In August 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon implemented his highly contentious plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four isolated settlements in northern Samaria. Our episode today – the second in a two-part equine-centered series – takes us back to those hot, heavy and dramatic days. But it isn’t a story about political ramifications or national lessons learned. Instead, it is a deeply personal story of a bond between a woman and her horse. A bond that endured pain, uncertainty, and betrayal.
Sharon’s explosive initiative triggered an unprecedented public debate in Israel; One that was full of raw emotion, and essentially split the nation. Doomsday prophets talked of an impending civil war and the end of Zionism. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets in support of, and opposition to, the evacuation. An entire nation held its breath to see what would happen.
But for Hodaya Azulay of Netzarim – a Jewish settlement just south of Gaza City – the drama was much more personal. Having grown up in an atheist family in communist East Germany, she had – through a mixture of tragic circumstances and dogged determination – ended up in Israel, in search of a home and a sense of belonging. After many difficult years, she had finally found that serenity, in the heart of Gush Katif. There, she ran a small petting zoo with sheep, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, ducks, hens, turtles, and even little snails. But the undisputed stars of this menagerie – which quickly became the main attraction for Netzarim’s children – were its horses, and especially Sheleg, a beautiful Arabian horse with a flowing white mane and tail. For years Hodaya cared for Sheleg and offered therapeutic riding lessons to members of a community that was dealing with a nearly constant, violent onslaught.
Hodaya and Sheleg were companions and shared a deep bond. But all that came to a head when the Israeli government decided to withdraw from Gaza and dismantle all the Jewish settlements in Gush Katif. Where would they go? And how would their bond survive the forced eviction? Yochai Maital, a young officer in the IDF at the time, first heard the story on the ground, as it was unfolding, in the midst of all the chaos.
Yochai Maital scored and sound-designed the episode, which was recorded by Tony Hernandez at the Seltzer Sounds Studio in Brooklyn. Sela Waisblum created the mix. Thanks to Ishay Ribo and Motty Steinmetz for giving us permission to use their song, “Nafshi,” and to Lior Carmeli, Aharon and Temira Feinsilver, Shlomo Maital, and Michael Vivier. The end song, “Sus” (“Horse”) is by Oded Gadir, with lyrics by Azriel Kaufman.
Project Kesher is a non-profit organization that empowers and invests in women. They develop Jewish women leaders – and interfaith coalitions – in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Israel, deliver Torahs to women who’ve never held one before, broadcast women’s health information on Ukrainian Public Radio, and help Russian-speaking immigrants to Israel advocate for equal rights.
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