When the rockets started falling in Israel and the first reservists were called up to defend their country, Dafi Chen, the shlicha (Israel emissary) who is working with the Jewish Community Center Summer Camp, was truly torn. Her country was under attack and her IDF unit was called up. She wanted to go home and serve alongside her friends, but she also wanted to stay in Louisville to help the campers and the rest of the community understand the issues and to encourage them to do something to help.
In the end, Dafi decided to stay here. “My family lives in the Western Galilee,” she explained, “and currently it’s very quiet up there, which makes me a little less tense. But most of my friends and those I served with either are on the border with Gaza or on the way there.”
The reality is at least five million people are confined to their homes when the rockets fall. They can’t go to work or camps or on summer vacation. Even some of the matriculation exams were disrupted.
“People are scared; kids are scared,” she said. On the other hand, “we believe in the strength of our nation and we believe the IDF has the power to make things happen. They will not just leave 75 percent of Israel to live under the rockets.”
Dafi comes from a very Zionist family. Her great-grandfather was a Holocaust survivor who “worked in the Israel office in Berlin before there was an Israel,” bringing Jews to the land in the late 1930’s. Her grandfather, who passed away last year, came to Israel when he was 11 – walking all the way from Damascus.
Her family also has a strong tradition of military service. “My uncle was an officer in the Army and one of my aunts was an intelligence commander.” Dafi recently completed her own service in the Armor Corps and two of her cousins are currently on active duty – one in the Navy and one in the Intelligence Force.
For her, “being here so far away from Zion in times like this is very hard” and it brings back memories of past conflicts. In the winter of 2102, the situation was similar to today’s with Hamas in Gaza bombarding southern Israel. That time, Israel didn’t enter Gaza. While she would have preferred to have the conflict end this time without the ground action, she said, “This might be the only solution, and I have 100 percent trust in the commanders of the IDF that they know better than I do and that they can make the right choices.”
She also has memories of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. “I was a rising 9th grader and for a month and a half, I sat in a bomb shelter that is gray and concrete and gray and metal and gray. I was really bored.”
At age 13, she and a 10 year old were the only children in the shelter. There were also three babies and a number of adults. The two children were so bored, Dafi remembers, “We were sitting on the floor and counting the cracks in the wall. We had no TVs, no computers; we didn’t have cellphones back then. We barely had anything to do. We brought some games,” she continued, “but we got pretty tired of them. We read each book that we brought down there about five times.”
When she decided to stay in Louisville, Dafi was spurred by that memory and her desire to get her campers involved in helping Israel to enlist the children in making care packages for the children who are confined to shelters.
Last week, during the annual JCC Camp Week of Caring and Sharing (see story), campers wrote letters, collected candies and made games and toys – soft puppets and handmade twisters and the like – “things the children can actually do instead of just sitting there counting the cracks.”
Helping the campers with the projects “makes me feel like I’m doing something helpful,” she said.
“My heart’s in the east,” Dafi concluded, “but I’m in the far west. This is what I feel. I’m here and trying to give 150 percent of myself to the campers because that’s what I’m here for. It’s their summer and it makes me very happy to see them hearing songs that are in Hebrew or not and playing games they may or may not know. They make me very happy. On the other hand, my heart is in the east.”
Since the Gaza invasion began, it is even more difficult for Dafi. “Being so far away, I’m hearing lots of rumors about what’s happening with my friends and I have no way of knowing what the facts are. It is scary and frustrating.” She knows that one friend with whom she served has been killed, and she has heard unconfirmed rumors about things that have befallen others.
She continues to hope for the best for them and looks forward to a time when the rockets cease to fall and the guns fall silent – a time when Israel and its neighbors can live in peace.