Two Philadelphians living in Israel must factor the Gaza conflict into their plans for starting new families.
JERUSALEM — When Yitz Lauterbach walked down the aisle to marry Maria Kharina on Aug. 21, at least 10 guests were absent from the crowd due to the renewed conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“A bunch of people had to cancel because of it, and we have friends in the army who had emergency call-ups,” said Lauterbach, a 28-year-old Northeast Philadelphia native who has been living mostly in Israel since he made aliyah in 2004.
“My grandmother almost had to cancel her flight because of it.” Luckily, Bella Resnick, from Oxford Circle, ended up making it to the happy event.
The violence also made planning the wedding, which took place in view of Jerusalem’s Western Wall, “insanity,” Lauterbach said. Taking part in an intensive training course as a police cadet for Israel’s riot unit, called “Yasam,” didn’t help.
“There were times when I was supposed to go home and take care of stuff for the wedding,” Lauterbach said, but then his leave was canceled because his unit had to deal with riots in the West Bank.
The week of his wedding, Hamas militants fired rockets at Beersheva on Aug. 19, ending a five-day long cease-fire and putting to bed reports of an extended truce deal that had begun to circulate. On the actual day of the wedding, Israel killed three top Hamas commanders in targeted air strikes while calling up an additional 10,000 reservists.
Since then, the two sides have continued to trade rockets and missiles, and casualties have continued to mount, including the Aug. 22 death of 4-year-old Daniel Tregerman from a mortar attack outside his home near the Gaza border. On Aug. 26, a rocket struck a home in Ashkelon, injuring 28 from shards of glass and shock. A long-term cease-fire was announced later that evening.
As “frustrating” as the situation in Gaza has been, Lauterbach said, it didn’t put a damper on his nuptials.”
“My wedding was legendary because we decided to enjoy ourselves despite the situation,” he said.
The couple also made sure that the rabbi officiating said a few words of prayer under the chupah for the 64 soldiers who have lost their lives so far during the conflict and to protect those still serving.
“We’re very Zionist,” Lauterbach explained. “We’re getting married, but we have friends who are still in the army — it’s important for us to remember them.”
One of those soldiers, 31-year-old Nissim Slama from Jerusalem, received special leave from duty to attend the wedding. Slama was called up at the beginning of August in the second wave of reservists and has been serving in the southern part of the West Bank.
“I don’t think when they planned the wedding they expected the army to be in full swing, but it doesn’t surprise me that the conflict didn’t cause them to change their plans,” said Slama, who is himself engaged to be married in December.
“Their wedding sends a message:” Hamas can “shoot at us and think we’re not strong, but at the end of the day we are continuing to have weddings and important life events and creating families, because this is our homeland, we don’t have anywhere else.”
Meanwhile, Hemi Leberman, who grew up in Merion on the Main Line and made aliyah in 2003, before joining the IDF two years later as a lone soldier, is expecting the birth of his first child, a daughter, next month.
He and his wife, Moran Chen, who is a native Israeli, are about to move from the Golan, where Leberman works as a park ranger at what is known as the Hexagon Poll in the Yehudiya nature reserve, to Moshav Mevo Beiter in central Israel to be closer to their parents.
Leberman’s parents live in Jerusalem and Chen’s are in Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed-Heh, named after 35 Haganah soldiers killed by Palestinians while trying to resupply the Gush Etzion kibbutzim during the Independence Day War in 1948. But the downside of the move, Leberman said, is that it will put them in range of the rockets.
“We had to look for a house with a proper bomb shelter,” Leberman said. “Apart from that, it’s been tough trying to keep Moran from watching the news all the time — that gets her stressed and that’s not good for the baby.”
Both Leberman and Lauterbach said last week that the collapse of the cease-fire could be a blessing in disguise because it shows that the army has more work to do in Gaza.
Both think that ground forces should re-enter the Strip to cause heavy damages to the Hamas infrastructure.
“I think about the future with a baby coming; I want Israel to go in and completely wipe out Hamas,” said Leberman. “If that means that my daughter will be able to live in peace, then so be it.”
Even if he is called up for reserves duty, Leberman thinks hitting Hamas is the right thing to do.
“As tough as it would be for me to go, it would be harder for me not to go,” he said. “Even with everything, like me being about to become a father, how could I justify not going? Obviously I’d prefer not to, but if I’m called up then I will go, a hundred percent.”