, and we slept in the warehouses.  Then the roofs would blow off and we would sleep in the rain." 

Local Arabs helped them, she says, "they would bring us eggs and milk at times, because they saw that we had nothing." Relations then were good. She speaks fondly of Abdulla, a local Arab who wanted to buy her. Yanti, who lived on the kibbutz, was the negotiator, but nothing was agreed upon, since Rachel knew Abdulla was partly joking with her. Later when Abdulla moved to Gaza he named his daughter Rachel in her honor.

Some of her fondest memories are the time they got water and electricity on the kibbutz.  "That was a big change for us," she says.

After the war for Israel's independence in 1948, most of the local Arabs moved to Gaza.  "We had a war, and we won," says Rachel. When I asked if there was still communication with those she knew then, she said no.  "There is so much hatred," she says.  There was a kibbutz nearby where "the Arabs used to kill and murder and it was very dangerous."  But later her son Uzi would roam the area, going into Gaza in the days before there were fences and marked boundaries, and "he made many friends, and still has those friends," she says.

Rachel Bar-On and granddaughter
Rachel Bar-On and one of her granddaughters
stand next to a wall of family photos.

She met Asher, the man who would be her husband, here. Asher came to Israel at the age of 17, having escaped the Nazis in Russia and made his way, mostly on foot, to Israel. Asher and Rachel were among the small group of original settlers. Neither ever saw their parents again.

Rachel has 3 children: Erela, a daughter and her eldest; lives in Jerusalem with her husband Giora (whose father was the famous Israeli artist Schtreichmann) and two children, Eran and Ann; Micha, who is her second child, lives in Kfar Yona with his second wife Ilana, they have two children, Shani and Gabi from Micha's first marriage. Rachel's youngest son, Uzi, lives on Kibbutz Nir-Am with his wife Marcell and their four children, Kelly, Dana, Mayan, and Gabi.

I ask Rachel what she does when the kassam rockets are launched and the "color red" alarm is given.  "I just sit down," she says. "Or I stay sitting where I am.  And I worry about my grandchildren."  Were the other times worse, the wars Israel has had?  "No, those times were bad, but not as hard as now."  I asked how much this had to do with her worrying about her family.  "I love having them near," she says, "but I hate the bombs.  We don't talk about it but I know it is hard for them."

Only one other member of the kibbutz has grandchildren living here.  "I am the youngest of my generation," Rachel says.

As Rachel Bar-On drives around Kibbutz Nir-Am on her three-wheeled scooter, she rolls across land that her generation built from the desert, and which her children and grandchildren continue to fight to hold.

Richard Smith and Mayan Bar-On, February 2008