Monday, July 30, 2012

My Amazing Illegal Outpost Adventure: Psagot and Migron

Yom sheni, 11 Av 5772.

If you haven't read Parts One and Two of this tour and feel the need, please click here and here.

From one boutique to another, we now moved on to the town of Psagot, where we would tour the winery.  We were to have met with Noam Orr, eighth-generation Jeusalamite and journalist, who is also one of the founders of our previous stop, Barkan.  Unfortunately, he had to take care of his elderly parents -- which is about the best excuse a nice Jewish boy can give for not keeping an appointment.  (We got to see first hand how challenging is the life of a tour guide, as Eve Harow had to juggle her tour around our hosts' schedules.)  So we went straight to the wine tasting.  Nobody argued about that.

Most people I know will never be able to afford to live in villas such as these.
A little Palestinian "Gan Eden," courtesy of a relatively free life in Israel.
As an aside, I want to speak to you a little bit about the countryside en route. Let me make it clear that I would like Israel to be a Jewish country, under complete Jewish control, within the Biblical borders established by the Creator of the Universe.  In a perfect world, Arabs and other peoples would not be excluded from living in my country as foreign residents -- unlike the Arabs' call for a Judenrein Middle East -- as long as they accepted living peaceably in the Jewish State.  That said, I recognize that they currently live among us, in their own "no Jews allowed" towns and cities.  What I resent is that many of the world governments and media would have you believe they all live in refugee tent villages and get about exclusively on donkeys.  The truth is that there are Arabs dwelling in dire poverty (as are there Jews, much to our shame); but there are also Arabs living in affluent villages and cities, and driving late-model private vehicles.  Do yourself and me a favor, and never let those who lie about Israel convince you to perpetuate the sin of the spies.

They tried to kill us, they didn't succeed...  Let's drink.  (Okay, in keeping with the actual tradition of "Let's eat," they did serve pretzels, too...)

 The Psagot Winery was impressive, situated in a a beautiful little oasis in the desert... and filled to the brim with tasty, expensive wine.  I truly enjoyed it -- but I have a rule.  If a wine is going to cost 110 + NIS a bottle, it had better give me that "Ahhhhhh!" dance on my tastebuds that only one decently-priced wine has ever accomplished.  (That was a 1997 Beron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon.  Everything else has to measure up to that.)  No dance, no shell out shekels.  But since it was free, and spitting was optional, the Dearly Beloved and I had a lovely time.

The staff was friendly and informative.  The film about the winery remembered to tell us that this was Biblical territory, recently proved by an authentic coin found in an archaeological dig.  Please check out the Wine Musings Blog for details and a more flattering review.
One of the friendly staff members at Psagot Winery.

Nice, clean layout for efficiency and tasting pleasure

Belly up to the bar, frum tasters!  It was hard to get us downstairs for the movie...

Not the best photo of the actual metal replica of the authentic coin found in the area.

The Dearly Beloved and I spent most of our time outside, enjoying the scenery.
After that refreshing little break, it was time to move on to the part of the tour I had waited for since Egged wheels first hit the highway.  Life in a little semi-Anglo bubble forces one to travel outside the comfort zone if we're going to learn anything about the communities that spend an inordinate amount of time in the news.  Migron is such a place.

When we entered the gate, love of Israel and love of children were the first signs this tiny community exuded.

We were met by a lovely young woman (who said that she was asked to speak to us because she speaks English fluently, being an Anglo olah vatika, and because she's the yishuv grandmother.  Looked pretty young to us).  Her name is Aviela Deitch, and if you have questions about Migron from an insider -- including how you can help -- please feel free to contact her.
Eve Harow, Aviela Deitch, and another sweet member of our tour group.

Aviela, speaking with passion and conviction born of the knowledge that she and her community are in the right.

These small caravan houses look out on our Jewish Biblical history.

Children are the most important "crop" produced in this sweet little village.
We had to take over a classroom, as the shul was being used for an educational program for the children.
 Aviela explained to us the situation.  Migron was established in 1999, on property legally designated as under the management of the Authority for Abandoned Property.  For years, the small community carved out of the rock and weeds a vibrant little home.  For twelve years, there was never a complaint by an Arab about stolen property.  But in 2006, Peace Now (an organization whose true motivation I would love to understand) found lists from the 1960s of names of mukhtars from the clan of the King of Jordan to whom he had gifted the property.  According to the king's own ruling, the property was to be farmed within 10 years, or would revert to the crown.  In the interim, the land was reclaimed by Israel in a defensive war.

These are the Arab agricultural fields that Peace Now accuses the Migron Jews from stealing from the Palestinians?  What were they growing?  Where can you sell rocks and brush?
 The land was never farmed.  In fact, when the residents of Migron approached the Arabs whose names were on the list in order to buy the property, the Arabs were surprised to hear that they owned any land!  This apparently did not stop them from accepting money -- so the residents of Migron have raised and spent a great deal of money over time to buy every parcel of land upon which Migron rests.  Peace Now has attempted to block these land purchases at every turn, preferring to go the more inflammatory route through the court system.
More of the alleged "fields" supposedly stolen.  Yeah...  I can see that.  NOT.  The building in the background is the community mikveh.

Sandwiched between the elegance of the Psagot Winery and an Arab-owned quarry (where rock is legitimately harvested, rather than in the fields of Migron), is the new planned refugee village for the Migron residents.
At one time, the Israeli government supported and encouraged the settlement enterprise, as did the Magistrate's Court (which should be the only body involved in a property dispute). Migron was no exception. According to the booklet "Migron: All the Lies, All the Truth," Ariel Sharon classified Migron as a "strategic outpost" that would not be evacuated in any scenario. However, recently the Israeli government -- and especially the Supreme Court -- has seemingly turned its back on any communities that might upset their hopes for a two-state solution -- even though many Israelis and other intelligent observers now see this option as an epic fail.
 Remember the beautiful bracha inadvertently given to the Jewish people by Bilaam?  "How lovely are your tents, O Yaacov..."  This referred to the modesty of the Jewish people who emplaced their tents so that no window or door faced the window or door of another's tent.  No such consideration here.  "If we need a cup of sugar," quipped Aviela," we will only have to reach out our window and take it from the table of the dwelling next door."

One of the many precious industries Migron adds to the world is a Horseback Riding Therapy Clinic, devoted to helping young people to overcome psychological and emotional challenges.  One of our tour members asked Aviela what would become of the horses.  Would the community be given sufficient warning to move them?  "There is nowhere to move them.  When you see the housing they have planned for us, you will see that there is no place for them," she responded.  "What will be done with them?" we asked.  Aviela answered as gently as she could: "They will have to be killed."
The sign outside the stables quotes Pirke Avot:  "If I am not for myself,  who will be for me?  And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"
At this writing, Migron (originally condemned by the Supreme Court to be evacuated on 1 August) has been given a reprieve until at least 21 August. May our prayers for the establishment of Migron as a legitimate part of Israel be answered, along with our prayers for all of our Torah-established inheritance. If you want a tour with an excellent, informed and passionately pro-Israel tour guide, I strongly recommend Eve Harow.

Photo credit: Ruti and Avi Eastman

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Amazing Illegal Outpost Adventure: Ariel and Barkan

Yom shlishi, 5 Av 5772.

If you haven't read Part One of this tour, and feel the need, please click here.

After we left Kedumim, we started driving toward Ariel.  Ariel, a city of more than 17,000 residents, has been in the news a lot lately, due to a boycott of its Center for the Performing Arts by actors who -- I'm sorry to say -- didn't do their homework before jumping like lemmings off the "Israel has to be in the wrong" cliff, and because of the university there that has been trying to get status as an official university of Israel.  Fierce opposition to the request has been launched by parties on the Left who assume that we Jews have no right to live in the West Bank.  And so it goes... 

Ariel, the capitol of the Shomron, is a lovely little city that has been in existence since 1978.  I think it's important to remember, as we listen to the skewed "news" stories about the Middle East, that not all of the so-called illegal settlements are tiny groups of caravans.  (Even that shouldn't be an issue, according to a correct reading of international law; but we'll get to that later.)  The MSM (mainstream media) like to present these communities as if they are temporary, hastily-thrown-together encroachments on territory that rightfully belongs to Arabs.  Rather, the West Bank -- which is more honestly called Yehuda and Shomron -- is filled with Arab cities and villages, and Jewish cities and villages.  With lots of open spaces in between.

And for those who still persist in believing news accounts that seem to indicate that settlers are willfully putting up these "villages" without Israeli government support, remind them that even Israelis cannot cause electricity, plumbing and sewage to sprout out of the ground without a little help from their friends.

Ariel's university has, according to YNet, 13,000 students, including 5% Arab students and a large number of Ethiopian Jewish students.  I am sure they are all grateful that that their degrees will be obtained by an official university -- as this status was finally obtained a few days after our tour. (We didn't have anything to do with the final outcome, other than being really happy for Ariel and all concerned.)

We're talking serious infrastructure here.

We had lunch in the sweet little park pictured above.  The park, like most of the parks we have seen in Shomron and Yehuda, reminds us that children are the most important commodity of the settlement enterprise.

As the Dearly Beloved says, the best part of any tour is the people we meet.  We were blessed to meet several lovely couples, among them the Franks, with whom we shared lunch and conversation.   They are new olim, 85 and 81 years old, who live in French Hill in Jerusalem.  "I just told him it was time to make aliyah," said Lore Frank.  "So I came," finished Shimon Frank.  Lore (pronounced "Lori") was very proud to let us know that Shimon had been here before.  "He fought with the navy in the War of Independence in 1948," she told us.  They inspired us in so many ways, and we hope to keep in touch.

A pillbox guard post -- sometimes called a "fillbux" or a "pillibox" by Israelis -- is a constant reminder that the IDF must keep its eyes and ears on the areas surrounding these yishuvim at all times.

The view of the area surrounding Eynavis

Hard to imagine why people think there isn't room for all kinds of settlement...

After lunch, we packed up for the trip to Barkan, a very small yishuv, where the sweet and funny owner of the Eynavis boutique and chocolate workshop, Sharon Kahane, taught us how to make chocolate -- and insisted disarmingly that we teach her to speak English.

The process is quite detailed.  When she was finished, we understood why handmade chocolate isn't cheap!

Eve Harow, our tour guide, explained to us how the international boycott of products from Yehuda and Shomron is affecting both Israelis and Palestinians -- and, in fact, Palestinians more than Israelis.  While Eynavis is an exception, many companies have moved their businesses to Tel Aviv and other areas within the Green Line, to avoid the boycott.  So while the Jewish businessman might be temporarily inconvenienced, his business can continue to thrive.  However, if he hired Palestinian laborers, they are simply out of a job.  I wonder if the organizations that work so hard to punish Israel for being Jewish to help the downtrodden actually think this through?

Stay tuned for the third and final part of our adventure: a visit to Psagot for wine, and to much-maligned Migron.  The plot thickens...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Amazing Illegal Outpost Adventure: Kedumim

Yom rishon, 3 Av 5772.

Now that I have your attention, I will say that I considered putting quotation marks around the word "illegal" in the title because in relation to Israel,  the word has been abused to the point of being rendered nearly meaningless.  Suffice it to say that there are millions of misguided people who think that one Jew in all of the so-called West Bank is two too many.  More on that later.

This adventure was so full of things to learn and people worth knowing, it will take more than one post.  Stick with me.  This tiny country is so full of wonderful and important stories!

A week ago, the Dearly Beloved and I went on a tour of the Shomron (Samaria, aka the northern part of the "West Bank") with Eve Harow, under the auspices of the OU Center in Jerusalem.  Eve is a knowledgeable and entertaining tour guide who uses the Tanach as a guidebook.  It is deeply satisfying to travel the Holy Land of Israel while being shown the locations where great Biblical events actually took place.

Our first stop was Kedumim, a 27-year-old town of approximately 3,500 residents whose primary industry is education.   We met first with Michael Osnis, who told us a remarkable story of how he came to build a model of the Second Holy Temple.

Michael's story is nothing short of amazing.  He told us that he was a secular Jew from the former Soviet Union, with no knowledge of the Torah or the Holy Temple, and with no belief in G-d.

He was invited to Kfar Chabad for Shabbat when he was a young oleh, and saw his host's children playing a card game.  As he looked closer, he saw that the cards had unusual symbols on them, not the usual hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs.  One picture in particular fascinated him, so he asked about it.  The children didn't understand how a grown man could not know about the Holy Temple, but they patiently explained to him.

A few weeks later, he had a powerful dream about the Temple.  He became obsessed with it. A master stonemason, he felt that he would not rest until he had built it, and with materials as authentic as possible.

He wanted it to be right, but he had no idea where to find answers, not yet knowing enough to go to the Mishnah for details.  He stumbled upon the works of Josephus Flavius, the commentator of the period of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.  Michael read and re-read with fascination the detailed description in Josephus' writings about the Temple.  With guidance from his research and the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, he painstakingly constructed a model that was so accurate that Aish HaTorah commissioned a 1,200 kilogram version that was placed on top of a roof of one of their buildings overlooking the Kotel.

The sweetest part of the story is that Michael's obsession with his dream, and with learning about and building his model of the Second Temple, caused him the begin observing Judaism.  He went on to build a beautiful replica of the Mishkan as well.

Even the curtain for the front of the model of the Mishkan was woven in careful detail.

After this inspiring visit, we moved to the Kedem Museum, which was founded and is run by Zvi (Zvika) Slonim, winner of this year's Moskowitz Prize for Zionism.  Unfortunately, the museum is going through renovations; so we were unable to learn anything about it.  (A good reason for a return visit.)

To quote the Moskowitz site, "The Moskowitz Prize for Zionism was established in recognition of the people who put Zionism into action in today’s Israeli society – at times risking their own personal security, placing the collective before personal needs, and doing what it takes to ensure a strong, secure Jewish homeland."

A seventh-generation Israeli, Zvi Slonim is a direct descendant of the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch, and the grandson of the chief rabbi of Hevron at the time of the 1929 pogrom.  He is also a criminologist, and an expert on juvenile delinquency and special education.  What motivated him to leave a fulfilling career and work so tirelessly to fill the Land with Jews?  He quotes Mesilat Yesharim (The Path of the Just):  "What is man's obligation in this world?"

One night, he heard Egyptian president Anwar Sadat say that he would be willing to sacrifice a million soldiers for a tiny speck of the land of Israel.  Hearing this impressed upon Zvi how important must be the Land to the Jews.  He felt that our Torah teaches us that we must love the Land, and that we must fill it up and live in it.  He hoped that he could bring a hundred Jews with him.  He became one of the founders of the Gush Emunim movement, and one of the first settlers in the Shomron.  It was important to him that his organization purchase every speck of land legally, without violence, without a hint of stealing the land, so that no one could question the legality of the Jewish ownership of the settlements.  He proceeded to help to establish 148 settlements with a half a million people.

To be continued.  Next stops:   Barkan for handmade chocolate, and Ariel, home to Israel's eighth university.

Photos taken by Ruti and Avi Eastman

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hashke's Flowers

Yom chamishi, 29 Tamuz 5772.

"You know how it is, son.  You're a writer, too.  When the muse isn't there, no words come out."
"I know, Ema.  But I miss the flowers."

This post is for you, Soldier Boy.

These photos are from a walk I took in my beloved village, Neve Daniel, in June.  So by now, the figs and grapes and pomegranates are bigger, and the hot July sun is filling them up with juice.

One of the things I love about my neighbors is their appreciation for the Seven Species of the Land of Israel .

Here are your flowers, my son.  Surrounded by fruit trees and beautiful gardens.

Difficult to see clearly -- but it's a lemon tree.  Very pretty.  ;-)

My favorite flower, the Passiaflora, looks like something from space.  This and the platypus show G-d's sense of humor.

A quiet tribute to the five young Israeli tourists murdered yesterday in Bulgaria.  May Hashem avenge their bloods.

The view of Beitar and the Judean Hills from my street.  On a clear day, you can see the Mediterranean Sea!
Looking forward to walking about Israel with you again one day soon, dear son!

Hashke: a Yiddish nickname for Yehoshua (Joshua in English)