They arrived at the spacious campus of the Tzviya girls' school in Yad Binyamin from all around the country. Dozens of women, and their children, rescued recently from Arab villages were bused in by the organization for an extraordinary Shabbos experience.
The decision on whether to hold the event was in doubt until the last minute, due to the fighting in Gaza. In the end, upon consultation with the Home Front Command, Yad L'Achim decided to go ahead with the Shabbaton, but to double the number of child-care staffers so that the children could be rushed to a secure area if the alarm sounded warning of incoming rockets.
On their arrival, the survivors and their children put their bags in their rooms, graced with light refreshments, and headed to a musical performance by Mrs. Miri Or, who shared her story of returning to Judaism.
"He who distinguishes between Israel and the other nations"
Harav Yisrael Lifschitz, Yad L'Achim chairman, at havdalah.
Before Shabbos candle-lighting, the women attended a lecture by Rabbanit Rachel Peretz who inspired them with insights into the holiness of candle-lighting and the opportunity that moment presents for tefillos and special requests.
Following Kabbalas Shabbos and Kiddush, an uplifting seudas Shabbos was held, catered to the highest standards. During the seudah, the women were addressed by Harav Yisrael Lifschitz, Yad L'Achim's chairman, who encouraged them to draw strength from their very special Shabbos experience.
He recalled that his father, Hagaon Harav Shalom Dov Lifschitz, zt"l, Yad L'Achim's founder, had conceived the idea of Shabbatons for survivors, and insisted that they be carried out on a regular basis.
The meal concluded on an emotional high when, some of the children, who are enrolled in religious educational institutions, began singing the bentching from special birkonim that were printed specially for the event, and were joined by the other boys who weren't familiar with the tune.
Following the meal, at an Oneg Shabbos, a symposium was conducted by Rabbanit Peretz and Yad L'Achim staffers on issues of faith, mitzvah-observance and, most relevant to the survivors, how to establish a Jewish home. It was heartwarming to see the women participating so intensely and offering assistance to one another.
While the women were immersed in the symposium, their children were enjoying a fun, educational program being run by child-care staffers.
Throughout the Shabbos the women attended lectures and discussion groups on child-rearing, educational challenges and the like. At one round-table discussion, they took turns sharing their stories of being rescued from Arab villages and their return to the Jewish people.
After havdalah, the room was darkened and the women took turns lighting a candle and speaking about the light they had received during the Shabbaton and the resolution they had taken upon themselves.
Each announced a specific mitzvah she wanted to strengthen: modesty, Shabbos observance, taking challah, birkos hashachar, tefillah, education for the children, and so on.
Just prior to boarding the buses home, the women participated in a moving ceremony in which each was mekabel ol malchus Shamayim and made a request for her own future and that of her children.
The women had a hard time parting, lavishing praise and thanks to Yad L'Achim for a never-to-be-forgotten Shabbos experience. They headed home with their spiritual batteries charges and a sense of camaraderie and connection that they take with them throughout their lives.