On Lag ba’Omer, the Moshav has burned down. There are two kinds of people, those who’re shocked and those who need to be shocked. But shock or not, that doesn’t mean that life is over. There are a great history and a great future to be had at the Ben Shemen forest.
I grew up in a forest so visiting was always strangely familiar. Strangely because Holland doesn’t have hills, let alone mountains to look out on. Or days without rain. This village was founded by Reb Shlomo Carlebach and his chevreh with great effort in 1975.
The tall pines were almost as high as the ideals of the people who lived there. Each house was an individual humble palace. It still looked like camping — what we did when we first received the Torah.
There lived the artist and healers, the singers and players but foremost, the enthusiastic Jews. Nothing was taken for granted and especially not the messages of Judaism and people.
There in the shul, you could grab a guitar and lead Mincha. Just another Minche became the last one before Mashiach’s arrival!
At one of those Chol haMo’ed faires, I needed a place to eat my sandwiches. At the first house after the entrance, I found a lovely ritual booth. It was empty, at the heat of the day but I was sure they wouldn’t mind me eating there. When they came, they were startled for a split second to find someone munching in there but they immediately joined me and suggested I’d eat from their food too. And they asked who I knew until they got to someone in their family whom I knew. Now I was really family. They wanted me to come again. They had a quality that is so often lacking and greatly undervalued; it’s called: relaxed friendliness.
There was a time that the residents of Reb Shlomo’s village, of the “Moshav,” didn’t have enough money to buy food for themselves, so they needed to stop receiving guests for Shabbat.
Reb Sholomo on his next visit disagreed. They said: But when you have scarce means, your own needs take precedence. Try winning an argument with the greatest rabbi alive. He said: That is true generally. But in this case, the whole reason d’être of the Moshav is hospitality.
This is how Reb Shlomo lived himself. Money was only to help others.
The people and the Torah scrolls were saved from the flames, most houses and animals not. It’s the opposite of the Holocaust when books and people were burned but stuff stayed behind — to be looted.
Two generations grew up there. Will the elderly founders have the spirit to start all over? You betcha. When you’ve been living in the palm of G^d’s hand, things can hurt you but nothing can break you.
I don’t know much of what really happened. False stories, fake news, abound on the Internet. Like the aerial picture “proving” that the shul was miraculously saved, not showing the shul nor the grounds of it.
After Israel succeeded to reunite the City of Jerusalem in 1967, Reb Shlomo asked for government funds to buy tons of flowers to have Jewish children go from door to door in the Arab neighborhood and bring a message of peace. His request was not answered and the moment was lost. Thinking of this now the suspicion is that anti-Zionists tired to burn down the forest which consumed his Moshav.
But I do know that now it’s our turn to help the Moshav. A nice sum has been raised but that’s not enough. The villagers need toothbrushes and phylacteries. Then they need fresh clothes. Then they need money to buy food and a table and candles for Shabbat. Then they need money to pay rent and heating (winter will come). Then they need money to rebuild. Please open your hearts and be generous like mad.