Haredi in the Desert: A Tale of Two Families

— by Toby Klein Greenwald

Mikey Linial, 40, a video editor and website producer did not grow up haredi. He and his wife, Michal, 33, a kindergarten teacher, and their two young daughters, live in Moshav Shuva, the flagship community of Nettiot. They had friends who invited them to join the group, he says, “And after many dilemmas, we decided to do it. We’re glad that we did”.

More after the jump.

I was raised traditional-secular, in the secular atmosphere of Ramat Hasharon and at 24, I started observing more mitzvoth and Shabbat. Michal was raised in a dati-leumi (religious Zionist) home in Tel Aviv. After the wedding we lived in Jerusalem. Religiously we lean toward Hassidut Chabad. We don’t have their ‘look’ and they are much more observant than we are, but we have warm spots in our hearts for each other — what they call mekuravim (close) or mekusharim (connected).

Mikey supervises the construction project of the Nettiot community in Moshav Shuva, which includes dealing with complicated bureaucracy. The community consists of twenty families who have lived in small, crowded caravans for three years; the Linials have been there a year. As the Garin (core) community director, he also helps with personal and social issues that arise and with the day to day running of the community, and has recently taken the lead, in the Gaza periphery communities, of Separate At the Source, a nationwide government project that uses education and door-to-door activity to raise awareness to recycling.

As a web designer he recently created a crowd funding Hebrew website (with a parallel in English), similar to kickstarter, that promotes mainly art projects. He also maintains the website of the Finnegan law firm in Washington D.C., and produced a music library website, for an L.A. company that supplies original music for Fox and National Geographic TV channels.

According to Linial there were 85 original families in the moshav and 21 more have joined them from the Garin, which has an early child care facility and is in the process of establishing a kindergarten. “We open everything to the entire moshav.”

How do they get along with the locals who were there decades before them?

Usually very well; there are friendships being created and the mentoring we do is usually with children from the moshav. Now, due to my role with the construction project, we’ve created new working relations with the moshav. Naturally there are also problems. People who are used to living in a certain environment for many years find it hard when a new community ‘drops in’ on them, and they also have to adjust to it, and it’s not all roses.

What drew Mikey and Michal to Shuva?

The people from the Garin, the community, the challenge of living in the Negev and of establishing a new community, doing something pioneering — to the extent that you can be a pioneer in the 21st century — and mainly divine intervention. We tried several times to leave, but it drew us back. At some point, we decided to stay. Now I see why. It’s very obvious that there’s a mission here for us. And when you have a mission, God will make you take it.

For Daniel and Miriam Fuks, the recent Hamas attack struck close to home. On November 18, 2012, Daniel and Miriam and their two-year-old daughter, Hadas, learned first-hand what it means to live on the front lines when their car was struck by a grad rocket at the entrance to Ofakim. They are healing from the injuries they sustained, and thanking God that there was no permanent damage.

There was a fourth person in the car, the father of one of their fellow Garin members (his son is a Kung Fu champion and a black-hat Hassid, who twice took second place in Israel). The older man had stayed behind in Shuva “to take care of the family and neighborhood pets while most of the community took a much needed respite by going up north”, says Daniel. He had joined the Fuks family for a breather.

They were on their way to Aleh Negev, about 15 miles away, where Miriam, a social worker, works as a horticultural therapist for the mentally and physically challenged. While most southern schools were officially closed, Aleh Negev was working as usual, since many live there permanently. Miriam decided to go to work to raise the spirits of Aleh Negev’s boarders who were spending their days in bunkers.

Daniel’s memory of the attack:

We reached the junction at the entrance to Ofakim and suddenly heard a siren. We stopped the car, got out, and crouched down on the road shoulder. We heard the boom, got up, and then remembered the Home Front Command’s warning to stay put for ten minutes. That measure was designed to counter Hamas’ new strategy to hit people as they exit the bunker, security room or bus shelter. So we didn’t get back in the car, we stayed there, half crouching, wondering what to do next, while passengers in a car stopped at the traffic light laughed at us for paying heed to the sirens, and suddenly the second Grad rocket hit. From the corner of my eye I saw a flash of gray, while the rest of me felt the indescribable intensity of the blast. I know now that it hit the field next to us, about thirty meters away. The first thing we noticed was that our neighbor was on the floor. We asked if he was okay and he said no. He told me to put a finger on his head to try to stop the blood. Shaken, I realized that we needed help.

In the heat of the moment I yelled to call 911, which was a mistake — in Israel you need to dial 101 for an ambulance. Miriam, panicking from the fear that our friend was about to die, complied and was confused when the woman who picked up did not understand the emergency of the situation. Finally, we signaled passing traffic which luckily included ambulances and soldiers. People ran out to help us. Once our neighbor was in better hands I stepped aside, leaned against the shoulder rail and pulled down my pants to see what had happened to me. That’s when I realized I’d also been hit. I could feel it in my legs and there was a lot of blood. Some soldiers bandaged me, the rescue people put me on a stretcher, I called Miriam and Hadas over, and we left in the ambulance. While in the ambulance I started to feel pain in my leg, which I thought was the result of the soldiers tying the bandage as a tourniquet. Afraid to lose my leg, I asked Miriam (who has been trained as a medic) to take a look. It turned out there was no tourniquet tying. It was simply the shrapnel wound that was hurting. Who would have thought!

Living in the Garin

Miriam is originally from London and Daniel is from Miami. Daniel studied music and economics at the University of Pittsburgh and made aliyah after finishing his bachelors’ degrees in 2006. Daniel and Miriam met at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the Bet Shean valley. They dated and married while Daniel was in the army.

We came to the area five years ago. I was stationed nearby, on the Gaza border — very close to Shuva. Miriam decided to study social work at Sapir College nearby. She wanted to give something to the people of the south, who had been living under these troublesome conditions.

First we moved to Kibbutz Sa’ad and about a year and a half later we joined the Garin. We discovered a group of people who we really liked, idealists with the practical skills to do good and help people in the south and elsewhere.

Miriam is a social worker and she also works in Gvanim, an urban kibbutz located in Sderot. It’s a rehabilitative employment center for the mentally challenged. She’s a case manager in a new program for a dozen mentally challenged employees.

Daniel is studying for his MA in the Department of Land of Israel Studies at Bar Ilan University. He also works part time as a mentor at Hitzim, the Garin’s program for teens at risk.

I mentor a nine-year-old whose mother told me how frightened he is of the sirens and rockets. She asked me to talk to him about his fears. That was before the blast. Now I’m not sure what to tell him. Hitzim connects the Garin with the youth at risk, which was exactly part of the whole idea of helping out the local population.

Daniel emphasizes that the Garin is not only involved in itself:

Its dreams are slowly but surely materializing, but the Garin is by no means resting on its laurels. There are members of Shuva who are also helping to create other socially responsible and successful Garinim.

Meanwhile, Daniel is involved in helping former lone soldiers (soldiers living in Israel without a family) find a permanent home and settle as a community, in a program called Heseg-Zioni (“Zionist Achievement”). “Heseg-Zioni is not officially connected to the Garin, but an offshoot. It’s another example of the ripple effect the Garin has”, he said.

At the time this interview was conducted, Daniel and Miriam were staying at the home of her brother in Bik’at HaYarden (Jordan Valley) for the first week after the hit.

Mikey Linial, the Garin community director, says about Daniel and Miriam:

They came to Israel for totally idealistic, Zionistic reasons. He was in the paratroopers, they met on Kibbutz Saad, and they really want to settle the Negev and help less successful moshavim and populations. That’s their motivation. It’s very rare. The whole Garin is very motivated and very socially and Zionist oriented and they’re the arrowhead of that. They also have an ecological agenda; they want to build their home in an ecological way, they’re very dedicated to this.”

Mine — we’ll build the regular way” he says with a smile. “Miriam and Daniel will have a mud home with a mamad (reinforced cement security room).”

Aharon Ariel Lavi, the founder of Nettiot, will be speaking at Lower Merion Synagogue on february 14th at 8:00 PM.