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Imagine - Life of Peace for Israeli Children

imagine2 Kiddies Corner Plea for Peace

Text and Photos by Lydia Aisenberg

Yelps of delight emanate from a score or more of young Israeli children as they gleefully climb up, over and under the inviting playground frames, swings and see-saws of the Lower Galilee Jezreel Valley kibbutz of Mishmar HaEmek (Guardian of the Valley in English.)

A small group of kindergarten staff sit on benches around a wooden table in the corner of the spacious play area, keeping a watchful eye on the boisterous children, all of whom were evacuated – as were their kindergarten staff - almost two months earlier from their Israel-Gaza border community of Nachal Oz. They had spent terrifying, long hours hiding in safe-rooms on Shabbat, 7 October 2023, as hate-filled Hamas terrorists raged mayhem, murdering 15 kibbutz residents, burning down homes and forcibly taking 5 others as hostages to Gaza.

The children and their parents arrived at Mishmar HaEmek in a fleet of buses at the crack of dawn the following morning. Rooms in the kibbutz High School complex and other available space had been vacated by the local kibbutz youth, university students and others so as to be quickly prepared for the arrival of the traumatized families from Nahal Oz – many of whom were still in their pyjamas, barefoot and with absolutely no personal items at all.

Six weeks later, the Nachal Oz children and families, although mostly living in far from ideal accommodation for families, are becoming a well-organized community within their veteran 1922-founded temporary host kibbutz. The children are now attending local regional schools, and a kindergarten and baby house for their own young children which has been created in Mishmar HaEmek.

In the central almost always busy playground close to the playful young Nachal Oz evacuees on the slides and swings, is an impressive, large and eye-catching hand-painted sign nailed high up on a tree, bearing the words of John Lennon: "IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE LIVING LIFE IN PEACE" written in English, each word a different vibrant color, half a flower with equally colorful petals alongside.

Likewise, large placards of encouragement in Hebrew have been created and posted on trees and buildings throughout the sprawling kibbutz, opposite the community shop, dining-room, cinema and other public spaces, with quotes from well-known personalities, popular songs, all hopefully spreading positivity in the ongoing frightening and traumatic period for all Israelis, wherever they are, at the present time.

The playground sign is strategically placed alongside a narrow concrete path which passes between the playground and an open space. Nowadays, this is a lush grassy lawn but until it was demolished in 2019 (having been deemed unsafe and irreparable) here stood the first of the kibbutz's communal children's houses constructed by members of the kibbutz, built from concrete whilst they themselves were still living in wooden huts.

During the Chanukah holiday, six months after fighting a ferocious battle in and around the kibbutz during the 1948 War of Independence, the large two-storey building had been badly damaged after the pilot of an Iraqi war plane failed - in a total blackout - to find his target (the nearby British Mandatory period- built Ramat David Air Base). He released the bomb over the kibbutz children's house after spotting a chink of light - thought to have been from a Chanukiah placed on a window sill. In the blast, two girls and a boy, all just nine years old, were killed and a member of the kibbutz's educational staff working in the building lost a leg.

The three children are memorialized in a pinkish marble plaque, embedded in a large rock sitting in the corner of the lawn, opposite and under the John Lennon script pleading for a peaceful life for all.

On the other side of the lawn sits a large concrete dreidel, three black iron torches reaching skywards, the work of kibbutz-born artist Ora Ron, who at the time of the Chanukah bomb attack was resident at Shomria High School, a short distance away from the bombed children's house where her younger sister was living.

The dreidel, resting diagonally to one side, has been placed under the kibbutz water tower, a huge metal Chanukiah sitting permanently on top of it, lit every year during the Festival of Lights. Here, kibbutz children, their parents and grandparents gather every year in celebration of the holiday and in memory of those children who lost their lives whilst tucked up in their beds on that fateful night in 1948.

This Chanukah, the children and families of Mishmar HaEmek will be joined by their guest community from Nachal Oz, gathering on the lawn, standing between the rock adorned by a plaque commemorating the1948 three nine-year old bomb victims) and the fallen dreidel and water tower. The lighted Chanukiah on high will look down upon them, with the sign on the tree, offering a hopeful message of more peaceful times.

Can we really imagine all the people living a life in peace, Mr. Lennon?


Written in November, 2023 

For the last two weeks over 450 Nachal Oz and other Israeli evacuees are resident in the 650-member kibbutz of Mishmar HaEmek. High school dorms, classrooms, offices, storerooms and members homes — any available accommodation throughout the community have been turned into housing. Clothes, shoes, toiletries, basically everything necessary for people who left everything behind but cling to each other to maintain their community within a host community, were collected, distributed and already excess quantities have been passed on to other communities desperate for help with their own evacuees — now also coming in to the Jezreel Valley from the northern border areas. 



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Tuesday, 16 April 2024

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