An Ark Among Devastation
Fleeing the rockets and dangers and horrors of war, there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who have to suddenly leave their homes and find somewhere else to live. There are evacuees from both the south and north of Israel. Many of them are staying near the Biblical Museum of Natural History in the region of Beit Shemesh, an area that has been blessedly relatively free from rockets.
When we at the Biblical Museum of Natural History heard about this, our instant thought was to help them get a respite from their grief and stress with a museum visit. (Aside from seminaries and yeshivos looking for an educational and fun activity, there’s no visitors; at this time of year we would typically be full of school groups, but no schools can do such trips these days.) While some of our staff have been called up, or are otherwise unable to work for other war-related reasons, we have enough staff to be able to function.
Enter some wonderful museum supporters, who donated funds to enable us to offer free admission to all evacuees, along with gifts of stuffed animals (the toy kind, not the taxidermy kind) to children. We reached out to various organizations in order to spread the word, and we’ve already hosted around five hundred such people! While it’s always a pleasure to see people’s reactions to a museum visit, with these visitors it’s heartwarming on a whole new level. These children have suffered so much trauma and instability, and animals are particularly distracting and therapeutic for them.
One mother wrote to us and sent some pictures a few days after her family’s visit to the museum. She told us how her son was asked in his school Zoom class to draw a picture of things that make him happy. He drew the chinchillas that he had held at the museum!
Sometimes it’s heartbreaking to see the trauma that these children have suffered. One family that visited took twenty minutes to make it out of their car into the museum building - that’s how long it took the mother to convince her child that it was safe to get out the car. Unfortunately, as soon as they entered, there was a siren (a very rare occurrence in the area of the museum) and everyone had to shelter in our safe room. After that, the child refused to walk around the museum, even though he loves animals. So our staff brought out some animals for him to pet, which he enjoyed very much. The parents were so appreciative!
The other day a handwritten note was dropped off at reception. The Hebrew does not easily lend itself to translation, but here it is:
To the Biblical Museum of Natural History family, hello! Family - because you give the feeling of a family; the behavior of the staff towards us and amongst each other is filled with warmth and wonderful to see. Opening the doors of your home to citizens of the South, even more so. We have spent the better part of a month in Netivot without leaving our home, excluding rare outings with family. It’s been a month with no school, no social gatherings. The only trip we could make was from the couch to the table. The kids haven’t even dared to step out into the front yard… We decided to take a long weekend to clear our minds and refresh ourselves, and we ended up at the museum on Sunday. It’s hard to express how much we enjoyed ourselves. And the free admission made this enjoyment possible, since we haven’t been able to work for almost a month. You opened your doors and your hearts. It is amazing and unifying, and we just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Just like Noah’s Ark was a refuge amidst devastation, we’ve been able to provide an inspirational refuge for these families. On behalf of these visitors, we would like to thank our supporters who made this possible.
(If you’d like to help give displaced families the opportunity to enjoy the museum, you can donate at www.BMNH.org.il/donate. If you know of evacuee families, please let them know about this opportunity for a free visit; a flyer appears below.)