Passover Cleaning Under Fire: An Interview with Ashdod’s Ayala Nivin

Passover Cleaning Under Fire: An Interview with Ashdod’s Ayala Nivin

3 weeks ago I visited Ashdod, and was struck by what a friendly, pleasant, and peaceful city it is. So it was pretty shocking to hear just a week later that Ashdod residents were running to their bomb shelters on account of a barrage of Grad missiles falling on them from the Gaza Strip.

Today I interviewed Ashdod resident Mrs. Ayala Nivin, the mother of a large family of children ranging between 21 years and 8 months old, and heard her inspirational thoughts on the recent missile attacks and how they have transformed her attitude to Passover cleaning.

How long have you lived in Ashdod? We’ve lived here for 5 years. We moved here from Beitar because we wanted to live near our Rebbe. We also felt that it is extremely important for the education of our children during these turbulent modern times to live within the strong, united community surrounding our Rebbe.

What was it like when missiles starting falling on Ashdod two weeks ago? The first siren came as a surprise. It was nighttime and my kids were already sleeping. I was very scared, but my husband and I realized that there was no way that we would be able to get all of our sleeping children to our secure room within the required 45 seconds to be safe from a missile attack. So all I could do was say, “Ain od milvado” (Everything is from G-d), and pray that we would be safe.

By the next day, there were rumors flying all over the the city. Someone told me that a relative in the army was already ironing his army uniform, in order to be ready for an Israeli invasion into Gaza that night. And then my daughter told me that she had heard that we should urgently start reading Psalms for the protection of the soldiers participating in that night’s invasion.

Of course, the rumors were wrong. There was no invasion. But the siren and all those rumors brought back some traumatic memories from the Gaza War two years ago, when many missiles fell and so many people moved away that Ashdod was transformed into a ghost town. And on top of everything, I was about to give birth. It was very challenging, but thank God, we as a family and as a nation experience big miracles during that war.

How many times have missiles fallen on Ashdod this month? 3 times. The first time was at night. The second time my older children were walking to school, and the siren went off and they had to rush around to find shelter.

The third time the siren went off, I was home alone with my kids. It’s hard to describe what it was like. Sort of like borderline panic mixed with a bit of humor. I heard the siren and I yelled out to my two older children that we should gather everyone into the secure room. In a way, the whole experience was terrifying but also unifying.

What’s it like preparing for Pesach with all of this going on?I think it’s fascinating that the missiles starting falling right when all of us are preparing for Pesach. I think that these weeks before Pesach are the time of year when a mother’s desire to be in control most expresses itself. I, for example, envision how the house is going to look so perfect by seder night, and I have my list of all the cleaning I want to accomplish day by day and week by week. And I, in particular, have a tendency to get very panicky and tense before Pesach because of everything I want to get done and I want things to be done just right.

But there I was two weeks ago, a month before Pesach, with the sirens going off and my children’s school cancelled as a result, so I had a houseful of small children and my cleaning list and high expectations just went out the window.

I could have become a basket case and felt depressed because I had expected to finish cleaning a certain cabinet that day, and I didn’t get to it because all of my kids were home. But, in the end, what Hashem wanted from me this year was to work a bit less on cleaning and work a lot more being bitul, on submitting myself to His will.

When missiles fall, and we are in danger, and all of my routine is disrupted, it enables me to see so clearly that truly nothing in life is in my control. If we think that we are in control of anything in this world, we are making a big mistake. And the truth is that there is a certain pleasure to that feeling, of knowing that I am a baby in Hashem’s arms. And throughout this whole situation, I felt that Hashem was trying to tell me: “Let go, I am your father and I will decide what is good for you. I am in control, and I am taking care of you.”

So, in a strange way, this missile scare has actually helped me to cope much more calmly this year with Pesach cleaning. The security situation has forced me to experience on a very deep level that I am not in control. I am not in control of the missiles. And the truth is that I am not really in control of Passover cleaning either. All I can do is try my best, and try to stay calm, and pray, and leave the rest up to Hashem. And that makes me feel so much calmer about Passover than I have in past years.

Right now, the situation in Ashdod has calmed down and there haven’t been any sirens in recent days. Sometimes I read the newspaper, and I feel worried about what’s going to be in the future. But I try to remember that everything is up to Hashem, and I try not to dwell of being afraid and wondering what will be. I know that getting wrapped up in that kind of fear and worry just brings me down.

And I try to remind myself that true slavery comes from the false belief that I am the one in control. And true freedom comes from really, really feeling that I am in Hashem’s hands, and He is the only One running the show.

One more thing:

After I posted this article, Ayala Nivin’s husband, my teacher Rabbi Aryeh Nivin, sent me the following note in order to give me a sense of his tremendous gratitude to his wife.

He wrote:

“FYI, I want to tell you something about my wife. We were the only family left in our whole building during the Gaza War and one of the only families who remained in Ashdod out of our whole kehilla (religious community) and I can promise you that our house was THE calmest home in the whole city. We even opened a small Cheder (school) in our home because Cheder was cancelled because of the war. And in the end, a missile fell just 100 yards from our home.

The day the war ended my wife delivered our 13th child. And I never heard one word of complaining from her the whole war.

You can read my Aish.com article to learn more about my family’s experiences during the Gaza War.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com user Cliff 1066

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4 comments

  1. All of us in Israel are with you in Ashdod in our minds, our hearts and our prayers. I hope I can keep this reality check in mind when our peseach cleaning is disrupted by much minor crises like the Car breaking down this week. I wish for us all the mosiach will be here soon and this peseach will be our turn for a complete redemption.

  2. B”H
    Thank you for humbling me as I prepare.

    Hatzlaha

  3. such an inspiring interview – thank you for posting this!

  4. Thank you for sharing your experiences. A strong visualization of trust in Hashem. I hope to think of your events as I am cleaning here in the States. Hatzlocha during the rest of Pesach preparations and may we all experience the geulah soon.

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