There are few places more idyllic than the Club Med resort in northern Israel. Simple thatched huts hug the beach, the sand is a creamy white, the water a deep turquoise.
But last week this tranquillity was shattered by a flurry of Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon. More than a dozen shells, sent by the fundamentalist Hezbollah movement, came crashing down in northern Israel, killing one person and injuring nine.
Eight of the injured, as well as the young French Israeli who died in the attack, worked at Club Med. Four remain at the hospital in Nahariya, just south of the Lebanese border.
On Tuesday, the Jewish Agency for Israel sent a delegation of Diaspora Jewish leaders on a visit of solidarity with the Katyusha victims.
The two dozen visitors, in Israel for the 25th Jewish Agency Assembly, flew to the north in a chartered jet. During their first stop, they met with the hospitalized patients, all French citizens.
All four of the injured suffered leg injuries and relatively minor burns. Wrapped in bandages, but surrounded by friends and flowers, all said they felt lucky to be alive.
Frank Etienne, 28, an art teacher at the resort, recalled the 6 a.m. attack in vivid detail.
“I was asleep and then heard a big noise. Then I felt a sharp pain in my leg. I heard several other explosions and ran for cover.”
Although he will return to France for physical therapy, Etienne said, “I won’t be afraid to come back to Israel. I’m still a bit shocked by what happened, but everyone has been great and I appreciate the visits.”
Eric Marty, a 25-year-old sound engineer, also faces months of rehabilitation.
“This is my third stint in Israel, and my feelings haven’t changed since the attack,” he said. “I’ll go back to France for awhile, but I’ll be back soon, to be with my friends here. You can bet on it.”
The men, all sharing a single hospital room, seemed surprised — but pleased – - by all the attention.
“It’s very nice that [the delegates] have come to visit us. We’re touched by the way everyone wants to know how we’re feeling,” said Eli Fargeon, a sailing instructor who immigrated to Israel less than two years ago.
Martine Elsaes, a hospital spokeswoman of French descent, noted that “French people are not as warm as Israelis.”
“Israelis are much more open in their concern for others,” she said.
After departing from the hospital, the delegates visited Kibbutz Gesher Haziv, located next to the Club Med.
Kibbutznik Bonnie Kunick, who made aliyah from the United States in 1970, told the group, “Sometimes I feel kike I’m living in a war zone. We are at the mercy of terrorists. There have been so many times over the years when I’ve slept in the shelter with my kids, my husband doing army reserve duty.”
“Last Friday’s attack was the worst we’ve had in a long time,” she said.
“It’s important that people come and see how we live, what we do — despite the pressure of Katyushas. I want them to see where their money’s going.”
During the plane ride back to Jerusalem, Martin Kraar, executive vice president of the Council of Jewish Federations, said, “I think it’s important for Jews everywhere to know that when something happens to any of us, all of us feel the pain.”
Joe Tauber, president of the United Jewish Appeal, voiced a similar sentiment.
“Part of our campaign is to support Jews in need, whether they be in Israel, Argentina, Kiev or Chechnya,” he said. “By identifying with people who are going through the strain, we become more motivated as fund-raisers.”
Jewish Agency Chairman Avraham Burg stressed that visits such as this help to keep Jewish leaders in touch with the community.
“Sometimes, when you sit in an office and you hear about projects, you allocate money and deal with crises, and you get the feeling that you are a virtual reality organization,” he said.
“The Katyusha victims are in need; not so much for money, but for sympathy,” Burg said. It’s important to let people know that we care.”