||Feb 1, 2007
This testimonial novel written in historic fiction format closely follows the story of an Israeli family living in Gush Katif, Israel (Gaza Strip)and their struggle to keep their home and land. Most of the scenes in the book really happened and vividly reflect the thoughts and feelings of the people who lived there during those difficult times.
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My Voice in Israel
GRAINS OF SAND: THE FALL OF NEVE DEKALIM is a compelling tale where the hearts and souls of Gush Katif, Israel residents are revealed through the eyes of its young author Shifra Shomron, herself a former resident of Gush Katif and now a resident of the Caravilla Refugee Site in Nitzan, Israel. The book helps the reader understand the feelings of the Israeli residents leading up to unilateral Israeli withdrawal, Disengagement Plan, through the eyes of one who has lived through it.
I started writing my book, Grains of Sand:The Fall of Neve Dekalim, in Nissan 5765 (April 2005) and finished a year later in Nissan 5766 (April 2006). The tragic events regarding Gush Katif and their bitter aftermath burned in me, forcing me to take pen in hand and spill the burning lava of my thoughts and emotions onto white paper. And as I wrote, my thoughts took form and shape; and the book became richer and the plot clearer.
My book is not about terror. In Gush Katif we lived in the shadow of terror for five years, Intifada II. We experienced stone throwing on the road, shooting on the road, Arab infiltrations, road side bombs, knife stabbings, more than 5,000 mortars and Kassam rockets; yet this book is not about terror. I do not mean to belittle neither the Arab attacks nor the pain of Jews wounded and/or killed, yet in writing a book about Gush Katif I do not focus on terror because the people of the Gush did not let it affect their lives! It seems remarkable, incredible, even impossible, but it is true. Mortars fell as children walked to school, as children walked home and as children played outside with friends. Some people were injured some were even killed by different forms of Arab attacks. But even the mortars did not fall every day and so we continued to go to school, to go to the beach, to go on walks and go about our daily errands about town. We did not ignore the terror; we could not ignore the terror, but we did not allow it to disrupt our lives.
My book is about a Gush Katif family. Much of the dialogue is true. Most of the events are true. The portrayal of any characters in this book is not meant to resemble any living person. The closeness, the harmony, the sweetness of this family as well as the sorrow, the worries and the pain are true to life; true to my life.
I can only hope that my book be a faithful portrayal of the years before and during Disengagement. Many threads are woven into my book: some are dark and some bright, some thick and some thin, some dull and some that sparkle. Dear reader, gaze carefully at my tapestry, stare with wonder and respect, touch gently and gingerly. Because it tells the tale of a vibrant community now smashed to gray piles of rubble. Because it tells the tale of people whose flowers were picked, whose saplings were hewn and, in the end, whose roots were cruelly ripped out.
Because Neve Dekalim has fallen.
Grains Of Sand: The Fall Of Neve Dekalim
The Jewish Press
July 4, 2007
By DVORA WAYSMAN
Title: Grains Of Sand: The Fall Of Neve Dekalim Author: Shifra Shomron Publisher: Mazo Publishers
This is a book we all need to read because of its message. Even though it’s the debut novel of a young writer (she was 18 at the time) and perhaps more for a teenage reader, the heartbreak of the destruction of a 30-year dream, that was destroyed in a few moments, is guaranteed to pull at your heartstrings.
Something unbelievable happened and, if we don’t learn the lesson, this story threatens to be repeated in many more Israeli communities where Jews have settled and forged meaningful lives. The danger may come, not from our enemies, but from our own governmental decision-makers.
The author was born in America, and lived with her family in Neve Dekalim until 1992 until the tragic Disengagement in 2005. She loved her life in Gush Katif, where she spent her childhood and teenage years with her parents and six siblings.
The story is written as a novel, with a fictitious family comprised of parents Yoram and Miri Yefet and their two teenage children, Efrat and Yair. The father is a farmer inspecting dunams of vegetables to ensure they are bug-free. At first their lives and concerns are typical of Israelis all over the country, even though the firing of mortars and rockets is often a nightly occurrence.
We learn of intermittent tragedies such as the murder of a beloved teacher, Miriam, in a terrorist attack. Sadly such events have become commonplace in Israel as the Intifada shattered lives and families that can never be whole again.
The community’s foreboding strengthened when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave a speech at the Herzliya Conference. He stated clearly that he intended – if he didn’t find an Arab partner – to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and part of Northern Samaria (Shomron) even though it meant dismantling settlements.
Thus the residents of Gush Katif realized that their only hope was to raise national awareness of what their communities actually were and the kind of idealistic people who lived there. They decided to mount a massive campaign to convince citizens to vote against Sharon’s plan should it come to a national referendum.
The Yefet family began by choosing a city and going door-to-door to talk with any residents who were willing to listen. Some were. Many, however,felt that “the settlers” were the stumbling block to peace and would be no loss if disengagement should eventuate.
These were usually ones who did not know that Gush Katif boasted 21 thriving communities of 8,000 settlers, religious and secular, Israeli-born, as well as immigrants. They lived there despite 11,000 terror attacks and 4,000 mortars and Kassam rockets. In a short time, the entire Gush joined the “Face to Face” campaign, handing out pamphlets, vegetables that were grown there, and CDs of their beautiful, endangered communities. Many strategies were originally employed, including wearing an orange star. However, public pressure caused an end to this campaign with its echoes of the Holocaust.
Much of the book is written in the form of Effie’s diary entries, which I suppose are typical of the way a young girl might record her thoughts. There are also extracts translated from various articles in the Hebrew press in 2005, as the Disengagement built towards reality, with mass demonstrations, blocking of roads, civil disobedience and prayer vigils, which we know with hindsight, were all in vain. Efforts were made to try to convince soldiers to disobey orders, which presented a moral predicament for them.
In the final pages, you will find your cheeks wet with tears as you finish the book – fiction that so tragically became fact. Read it – and remember!
The book is available from Mazo Publishers, P.O.B. 36084 Jerusalem 91360 Israel; or firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: Israel 054 7294 565 USA: 1 815 301 3559 .
Dvora Waysman is the author of 10 books, including Esther – A Jerusalem Love Story; The Pomegranate Pendant and its new sequel: The Seeds of the Pomegranate also available from Mazo Publishers. She can be reached at: email@example.com
Sifting through the Sand
A Review of Grains Of Sand: The Fall Of Neve Dekalim
May 20, 2007
By ROSALLY SALTSMAN
We are approaching the two-year anniversary of the tragedy of the Disengagement and the exile of the residents of Gush Katif from their beautiful communities. Gush Katif became a political movement and it's easy to forget that we are dealing with idealistic families who had settled the Gush and were uprooted along with the acacia trees. The battle was lost and has faded into the bittersweet and turbulent history of the fledgling Jewish State in its ancient land.
Shifra Shomron has written a book, part personal diary, part historical third person narrative, about the transformation of Gush Katif from a Garden of Eden existence to a defensive outpost and finally to the site of the Jewish nation's newest exile. Peppered with Biblical quotes, it reminds us that being exiled from our land is not a new story.
Shifra describes the last years in Gush Katif for the Yefet family, Yoram, Miri, Efrat and Yair and their dogs tending their garden, wandering on the sand dunes, a religious family who are a microcosm of the Gush and the archetypal wandering Jews.
There is no one who could read this book and not be moved. It is an important book as a testimony to the short-lived life of the settlers' dream and the not yet fulfilled vision of the final redemption. It is the chronicle of a teenage girl who had grown up in the idyllic world of the Gush who must leave it and her childhood behind both literally and figuratively. It is lyrically, poetically and innocently recounted.
The Gush has returned to the dunes from which it sprang up but, as the parents of our heroine remind us, we will one day, God willing return to build upon the rubble of Neve Dekalim, the palm tree oasis which was one of the flourishing plantations of promised redemption.
On this, the anniversary of the fall of Neve Dekalim, Katif, and the other communities that are no more, we must remember the many residents who have not yet managed to put down new roots, the yet unemployed, the youth still struggling with shattered dreams and disillusionment, the need to petition the Israeli Government for solutions and to remind them that the sacrifice of these people did not bring the hoped-for peace and the need for all of us to still pray for the final redemption.
Shifra Shomron is now studying to be an English and Bible teacher at an accelerated college program in Israel. Her parents have still been unable to find work. The family lives in one of the caravillas set up by the government before the expulsion. The book is available through at Amazon.com, and select bookstores in Jerusalem and Barnes and Noble in the USA.
Rosally Saltsman, originally from Montreal, works as a freelance writer in Israel where she hopes for a better understanding and harmony among Jews everywhere. See her books online http://www.shemayisrael.com/publicat/rosallysaltsman/
Continuing, but not moving on
The Jerusalem Post
Aug 16, 2007
By ORIT ARFA
After the first few minutes of speaking with Shifra Shomron over the phone, the similarities between this young author and the heroine of her debut novel, Grains of Sand: The Fall of Neve Dekalim, become apparent. She's busy studying for finals, and she asks to hold the interview when they are over.
Shomron, 20, like her heroine Efrat Yefet, is studious, industrious, a "star student" and something of a bookworm. One probably has to be to publish a novel at 19. She is strikingly poised, mature and idealistic for her age. At times she passionately gives facts and information about her community like a caring yet strict teacher - which is a good thing, since her ambition is to impact society as a high-school English teacher.
Grains of Sand is the first novel to emerge out of the rubble of Gush Katif, and it is through teenaged Efrat Yefet that Shomron allows readers to become familiar with life there in the years leading up to disengagement.
As I step into the Shomron family caravilla (prefab housing unit) in Nitzan, more similarities between the author and Efrat begin to surface. A golden retriever rushes to the door and happily greets me as another fluffy-haired mutt looks on. The Shomrons' three dogs are characters in the novel, and pictures of them illustrate the book.
The portrait of an animal-loving Gush Katif family of four fits with another one of Shomron's literary purposes, to break stereotypes of settlers.
"I wanted my family to be different, to show the heterogeneous nature of the settlers that society often overlooks," explains the petite brunette in her small kitchen/dining room.
Shomron proves to be an articulate, knowledgeable spokeswoman for her community - thanks in part to her work as an English translator for Friends of Gush Katif - but she also wrote the novel, which she began in April 2005, as a means of therapy.
"Writing my book was incredibly therapeutic for me and it was probably one of the reasons I was able to finish it so quickly - to finish writing my book in one year. It was my way of dealing with things," she says
Shomron's actual family is much bigger than the family she portrayed. Shomron is the second of seven children. Her family made aliya from Phoenix, Arizona, in 1992 and discovered Neveh Dekalim during their search for a religious-Zionist community.
"It turned out to be a wonderful community. They were incredibly warm and they had a family adopt us and provide us with basic services," says Shomron, her mother looking on proudly. Her father, like the patriarch in the novel, worked as a mashgiah (kashrut supervisor) at a farm in the settlement of Bedolah. He is currently unemployed, but fortunately, Shomron says, he has many hobbies, like taking care of the dogs and gardening.
Unemployment is still very high in Nitzan. "They hang around the house all day with no reason to get up in the morning," she notes.
Her mother instilled within her a love of reading and a sense of Jewish pride and destiny. Her parents named her Shifra after the biblical midwife who defied Pharaoh's orders to kill Jewish male newborns.
"My parents always hoped I would have the ability to stand up for what I believe is right, and Shifra stands up to Pharaoh and goes against him. It's actually an amazing biblical story. And I think that we, the people of Gush Katif, had to experience that - standing up to the government, the courts and the media to a certain extent - holding up our truth and what we believed was our right to stay in Gush Katif."
In their tiny backyard, another scene from the book comes to life. Her 17-year-old brother is reading a book his sister lent him: the diary of Mordechai Tennenbaum, who headed the Jewish resistance in the Bialystok ghetto. In the novel Efrat reads pro-Zionist books and regularly shares with her brother Yair her admiration for feisty Zionist Jews.
In addition to books about proud Jewish identity, Shomron counts among her favorites the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien and P.G. Wodehouse, but she's not too fond of Anne Frank.
"I wasn't able to identify with Anne Frank at all. She was from an assimilated family, and even with the Holocaust going on around her, she was interested in becoming a Dutch citizen, and she was overjoyed when her father gave her the New Testament to read. I read that and think: My goodness! Doesn't she realize she's part of the Jewish nation?"
The destruction of Gush Katif gave her the impetus to finish the book and become the type of author she admired.
Grains of Sand reads like a young adult novel with a religious orientation, but it is intended for a diverse readership that seeks to deepen its understanding of Gush Katif life. The straightforward, third-person narrative, interspersed with diary entries by the heroine, takes the reader through the ups and downs of the community: the idyllic, happy, tight-knit religious home and community life of the residents; the terrifying intifada that claimed many Jewish lives there; the struggle to enjoy life amid the constant threat of mortar attacks; and the fears and doubts of the community in the year leading up to disengagement.
The novel ends right before the actual evacuation, and the reader doesn't get to witness the Yefets being taken from their home by the IDF.
"I didn't want to focus on the actual disengagement because we all saw that on television," Shomron says. "I wanted to focus on what we didn't know." Some people have told her that the cliffhanger ending is a bit "cruel," but that's how she described disengagement. "It ended very quickly and abruptly. In one week Gush Katif was destroyed and we were all scattered."
She plans to write a sequel once they are settled in a permanent home, a process which can take up to five years, but for now, she says, the resolution of the disengagement is still painfully unclear.
"It's still very difficult. You always compare. You can't help but compare. There's not one thing for which I can say: This is as good as it was in Gush Katif."
Aspects of the possible sequel are already apparent. The family is squeezed into the 90 square-meter caravilla. Walls are chipping. Boxes are still unpacked in the living room. Above them are family portraits - the brit mila of her youngest brother, the siblings decorating the succa - pictures that remind them of their happy times. On a counter nearby are some "souvenirs" mortar shells that fell in Gush Katif.
"Heaven forbid a mortar would land here," Shomron says. The prefab structures would collapse and there are no bomb shelters in the area, she warns.
"It's been two years and Gush Katif is never out of our mind, and as time goes on, you would think we'd be able to move on, but because we are stuck in caravan sites which are temporary, we can't move on."
Shomron keeps herself busy with her studies at Givat Washington and working with children in her community to help them catch up with their studies. Grains of Sand has helped her cope with her loss, but the internal unrest and longing endures.
"I had a hope that when I wrote everything down, I'd be able to put it behind me and move on. That was an illusion because after writing my book and even publishing it, Gush Katif continues to live with me."
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