A disquieting calm hovers over Kiryat Shemona. The Katyushas have stopped falling, for the time being, but with Hezbollah regrouping just two kilometers away across the newly re-marked Lebanese border, no one can be too confident the lull will last. That is the report from Rabbi Tzephania Drori, head of Yeshivat Kiryat Shemona and a leader in the Upper Galilee city for 32 years, speaking from his home in Israel shortly after returning from Los Angeles for a fundraising dinner.
"The people in Kiryat Shemona don't know what to say," he said. "I think most of the people are more nervous now than they were before, more afraid," he said. Memories of the early 1970s are still too fresh for residents to forget, memories of terrorists who would sneak over the Lebanese border into the Israeli cities and kibbutzim, killing dozens of civilians at a time. Drori believes the haste of the operation left the Northerners unacceptably vulnerable, with hardly even a fence up to keep the Syrian- and Iranian-backed terrorists out of Israel. Even before the pullout, during his visit to Los Angeles, Drori had words of encouragement for the 25,000 residents of his town, who for decades have lived with the unsettling reality of air raid sirens and nights in bomb shelters.
"If the Jews stay strong in Kiryat Shemona, the government won't have the gall to give up, because they will see that the people are strong," said the white-bearded Drori, switching between Hebrew and English throughout the interview at the Beverly Hills home of his relatives. The benefit dinner raised $850,000 toward a goal of $3 million to expand the yeshiva, which is now limited to 200 students.
That strong showing is evidence of Drori's solid base of support in Los Angeles, where his wife Sharri's brother and sister-in-law, Lee and Anne Samson, are his campaign chairpersons. The dinner honored Drori's longtime friends Rabbi Abraham and Rosalyn Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who dedicated a library at the yeshiva.
Drori says the yeshiva, a hesder program where students spend five years splitting their time between army service and study, is a source of moral strength for the entire region at a time when the residents need support.
"We can do everything out of hope, not out of cynicism," he said. "At a time when everyone thinks we should leave, we show that we are staying and we are building."