Kibbutz Nahal Oz

PERPETUAL PIONEERS

Despite the daunting challenges that Kibbutz Nahal Oz has faced over the years – and especially since last summers Operation Protective Edge – its remarkable members carry on the pioneering spirit of the original founders as they plan for a better future

Nahal Oz old-timers remember when relations with their neighbors in Gaza were friendly, and when kibbutzniks would frequently shop in the Gazan markets – but that was a long time ago. Gaza is now hostile territory and, like many other kibbutzim, during the past 20 years Nahal Ozs property was privatized, and the stringent rules of the old-fashioned kibbutz were replaced by greater individual freedom. Nevertheless, communal life remains strong to this day, and outsiders can only envy the deep bonds and idyllic atmosphere that make Nahal Oz such a special place.

Times of crisis

Nahal Oz has certainly experienced its share of adversity since it was founded, and the last 15 years have been the most difficult of all. The kibbutz has been repeatedly hit by missiles and rockets, but, due to the very short distance from Gaza, residents have at most only a few seconds to run for cover in a nearby shelter. Despite this grim and frightening reality, the members of Nahal Oz continued to be courageous and resilient, and many new families even moved to the kibbutz in the past decade.

Most of the time its quiet here, explains kibbutz member Anat Maoz. Our lives here are full of love, hope and faith that it will eventually all be fine. We manage to convince ourselves that, despite everything, we are doing the right thing for our country, for ourselves and for our children.

However, the last round of violence during Operation Protective Edge was a game changer for Nahal Oz. Iron Dome could not help protect the kibbutz, which is only about half a mile from the border, and the discovery of dozens of sophisticated tunnels leading from Gaza into the surrounding area was no less than terrifying.

Nahal Oz was evacuated, with a small group staying to guard the premises. When it finally appeared that a ceasefire was taking hold, members returned home, only to find that Hamas was once again violating the ceasefire. More rockets slammed into the kibbutz, including a mortar that killed four-year-old Daniel Tregerman.

The damage to Nahal Oz during Operation Protective Edge was horrible. Homes and buildings were ruined; the community was displaced; people were injured; and – most traumatic of all – a small child lost his life.  The repercussions were immediate: 17 families decided to leave the kibbutz, taking with them 41 children. Only 70 children under the age of 18 remained.

Planning the future

Having reached a crisis point, the people of Nahal Oz now had a choice. They could wallow in their misery or they could use this crossroads as an opportunity for change. Emulating the original settlers, who established the kibbutz against all odds, the brave kibbutzniks of 2014 decided to carry on the pioneering spirit and to revitalize Nahal Oz. Wasting no time, a strategic plan designed to strengthen the community has already been approved, consisting of five elements: bolstering the existing community, increasing the population by absorbing new members, building new houses to support demographic growth, establishing a branch of a Mechina that would help revitalize and rejuvenate Nahal Oz (see below), and encouraging entrepreneurship by actively seeking out new high-tech and industrial ventures, which would provide jobs to kibbutz residents.

One can only admire the people of Nahal Oz for their fortitude in the face of adversity. Now is the time for the rest of us to say thank you to the new generation of Nahal Oz pioneers and to show them our support.        

A Mechina brings hope

A few weeks ago, the members of Kibbutz Nahal Oz decided to green-light the Mechina project in order to start rebuilding the community and bring young people to the kibbutz. A Mechina is a one-year post high-school program for select Israeli high-school graduates who choose to postpone their army service by a year to focus on volunteerism, Jewish studies and leadership training.

Participants live, work and study together in small groups with inspiring role models. Mechina graduates become engaged citizens who are involved in their communities and usually fill high-ranking positions in the army.

Kibbutz Nahal Oz has partnered with an existing Mechina that wants to open a new branch, and the goal is to launch the program already in the coming months – as soon as the necessary funding is obtained. Almost half of the overall required investment of $500,000 still needs to be raised, of which the lions share will be used for fortifying facilities to make them secure against rocket and mortar attacks.

Its a win-win venture. The Mechina will bring new life to Nahal Oz, including a much-needed influx of young, enthusiastic idealists who will surely infuse the kibbutz with new energy and momentum; and the 20 teens participating in the Mechina will experience kibbutz life and a sense of pioneering, while living and volunteering in a place that needs moral, physical and mental support after the traumatic events of last summer.

For more information about supporting Nahal Oz and the new Mechina, please contact Anat Maoz: anatmao@gmail.com, Tel. +972-54-7917259.

Decorating the new fortified wall that protects Nahal Oz’s kindergarten against rockets