This past Shabbat I was invited by a close friend to join him on his hilltop, which has just two caravans, for a one of a kind Shabbat experience. That it was. The only official item on my agenda for this past Shabbat: sleep. The one thing I did the least of this past Shabbat: sleep. Somehow, I feel more rested than ever.
After arriving at the town of Elon More via Tremps (hitchhiking), my friend picked me up and we rode out of the isolated town, to his even more seemingly isolated hilltop abode. Before Shabbat set in we were the only two around. Aside from the 220 sheep, 3 chickens and 3 guard dogs, of course. The views were unparalleled, the animals were prating, the shower water was carrying an electric current and I was ready for Shabbat.
We davened, just the two of us, facing Har Grizim(Har Bracha today) and Har Eval, the mountains mentioned in the Torah as the Mount of Blessings and the Mount of Curses. On one of the surrounding hilltops resides the beautiful neighborhood of Itamar, where the Fogel Family was brutally murdered in their sleep. Down in the valley sits Shechem (a.k.a. Nablus) and its surrounding villages. While davening the Friday night Tefilot (prayers) to the uplifting tunes of Rav Carlebach, we both couldn’t help but realize what we are doing here and what we are praying for.
The land laid out in front of us was not only enriched with physical beauty, but had the beauty of our history ingrained in every tree, every blade of grass, every rock and all of the discovered historic artifacts along with those which have yet to be discovered.
As we sat down to eat the Friday night meal, two army jeeps pulled up with the second highest commanding officer of the district along with seven other soldiers who were just coming to check on us and say, “Shabbat shalom.” We invited them in for Kiddush, they each covered their heads instinctively and shouted “l’Chaim” and “Amen” at the appropriate times, and we then bade them farewell with a few words of Torah and many of praise and thanks for their service. After enjoying a hearty meal, a few of the guys studying at the yeshiva a half-hour walk away, showed up to relieve us of guard duty for the night so we could get a few hours sleep, as someone always has to be awake, alert and manning the cameras there.
Before going to sleep we ate, drank and sang with these young guys, and I was shockingly not disturbed when I learned that we would only have five hours before having to wake up for Shacharit (the morning prayers) at sunrise. This isolated hilltop was far from being isolated when I woke up to a group of 20 men and children who had all walked 30-45 minutes just to show solidarity and express their support of the ideology which is heavily present there.
When the question of being nervous about local Arabs attacking or stealing from the small hilltop community arose, I was told that not only does the army protect the area, but the Jewish presence alone has served as the ultimate preventative measure. The officer who visited us asked in a declarative voice, “There’s no such thing as this community ever being left alone without someone watching over her, right?!” I learned that it’s the civilians keeping to their routine and living strong, which has prevented attacks on the fence-less area to date.
Having hitchhiked down Highway 60 to arrive to Elon More via Hawara on Friday, which is where many of the potentially lethal rock-throwing attacks take place, I was interested in hearing the perspective of the men, women and children who brave that road on a daily basis. My friend recounted a story, “I saw a car with a smashed windshield and asked the owner if that was the result of a rock-throwing in Hawara. The car owner replied ‘Actually the attack happened in Jerusalem.'”
The sacrifice, unity, expression of ideals, faith in God and mankind, pride in living in accordance with personal beliefs and sheer beauty I saw and internalized this past weekend have served as the ultimate reminders: This is my nation, and this is our land. Always has been and always will be.