Bill Berk
Bill Berk

Don’t Call Them Hilltop Youth

Don’t call them Hilltop Youth. That name is so romantic. It evokes the courage and ferocious passion of Shimon bar Yochai hiding in his cave, perhaps also the Maccabee warriors.  It conjures up images of idealistic young heroes, barefoot and hungry, willing to risk everything to fight the oppressors.  The name evokes a feeling of pride in the kind of idealism that American soldiers had, dressed in poor farmer’s clothing, facing off against the mighty British Empire’s well-dressed soldiers.  The name hints to us to connect these young people with the early Zionist pioneers who really were barefoot and hungry.  These people are young, they do live on hilltops, but they are a far cry from the pioneers who built the state of Israel.

“Hilltop” poetically suggests that these young people have a better view than the rest of us.  We’re stuck down in the valley whereas they have a much higher, broader view of life, of history, of the needs of the moment.  We see what is right in front of us.  They see far into our holy past and into a future with no Arabs daring to live on our land.  Perhaps they pity our short-sightedness.

The Hilltop Youth posture as religious. Apparently, their education didn’t include the Torah’s early admonition that we are to take on the challenge of seeing every single human being as a tzelem elokim.  Apparently, their education didn’t include Bavli Masechet Sanhedrin 4:5 which makes clear the implications of the challenge of tzelem elokim.  Nor did they learn Bamidbar Rabbah teaching and pleading for the priority of making shalom.  Apparently nobody ever had them read the Rambam on Hilchot Avadim where in the last mishna he makes clear that if someone mistreats a non-Jew with cruelty that their lineage is to be suspect–they aren’t really Jewish!

The Hilltop Youth aren’t holding on to true Zionism.  They are betraying Zionism.  The early Zionist pioneers did not act as Lords of the Land, as Hadassah Froman has recently reminded us.  They sought refuge.  They sought to have a small country in our ancient homeland.  More than anything they wanted Jewish sovereignty–the opportunity to build a country with Jewish public space, Jewish public time, with Jewish values, and a Jewish “feel.”  They did not care more for the land than they cared for the dignity of human beings.  They sought self-determination, not power to rule or harm others.

Where are the grownups?  Where are the parents of these kids?  Where are their rabbis?  Where are the police and army?  The good name of the Jewish people is at stake here.  Intimidating, stoning, shooting, bombing, burning Palestinians, attacking their olive trees–this is behavior that our great grandparents would gasp at.  We know what it is like to be the victims of pogrom.  So let us change the name.  No more “Hilltop Youth.”  Instead–pogrommers, terrorists, messed-up, confused, victims of really bad education–these are the labels we should be using.

About the Author
Bill Berk was born in California and graduated college from the University of California, Berkeley. He attended rabbinical school (HUC) and served congregations in Palo Alto and Phoenix. Bill made aliyah in 2006, and worked at the Hartman Institute running their educational programs for rabbis. He has worked at Keshet and Makor in the field of educational travel.
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