MOSHAV MAVKI'IM, Israel - Through the struggles, heartbreaks and disappointments that former residents of the Gush Katif Settlement Bloc in the Gaza Strip have faced since August 2005, rays of hope have begun to emerge.
Four years ago, the government of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expelled these families from 21 thriving communities in the Gaza Strip and four in northern Samaria.
For several days, Israelis watched television images of their own soldiers and police escorting and physically removing fellow Israelis from their homes and communities. Cameramen filmed IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers crying as the carried out the government's orders to evict the nearly 9,000 Israeli citizens who lived in Gush Katif.
Within a week, bulldozers began razing the homes and the residents who had pioneered farms and towns in the desert for decades had to deal with the surreal fact that their communities no longer existed. They were, in essence, made refugees by their own government.
Rebuilding and Blessing
Today, despite the many challenges that remain, families are rebuilding their lives in ways that are blessing the 23 communities around the country in which they've taken up residence.
One such story is taking place at Moshav Mavki'im, located between the coastal city of Ashkelon and the Erez Crossing with the Gaza Strip, in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council.
Moshav Mavki'im was established in 1949 by Holocaust survivors, primarily from Hungary. Over the years, their children left to establish themselves in other parts of the country, leaving an aging population behind them.
Twenty-four families, 16 from the former Gush Katif community of Pe'at Sedeh, seven from Rafiach Yam and one from Morag, are bringing new life to the moshav, which had dwindled to 50 families with an average age of 70.
"In the beginning, it was difficult," said Tzion Itzak, whose new home in the moshav is in the planning stages.
Itzak heads a committee that deals specifically with the agricultural needs of Mavki'im and also serves on the Hof Askelon Regional Council.
"It's not the same simchat chaim (joy of life) we had in Gush Katif," Itzak said. "It's difficult, not simple, but we hope it will be okay in the end," he said, noting that he too has lost income in the past two years.
Rami Yaacov and Reuven Yaacov, both farmers but not related to one another, took two different approaches when they moved their families to Mavki'im.
Because the government's compensation wasn't enough to build a home and reestablish a business, Rami decided to invest in a greenhouse to grow organic produce as he had in Gush Katif.
"The first year, the greenhouse flooded, the second year, frost took the crop. And this year, I hope to have produce to sell in November and December," Rami said.
For the foreseeable future, there are no funds to build a home to replace the one they lost.
Yaacov, who decided to build a home before reestablishing his business, is struggling to cover basic costs, such as utilities, without an income.
Finding 'Common Ground'
But in the midst of the struggle, something altogether beautiful has emerged. The aging Holocaust survivors and the displaced families are finding common ground in the losses they've suffered.
Shoshi Strauss, a Holocaust survivor who arrived in Mavki'im in 1955 at the age of 13, doesn't hide her joy at the transformation taking place on the moshav since the Gush Katif families arrived.
Widowed several years ago, only one of her daughters still lives on the moshav.
"Rami is my adopted son," she said, smiling at the farmer next to her, "and my dance partner." The perky widow, who loves Israeli dance, said she's the first one to arrive at a celebration and the last to leave.
"She can dance for two hours without stopping," Rami said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Relationships such as this are flourishing, bringing new hope to all the residents. Five families who had left the moshav moved back after watching the changes taking place over the past four years.
A new synagogue has been built and once again, the voices of children and teenagers can be heard in Mavki'im.
This summer, the dilapidated community center will be refurbished not only for the children and the youth, but for everyone.
The Friends of Gush Katif, an umbrella organization helping families to reestablish themselves, turned to the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) for the funding to renovate the building.
"Mavki'im is beginning a whole new phase," said moshav secretary Naftali Yonah, who oversees all of Mavki'im's business.
"The community center became a real need, a turning point for the moshav," he said.
On the fourth anniversary of the government's "disengagement" from Gaza, the hope, faith and determination that the Gush Katif families brought to Mavki'im are uniting its residents to build for a brighter future in the Jewish state.