by Mayan Yadai
I must admit that it was not very easy for me to agree to leave my husband,
Eyal, and my two young children, Avia, two years old, and Yoavi, nine months
But I’m glad I did it!
I feel honored and appreciative that the Young Israel Organization enabled me
to come and I feel especially thankful to Rabbi Pesach Lerner for his
encouragement as to the importance of sharing with you wonderful caring community
leaders, my own personal story.
Although I am only 27 years old, my life story includes episodes of war,
loneliness, rebirth, and faith that led me from Croatia to Gush Katif; from Ca
tholicism to Judaism; from destruction to rebuilding; from loneliness to a
world of Kol Yisrael Areivim zeh Lazeh (our Jewish mutual support base).
Today we live in a most beautiful blossoming and flourishing place. A place
that I pray sincerely will be our home for many years to come.
I am living in Gush Katif only one year but already I can feel that my roots
are very deep here, like the acacia trees that the JNF planted all over Gush
Katif to prevent sand storms. Like the roots of the endless varieties of
vegetables and houseplants that are exported daily from Gush Katif to all over
the world. When you work the land, you gradually become part of the land, and
you love it even more. The children of Gush Katif who work the land are among
the best soldiers in the Israeli army because their love for Eretz Yisrael is
It is difficult for me to believe what the old-timers in Gush Katif tell me,
that only 30 years ago when they were encouraged to move here by the Yitzhak
Rabin government, this now flourishing area was bald empty sand dunes with no
birds, insects or even weeds. Even the amount of rain then was very minimum
compared to today’s rainfall measurements.
It is difficult for me to believe that this obviously now blessed area is the
very same area that our Moslem neighbors called the “cursed land” of El
G’erara. They have told me that nobody lived in this area from the time that the
last Jews left because there was not enough rain, and nothing could grow
properly. They were happy when the Jews returned because the rain started again,
and the land began to produce.
Yet it so easy for me to believe and feel from deep within, that this is, in
fact, the very same “Gerar” where your and my forefathers, Avraham and
Yitzchak, lived. The very same claim of Shevet Yehuda that Yehoshua conquered and
where Jews have lived throughout the generations of our history.
My story begins in Croatia, where I was born into a comfortable life with a
wealthy, warm and supportive Catholic family. These were times, only 27 years
ago, when Yugoslavia was a calm and peaceful country. Perhaps my lifestyle
then was similar to that of your own children. I recall clearly our many fun
ski trips and summer boating vacations. I remember a life of endless
When I was ten years old, my father passed away. Exactly two years later war
broke out in Yugoslavia! This war turned me, suddenly, into a “Croatian”, the
evil enemy of my best friends, who I now discovered were “Serbians.”
The Yugoslavian peace collapsed and tore the area to pieces! The fictitious
unity had no real national or religious bonding. The so called Yugoslavian
people had no base of “Areivim Zeh LaZeh”.
Yet we the Croatians tried to make a minimal commitment to each other to
stand united and strong against this cruel Serbian enemy. This commitment did
not hold out, as each Croatian group worried only about themselves.
My family and a few acquaintances found ourselves deserted and within days we
became hostages in a now Serbian-ruled area. We somehow survived only thanks
to our hopes that we would be saved by our Croatian leaders. Our belief in
Croatian unity and nationalism was a nice pipedream — we were abandoned and
betrayed. We experienced hunger, cold, and death. I saw many of my friends
dying in front of my eyes.
My mother, my younger sister, then 15 years old, and myself, now 17 managed
through endless very hard work to save enough money to buy passports to escape
to the now-Croatian side of the border after five years of being hostages in
a Serbian-occupied area. However, when we finally reached our “promised
land,” nobody there could believe that we had survived under the circumstances,
and worse yet, they did not care; there was no support and no help for us.
My sister and I found ourselves in an orphanage, broken by the struggle, the
uprooting and the relocation. During a war many families are destroyed when
they are taken from their homes and their lands.
Amazingly, even after seven years, these divisive Croatians didn’t give up on
any of their “promised land”, the land that they themselves had developed
and built up for the future of their people.
Everything in my life was unreliable and false. I felt a strong yearning to
find something that would be reliable and truthful! I had no one to turn to.
I felt a compulsion that I must start my life all over again from the very
I am so grateful to Hashem for giving me, at this point, my own personal
Bereishit, a new beginning.
I found myself working as a cocktail waitress on a luxury cruise ship.
Perhaps you, my fellow Jews, even vacationed on this cruise and we met? What is
certain is that on this cruise I met my husband, Eyal, the Israeli security
officer of the ship.
Soon we were to reach dry land with dreams for our future together. Eyal,
however, revealed that he would only wed a Jew. I gladly began to learn the
details of this new way of life that I had yearned for, the life of a nation
where all really care about each other with devotion.
Several months later as I became close to becoming a true Jew, I revealed to
Eyal that I would now only wed a man who would live with me as a true Jew. So
Eyal began studying Judaism as well.
We finally did wed as two Torah-true Jews!
We decided to start our family in Eretz Yisrael, and the perfect place for
our home and education of our children is Gush Katif. The day that we moved to
Gush Katif was the day that the immoral plan for disengagement was announced.
I had not heard the news and was confused when journalists began knocking at
my door, demanding to know why my family was settling here. I responded that
we wanted to live in Gush Katif because of the wonderful people in the
community. The reporters could not believe this. They assumed we had moved to
receive the money that the government would pay for the houses of anyone leaving
this area. I told them that, as renters, we would receive no compensation. The
reporters did not trust our sincerity and challenged me, “Don’t you know
that Kassam rockets are being shot at you every day?” I told them, “But the
people here are wonderful; the community is wonderful. This is where I want to
raise my family. I am used to Kassam rockets –I am from Croatia.”
Today again my home is being threatened, as well as the homes of all of my
9000 friends in Gush Katif, including their cared for gardens, their
playgrounds. This time they are homes of a world of Torah, a world of Jewish education
on all levels, a world of Chesed, a world of 36 beautiful synagogues,
probably similar to the one in which you, my friends, pray, that is threatened with
destruction. An Eretz Hachaim (cemetary) of 46 graves that had been brought
to everlasting rest, threatened with exhumation.
Most important it is a world of 1000 acres of greenhouses filled with insect
free leafy vegetables according to the most stringent Halachic demands,
filled with a vast variety of organic vegetables; cherry tomatoes, peppers of of
all colors, eggplants, cucumbers, herbs etc. Fifteen percent of the
agricultural export from Israel comes from Gush Katif. 60% of the organic vegetables
exported from Israel come from Gush Katif, many of the herbs and 70% of the
chives exported from Israel are grown in Gush Katif.
My town Netzer Hazani is one of the 21 towns that are Gush Katif. But in fact
it isn’t only my home that is being threatened, it is our dear Medina, our
dear State of Israel. Hundreds of thousands of citizens in Israel realize this
and every day more and more people are expressing their support and are
acting on it with mesirut nefesh, with devotion. Just this week tens of new
families are moving into temporary housing in the towns with only basic facilities
just to be part of this Kiddush Hashem. They often come to give us strength
but end up realizing that Gush Katif is in fact an overflowing source of
faith and strength to them.
These last few years the people of Gush Katif have had the zchut, the
privilege, of experiencing endless miracles. Many people were murdered by
terrorists on the roads but so very many more were saved from the cruel Islamic enemy.
These last two years 6000 mortars and rockets have been shot onto the towns
of Gush Katif which one would think is certainly a good enough reason for
everyone to have fled for dear life. But yet everyone in Gush Katif has stayed
on and thus, has proven their devotion to you, the people of Israel and to your
dear Land of Israel. They have proven their devotion to Hashem!
Almost every family in Gush Katif has many personal heroic miracle stories to
One is my own family’s privilege to have felt God’s personal Hashgacha,
Exactly one year ago Eyal, Avia and I, pregnant with Yoavi, were driving on
the road out of Gush Katif. Suddenly we saw two men with rifles running
towards us. Just before we passed them they shot out at us. I looked at their faces
- they were young men who looked calm and peaceful. They knew that they
would be killed, but they did not care. My husband somehow floored the gas pedal
yet they kept running in our direction while continuously shooting. Five
bullets penetrated our car. Each bullet was a personal miracle to each member of
my family, missing each of us by millimeters.
We now know that these were not men but cruel Islamic animals because less
that a second later they murdered the passengers in the vehicle behind us. They
destroyed the entire Hatuel family, leaving only David Hatuel, home, waiting
for his dear pregnant wife and daughters.
I, Mayan Yadai, know that all that I experienced in these twenty seven years
has led me to be here at this Young Israel Dinner. I am here because I want
you to feel in your hearts that truly kol yisrael areivim zeh lazeh. We are
responsible for each other, and we need to take care of each other. We are not
Americans or Israelis – we are Jews.
The cursed sand dunes that have become a flourishing oasis, the feeling that
God listens and answers our prayers, the miracles in this tiny place that all
the world watches so closely. This is our story, the story of the Jewish
people, throughout generations. This is the realization of the vision of our
prophets. It is the story of devotion, heroism, love of Hashem’s Land. It is the
love of our dear Torah.
I, Mayan Yadai, together with all my friends in Gush Katif want to know and
feel that each and everyone of you really care. We want you to pray to Hashem
to change this dangerous and immoral plan. HaShem blessed each of us with
special purpose so please use your abilities to help Eretz Yisrael. We do not
have another place to go. We need to keep each millimeter of our Land and not
let our killers celebrate their victories in our homes and in our land.
I need to really feel your caring. It is what I really want to take home with
me because this caring will give all of us the strength to continue.
And pray because HaShem listens to our prayers. If He heard the prayer of a
young non-Jewish girl in a small Croatian town, then He will certainly listen
to the prayers of His Chosen People.
Thank you so much my fellow Jews!
Thanks are due Anita Tucker of Gush Katif for sending us this essay. Anita
writes, “Mayan Yadai, of Netzer Hazani, Gush Katif, was invited as guest
speaker at the Young Israel annual dinner in NYC, May 22, 2005. This is what she
said. Her personal story is worth reading and very moving and as well tells
the story of Gush Katif and that of the Jewish people. If you find it
inspiring, pass it on to others.”