This past weekend, I was lucky enough to have given in to my wife’s pleas to go to the North for the weekend with our 3 girls. I wasn’t too excited about the long drive from Jerusalem, but what I found was incredible beauty, a close look at the power of Zionism, and a close encounter with the price that we as a people have to unfortunately pay for living in our homeland. I’d been to the North of Israel many times before, most recently on a 5 day bike ride across the North with Alyn Hospital. But this time something was different.
As I sat in the backyard of my zimmer (i.e., the two rooms we rented in someone else’s house) in Rosh Pina early Friday morning, overlooking the beautiful and expansive landscape of the Hermon and the Galilee, which is littered with beautiful small towns, I was in awe. These breathtaking towns were not here by accident. Years of people, like me and you, working to build and create a life for themselves in one of the most naturally beautiful places in the region and in the place of our ancestors. (My wife made fun of me because as we were sitting in the yard of this zimmer having this very conversation, I said: “Lisa, this is more beautiful than Tuscany” – which we had visited a few months ago. Her answer: “You are crazy!!” Maybe I am. Crazy, but happy.)
After spending the day on Friday with some friends from Modiin (who made aliya from Miami) browsing the amazing art galleries in the old city of Tzfat (Sefad), and driving along the Lebanon border to get to a park full of trails, rock climbing, canopying, roller coasters and bungee, called Tzuk Manara, we settled back in our zimmer in Rosh Pina for an early Shabbat dinner.
Saturday morning, my sentiments of Friday morning came back with a vengeance. We set up a walking tour of Rosh Pina, and learned the amazing history of the city. For those who haven’t been, Rosh Pina is a great and small city. Sitting just 20 minutes from Tzfat, it has a small old city with a rich history, and a beautiful small modern city, with amazing homes and even better views. It is a popular place for Israelis to get away for the weekend. I’m told Madonna stays here when she comes to Israel as well — for whatever that is worth. In my eyes, Rosh Pina is the story of the modern day State of Israel. The town was founded in 1878 by a small group of religious people who left Tzfat and wanted to start their own agricultural village. They failed. A few years later, in 1882 a group of zionist from Romania, called Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) made aliya and moved to the town to try to help out. Their love for Israel was strong, but their agricultural know-how was missing. They failed as well. Then came Baron Edmond James de-Rothschild from France, and took over the town. He gave those who lived there salaries and food, on the condition that they took instruction from the team he put in place to develop the agricultural town. The teamwork between zionists from outside of Israel, those with money and those who were compelled to make aliya, together with those who had moved from Tzfat, created a successful and beautiful city in what they named Rosh Pina (cornerstone).
As we were walking through the old city, which is only two blocks long, and learning about the history of the city, I was bursting in pride of our Jewish history in this land. There was an amazing connection that I felt with these Zionists who put together their money and effort to create this beautiful city over 130 years ago.
Then, as they say: things got real.
At the end of the old city there is a nice lookout point called Mitzpe Nimrod, where we stood and the tour guide pointed out all of the cities and landmarks you can see from the lookout point. Suddenly, a big, strong, man in his mid-sixties dressed in an army fleece and sunglasses, but with slouched shoulders and a sad demeanor, came up to our tour guide and asked if he could talk to us for a few minutes. I had no idea what was to come, but I can tell you that it ended with me in tears hugging this man who I had just met.
We sat on these large stones which were set out in the middle of the lookout point, and while my kids were running around, in a soft but strong voice this man began to tell me and my wife a story. The story is about a man from Rosh Pina who had served his time in the army as a tank commander. His name was Nimrod Segev. The man talking was Hezi, Nimrod’s father. After he finished the army, Nimrod got married, began to work at Microsoft in Tel Aviv, and had a son. Life was good. They were living the Zionist dream.
29 years old in 2006, the Second Lebanon War breaks out, and Nimrod receives a notice that he is being summoned to his post as a tank commander for reserve duty. Nimrod dropped everything, took a company car and drove to the North to his base. When he arrived, his commander tells him that he is not needed; he had been transferred to a computer unit because he now had computer skills due to his work at Microsoft. Instead of turning around and going home, he answered: “No, I am a tank commander. I have a summons to be here, I want to serve here.” In deep need of more help, his commander gave in to Nimrod’s demand and prepared a tank and a team for him. Nimrod was in the hospital just a day later suffering from severe dehydration due to the fact that there was not enough water in his tank, and he gave all the water which there was to his troops. A few days later he was back on the battlefield.
The father then stops and takes a few deep breaths. Later than week, there is a knock on the father’s door in Rosh Pina a few minutes past midnight. He opens the door and sees six men standing there, officers from the army, the mayor of Rosh Pina and a doctor from the local hospital. He immediately slammed the door shut. After they made their way into his house he learned that Nimrod and his tank crew members, Gilad Shtukelman, Nir Cohen and Noam Goldman were all killed by a roadside bomb and an anti-tank missile. They were killed on the 15th of the month of Av, the Hebrew valentine’s day. The father sat there quietly for a moment, kept his composure as best he could and explained in a whisper that the city gave him this place to make a memorial for his son, as the large tree that sat behind it is where his son had built a tree house as a child and spent his days playing. The community and people from outside Israel provide the financial support to keep the lookout running. He now spends his days telling his son’s story to anyone who will listen.
I stood, tears in my eyes and told him the only thing in my mind: “The heart of the entire nation of Israel is with you.” We hugged as if we were family. We are.
The story of Rosh Pina coupled with the story of Nimrod Segev and his father Hezi is the story of the modern day state of Israel. It is a story of love, devotion, amazing strength, achdud (togetherness), the re-building of a nation for all Jews on our ancient homeland, and the tough price we have to pay. This is why we all pray for a time where there will be a true and lasting peace.
Am Israel Chai.
*** To learn more about Nimrod and/or to help keep Mitzpe Nimrod running visit www.facebook.com/nimrodlookout