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'Samaria town's new female mayor defies stereotypes'

Laly Derai
Laly Derai, photo: Michel Cohen


She is a woman, a mother, a French immigrant of Mizrahi descent. And 79% of Eli's residents voted for her to be the community's representative. Laly Derai who lives in Eli was elected by this huge margin to gain a seat on the Binyamin Regional Council as Eli's representative. She was endorsed by Rabbi Eli Sadan, the same Rabbi whose name has been blackened in the media for "excluding women from the public sphere".

A total of 1,059 people voted for her to represent them in the Council, four out of five voters. I asked Derai to comment on her election: "The vote proves that there is far more to Eli as a community than demeaning comments about women. However, we do not only look at Eli superficially. There is far more to French immigrants than croissants and Netanya. There is far more to Mizrahi women than the Shas political party.

"Our community of Eli is varied, it is amazing place with so many voices and colors. Think about it, for me the very fact that I can cast my ballot in Israel is nothing short of a miracle. Growing up in France, my memory of elections is that we would vote for the least anti-Semitic candidate. Here, our considerations are to vote for the candidate who will do the best for the State of Israel and our people. I am very pleased that so many people in our community decided that I am the best person for the job."


In the past month I received more than ten letters from grandchildren whose grandmother or grandfather had passed away and who feel that the loss is not just their personal story. They feel that beyond their private grief is a greater story waiting to be told. Anyone aged 80-90 who passes away at this time has lived through the most eventful century ever of our nation and personally experienced the destruction and the rebirth.

These stories do not reach the headlines but maybe we should be collecting the life stories of the Generation of Giants and publicize them. So, I am publicizing what Dotan Levi wrote to me: Grandma Leah passed away last Shabbat, aged 96. She was born in 1922 in Leipzig, Germany which boasted an active community of 10,000 Jews. When she was 15, she left home to join a hachshara, an agricultural training farm, leaving behind parents, two sisters and a brother. She chose to study agriculture because that was the only way to apply for a certificate to enter Palestine.

On November 9th, 1938 on Kristallnacht, German rioters attacked the farm where she was training, violently destroying everything they could and then issuing an ultimatum that any young Jew found on the farm the following day would be hung from one of the trees. They all escaped. Grandma and her friend returned to Leipzig for Shabbat. When she came home, she discovered the Reich flag draped from the top to the bottom of the building where she lived. No one was there anymore. She later found out that her mother, sisters and brother were expelled to an internment camp, escaped from there to the town of Bobov and on Rosh Chodesh Ellul they were murdered together with all of the town's Jewish residents.

My ever-resourceful grandmother sold the contents of her family home to a local non-Jew and went to sleep over at her friend's home. She managed to get accepted to the famous Kindertransport that departed from Holland and immediately looked for a new training farm in preparation of her moving to Israel. After many trials and tribulations, she arrived in Israel in 1939 via Beirut and a train journey to Rosh Hanikra and on to Haifa. She had realized her dream. She joined a group called Brit Chalutzim Dati'im (Union of Religious Pioneers) who worked on a farm called Ramat HaShomron near Pardes Hanna. They grew fruit and vegetables, tended turkey and ducks.

After discussions, it was decided to send them south to the Negev to look for water and establish a new Jewish community in the barren wilderness area. The JNF had recently acquired land near Gaza. The new kibbutz was called Be'erot Yitzhak, named after Rabbi Yitzhak Nissenboim who was murdered in the Warsaw Ghetto. Together with Grandpa Shlomo, our Grandma literally fulfilled the vision with their bare hands. They worked hard, built a community and saw the success of their endeavors. Grandma was the Kibbutz seamstress.

During the shiva, adults come to visit and recalled the clothes she had sewn for them when they were children. She studied Torah and was very active in the lives of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren's (27!) and also a huge fan of Maccabi Tel Aviv. She passed way when she was in full control of her mental facilities. It was so symbolic that she closed her eyes for the final time in the week that Israel and the world commemorated the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht."


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