Day 1 – Courage and Genius
Driving up the steep windy mountain roads from Beit Shemesh to the Gush was no small feat for our tiny, old, tired little car. Laden down with a burden that would enable us to camp out for the week with relatively few inconveniences, sometimes it felt like the car was progressing only by a shear will of force. The only saving grace was that the cement truck 2 cars ahead was having more trouble than we were, so we could take comfort in the fact that we alone were not the cause of the 20 car parade behind us.
Upon arriving, we met Nadia, the driving force behind this project, and she explained the historical significance of the area we were in and some of what was going on.
Pinchas and I then proceeded to locate a spot to pitch our tent – our home for the next week or more. We found an area that appeared to be mostly in the shade for most of the day, which is important in the heat of the summer, and for me with my fair skin, pretty much year round.
After locating the spot where we decided to pitch our tent, we prepared the location by clearing out many of the rocks and pieces of glass, remnants of teenage late night parties. Then we pitched our tent.
I almost feel a little guilty, enjoying the beauty and serenity of this location. How can I feel like I’m doing something important when I feel like I’m on vacation?
During the course of the day we discovered that there is a well on the grounds, although I’m not entirely sure whether or not we are allowed to use it. Also, they delivered porta-potties today. That, of course, being the one thing I could not do without. I can handle having to bring my own water, sleep on the floor, cook on a grill and read by lamplight. I can even handle, gasp, not being on Facebook all day. But the one inconvenience that would have made it impossible for me to be here would have been a lack of toilets. Thank you, Hashem, you know what I can handle and what I can’t!
So now I’m sitting here enjoying the refreshing breeze that rushes in after the sun begins to set – a defining factor in Gush Etzion’s weather. The shadows are getting longer and I sit here watching as visitors – people who can’t camp with us but who want to show their solidarity, are coming and going.
I am also enjoying the increased solitude – Pinchas has gone back to the house to pick up a grill and an oil lamp because we can’t find a small propane tank for our camp stove and lantern, and the computer on my lap seems to be sending the message that I am busy, so people are giving me space.
Space. I love space. It’s something we don’t get much of in Israel and there’s a reason for that. In America, land is plentiful and you can build a home out in the middle of nowhere without too much worry of threat to your life. But there’s safety in numbers, and in Israel where the land is so precious in more ways than one, you just can’t afford a lot of land, but more than that, you can’t afford to be isolated when there are people who would kill you simply because you are a Jew and they don’t want you here.
Which leads me to the history of this place. This beautiful place. In 1927, a group of Jewish people legally purchased this piece of land in Gush Etzion. Here, they built a community called Migdal Eder, its name from biblical times. The community lasted for only 2 years however, because in 1929, local Arabs decided to commit a pogrom against the Jews of Chevron. On their way to Chevron, they warned the community that after Chevron they were next. That was it. The members of the community went into hiding and the community was destroyed. Many Zionists have been wanting to establish a Jewish presence here for the past 60+ years and now, as a reaction to tragedy, it looks like it is finally happening.
The location where we are currently situated is actually zoned for “tourism”, meaning it can be used for a campground, a museum, or other uses like that, but not a community. However, just a few hundred meters away on what is believed to be the actual location of Migdal Eder, is where the new community will likely be established. Migdal Eder is referred to in Bereishit 35, as to where Jacob journeyed after burying Rachel and then again in Micah chapters 4 and 5. The latter leading to the belief that this may be the location where the messiah will come from and leading some Christians to believe that it may have actually been the location of the birthplace of Jesus.
Whatever the significance of this location, the significance for me is that 87 years ago a Jewish community was legally built on this land – before there was a state of Israel, before it somehow became illegal for Jews to purchase land in Israel and before there was a so-called “occupation” to justify the wanton killing of Jews by Arabs. The community was destroyed because Arabs didn’t think we should be here. The Jews of Chevron were killed simply because they were Jews and 2 weeks ago, three teenage boys on their way home for the weekend were slaughtered not far from here for the same reason – for no reason.
So, the current name of this place is Givat Oz – Heights of Strength or courage. An acronym of the slaughtered boys’ names has been added to it, making it Givat Oz v’Gaon (Gaon stands for Gilad, Ayal and Naftali) and the word means Genius. So now it is the heights of courage and genius. I can think of nothing more genius than to show our courage in the face of tragedy and destruction than to build a community. A community of Jews – from all walks of life and all religious (and non-religious) streams, coming together in unity and building eretz Yisrael, eretz hakodesh.