Dozens of women and children who were rescued by Yad L'Achim in recent months from Gaza and from Israeli Arab towns like Furadis, Shuafat and Nazareth were treated last week to an uplifting Shabbos aimed at preparing them for the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe).
While most of the women have already made great strides in their acceptance of Torah and mitzvos (Judaism), the opportunity to spend this past Shabbos together, and to attend spiritually enriching seminars offered by Yad L'Achim staffers, took them another huge step forward.
They checked in at the guest house of Yishuv Tzafaria, near Kfar Chabad, on Friday and that afternoon had the chance to hear the enthralling, personal story of a woman who had made the long way back to life as an observant Jew. The speaker's heartfelt story struck a cord among the participants, who opened up and shared their own heart-wrenching stories of living in Arab villages, cut off from any vestige of Judaism.
While the women were attending a host of riveting seminars, the children delighted in programs designed especially for them. An experienced educator was on hand with stories, parables, and quizzes. Most importantly, he served as a father figure for the children who thirstily drank up his messages on the beauty of Judaism.
At candle-lighting time, the women came down to the dining room like true women of valor in their Shabbos finery. The room drew silent as they lit the candles, interrupted by the sound of sobbing, as mothers issued heartfelt pleas for the welfare of their children.
The children, meanwhile, were attending tefillah services with their Yad L'Achim counselors. It was impossible not to be moved by the sight of these young boys holding a siddur and uttering every word with such care. To think of where they were just a few months ago…
At the conclusion of the Shabbos meal Friday night, Rabbi Yisrael Lifschitz, one of the leaders of Yad L'Achim, fielded the survivors' questions in a session that lasted into the wee hours of the night. What the questions had in common was a sincere desire to draw closer to Hashem.
After the meal on Shabbos afternoon, Yad L'Achim social workers ran a workshop for the women while the children attended programs and had supervised play.
Motzei Shabbos was the highlight, when survivors attended a roundtable discussion that gave them a chance to share what they had been through in the past year.
"At Yad L'Achim, I met people who helped with all their hearts, seeking nothing in return," said one woman. "Without their help, I wouldn't be here.
One by one, the women expressed their gratitude to Yad L'Achim for not only executing their rescue, but for helping them reenter the world of Judaism, in particular registering their children in Torah schools.
"To see how our children are able to participate in this Shabbos drives home how important this education is," said one mother.
Many of the participants publicly accepted upon themselves more practices aimed at drawing closer to Torah and mitzvos.
Yad L'Achim's chairman, Harav Shalom Dov Lifschitz, noted that the Shabbos was "a merit to the Jewish people as we approach the new year. How blessed we are to behold these precious souls who were saved from such spiritual depths. We can but offer thanks to the A-mighty for all the good He has done us.
"Now we can truly understand the words of our Rabbis that there is no greater mitzvah than pidyon shvuyim (redeeming captives)
"When you see the light radiating from the faces of the survivors and their children, you became motivated to work even harder to save Jewish women who are still trapped in Arab villages, in distress and captivity, and to bring them to experience this spiritual bounty."