AFSI came on a tour of the Shomron. Yes, we preach to the choir, too. AFSI is Americans For a Safe Israel, an American group made up of strong supporters of Israel. Their leadership missions are no strangers to Judea and Samaria. They have been showing their support and visiting the Jewish communities of this region for many years – long before this area had been discovered by others as a type of exotic tourist path.
The other day, I had the pleasure of hosting the AFSI leadership group for a day in Shomron. It was a great day of inspiration for both the guests and their local hosts. The only real disappointment was missing out on so many places and people we didn’t have time to visit during the one-day tour.
Early that morning, I met with the AFSI mission, led by Executive Director Helen Freedman, at the Eshel HaShomron Hotel in Ariel, where they had spent the night. South Florida chapter head Carol Flatto started the day off with a splash in the pool and so unofficially opened Israel’s 2013 swimming season. We boarded the bus driven by our loyal driver Ami and set out to Kedumim to meet with veteran Shomron leaders Daniela Weiss and Rafaela Segal. These two amazing women invited the group into their homes and not only told stories of the “settlement” movement from its first days and events, but brought us up to date on the activities of dedicated youth pioneers who are out on the hilltops now – building, planting and growing new communities throughout the land.
From Kedumim, we climbed further up the mountain to the east, to the the farm of Akiva and Ayelet HaShachar HaCohen in the hills of Yitzhar. On their farm, they grow grapes for wine and manage a flour mill that produces locally grown whole wheat flours. They are now planning to build a special visitor’s center that will serve as a memorial to their friend and neighbour Evyatar Borovsky hy”d. Visitors will have access to the nearby natural stream and picnic area and hiking trails and be able to tour the flour mill.
From there, we stopped at the Cherna Moskowitz Emergency Medical Center to meet with its director BatTzion Tzur, who told about the irreplaceable medical services that the center provides for the residents of the area’s communities, who are so far away from the emergency facilities in Israel’s cities (about an hour and twenty minutes’ drive away).
Our next stop was in the town of Itamar, where we meet with Leah and Moshe Goldsmith who told their story of coming from America as a young couple some thirty years ago and making their home in this little town with almost no regular utilities, roads, electricity, or phones, and building it into the lively community that it is today. At the eastern peak of Gidonim Mountain Ridge, we got off the bus to experience the unique “Three Seas” panoramic observation point.
Many guests to this region are amazed again and again to see that from all of the mountain tops here in eastern Shomron, you can see the Mediterranean Sea. With all of the talk about “the West Bank,” most people don’t realize how narrow the waistline of Israel actually is. Standing on top of the Shomron hills looking to the west and seeing the water of the sea leaves no need to explain the strategic importance of this area to the security of theState of Israel.
But here at the “Three Seas,” something even more amazing is visible. From this point, looking to the north, you can see the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), and if you look to the southeast, you can see the Dead Sea. Three seas seen from one place is truly amazing. Of course, seeing two borders of Israel (Jordan to the east and the Mediterranean to the west) also demonstrates how small Israel really is.
We visited the Givat Olam organic ranch, where our guests where impressed with a huge free-range chicken farm and goat barns. Many enjoyed the fresh yogurts made at the local dairy. From there, we visited the Yeshiva of Itamar at its Mishkan Ehud campus and were impressed with the beauty of the building and serious study of its students.
Again, we ended mostly disappointed that the day would not allow us to visit more people and places. We set out to the AFSI mission 2013 gala dinner at Grill and Matamim restaurant in Barkan. There, we were met by Deputy Director of the Shomron Regional Council Yossi Dagan, who thanked AFSI for their ongoing support of ourcommunities. Dagan said that we have learned that exposing the realities on the ground in Judea and Samaria has proven to be one of the most effective means of confronting the anti-Israel propaganda machine. “Ignorance,” he said, “has been found to be our greatest enemy. Many people have a false image of the issues here, fed to them by biased media and well-funded political NGOs, who are working around the clock to discredit Israel and the interests of the Jewish people in this region, which is the heartland of our national homeland. Please take this message home with you, challange your local media people and representatives to come and see this for themselves.”