Tuesday, January 1, 2002

The Splendor of the Shomron

The Splendor of the Shomron
January 1, 2002

A few days ago I participated in a unique tour of Samaria (the Shomron), north of Jerusalem, with some friends visiting from New York. We spent the day with Shilo resident, Eira Rappaport, a wonderful tour guide and an amazing personality. I?d like to try and convey some of what we experienced while touring this beautiful part of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). 

We began our day in Psagot, which is actually in Binyamin, just south of the Shomron. Psagot, overlooking Arafat ?controlled Ramallah, is one of the communities hardest hit by the Oslo war. Under fire, day and night, for weeks and months at a time, Psagot?s brave families held fast, successfully weathering the murderous attacks.

Not too far from Psagot is one of the most important communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha), Beit El. Founded in the late 1970s, Beit El is home to two of Yesha?s most prominent leaders: Rabbi Shlomo Aviner and Rabbi Zalman Melamed. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, dean of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, is responsible for the redemption of much of the land returned to Jewish hands in the Old City of Jerusalem. An extremely prolific writer and an influential educator, Rabbi Aviner was one of the leaders of our return to Yesha. His counterpart, Rabbi Zalman Melamed is also a brilliant Torah scholar and the dean of the yeshiva in Beit El. However, Rabbi Melamed?s crowning glory is none other than Arutz Sheva ? Israel National Radio - which he founded and directs. Arutz Sheva is a popular radio station, the third-largest station in Israel, and it also broadcasts live in foreign languages, such as English, French and Russian. It also commands a very large internet audience, of which you, dear reader, are already a part. We visited the Arutz Sheva studio and heard from both Yedidya Atlas and Baruch Gordon, both of whom participate in managing the station.

After a visit to Shilo, we continued further north to Har Grizim, the Grizim mount, which overlooks Shechem. Despite the breathtaking view, overlooking a vast area of the Shomron, I had very mixed emotions while standing there. Below us, in clear view, was one of Israel?s most sacred sites, Kever Yosef, Joseph?s tomb. Seeing that site at that time was particularly moving, because only a few days later, on Shabbat, we read in the weekly Torah portion about Joseph?s death at 110 years of age in Egypt, some three thousand five hundred years ago. Hundreds of years after his death, Joseph?s bones were taken from Egypt and later buried in Shechem, at the place now known as Kever Yosef.

My first inclination was to focus on how sad it is, knowing that this holy site has been captured and occupied by our enemies, knowing that Jews may not visit or pray at this site. However, sad is not the right word to express the true emotions we felt. Perhaps it was anger, perhaps frustration, perhaps a gnawing realization that many Israelis, many Jews, do not understand the importance and significance of such a site religiously, historically and culturally. At the same time, I realized that if we in Hebron did not live where we do today, keeping Hebron Jewish for the Jewish people, Ma?arat HaMachpela, the Cave of the Patriarchs, would probably look just like Kever Yosef does today ? a declared mosque, with access forbidden to anyone not Moslem.

One of the anomalies of the last few months is Israel?s position concerning Kever Yosef. According to the Oslo Accords, Joseph?s tomb was to have remained under Israeli security control, freely accessible to Jews. The site was abandoned to the terrorists over a year ago, with an Israeli soldier bleeding to death inside the compound during the final battle. Not too long ago, following the brutal murder of Minister Rehavam Ze?evi, Israel returned to Shechem and other cities in Yesha. Why didn?t we then liberate Kever Yosef? Why didn?t Ariel Sharon, recognizing Israel?s entitlement to this extraordinary site, assert Israel?s right to again control Kever Yosef? What could have been a more appropriate reaction to the killing of an Israeli minister by Arab terrorists whose goal is the destruction of the State of Israel? Yet it didn?t happen. Despite Israel?s extended stay in Shechem, Yosef remained deserted, left in the hands of Israel?s terrorist adversaries. It?s very difficult to comprehend.

Leaving Har Grizim, we traveled East, reaching the peaks of the Shomron mountains and the community of Itamar. We didn?t stop in Itamar proper, rather we continued up the steep roads, feeling like we could easily fall off the side of the mountain, until, about three-quarters of the way up, we stopped. There, we found a real log cabin, built by one of the genuine pioneers of our day, a man named Avri, who settled this land with his own two hands. After a few families joined him, also building homes, Avri continued up the mountain, reaching the very top. There, he continued building, literally settling the land. Today a number of families, with their children and a group of volunteers work the land and raise cows, sheep and chickens.

As the sun set we prayed in a small wooden synagogue, with an unbelievably incredible view surrounding us on all sides, something of a paradise. Such is the bliss of pioneering fortitude, a feeling of really being on top of the world. With day blending into night, it was a perfect climax to our tour - a wondrous harmony of the Land and People of Israel, bonded with the pure spirit of our sacred Torah, which guides us in our quest for true peace, tranquility and unity.

My hope and prayer is that each and every one of you, dear readers, will be privileged to enjoy the same kind of day that we did with Eira Rappaport, in the heart of Eretz Yisrael, in heights of the Shomron.

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