Latest posts by Varda Epstein (see all)
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Nadia Matar is badass and cultured, refined and tough, and burning hot with Zionist fervor. So it was par for the course that when the rest of Israel wept and cursed by turns at the anti-Semitic murder of our boys, Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali, May Hashem avenge their blood, she got busy in a more positive direction. It came as no surprise to me to see her announcement in the efrat-chat Yahoo group:
As a Zionist answer to the despicable murder of our three boys, a pioneering group of Jews headed by Women in Green went up in the night to Givat Oz – a hilltop overlooking Tzomet HaGush – in order to create a new Jewish presence in the area. As since the beginning of Zionism, the land of Israel is sometimes built with blood and tears. The hill is adjacent to the historical community of Migdal Eder, which was dismantled in 1927, in a forest near to Bet Fajjar, on approved State land. The pioneers cleaned out an abandoned structure on the site and settled it, calling upon the government to immediately apply sovereignty, starting with Hevron and Gush Etzion. This call was made by the Women and Green, together with the Professors for a Strong Israel, headed by Aryeh Eldad and Matot Arim.
I had attended the rally at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv so filled with life and hope and then so shortly after stood in the hot son for hours, body to body with my brothers and sisters at the funeral of our dear martyrs. It was only fitting then, that I capped off my week with a visit to Givat Oz V’Gaon, a hilltop outpost, its name containing an acronym for Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali (HY”D).
Oz is “might” and Gaon is “excellence,” perfectly descriptive of the Jewish nation that has outlived every last one of its enemies and has achieved accomplishments in every sphere, in distinct disproportion to its minority status.
I wanted to write about something positive now and Leora “probably my best friend” Hyman, offered to drive me to the fledgling settlement, a short distance away from my home. We parked just outside the outpost, in the rocky dust, baked dry by the sun, and a few steps later stepped into another world, a sylvan setting teeming with energy and life.
I breathed in the pine-scented air and stole a minute to take in and appreciate the beauty of this place.
As always, there’s something extra. I could visit a forest anywhere else in the world and it would not feel like this. Nowhere else is this added dimension of knowing: This is mine. This is God-given. This is holy.
Nowhere else does my heart swell with love to see a tree, a rock, or the earth itself.
There were babies and parents, siblings and moms. We had arrived during a scheduled arts and crafts session for the little ones. People were eating pizza and all sorts of random donated food.
Jews and food. They go together. There was nonstop traffic, with locals bringing in crates and cartons and boxes of food and drink for the new residents of the new neighborhood. Everyone wants to be a part of this. It’s beautiful.
“This!” I thought, “This instead of the cries for revenge that are just angry steam venting into the air and dissipating into nothingness.”
Nadia was busy, always busy. Talking to security people, taking phone calls, greeting dignitaries, and calling out to a young boy to come down off the side of the building he was scaling (the lone permanent structure at Givat Oz V’Gaon, an old British blockhouse), right now.
Leora and I waited patiently, chatting with the locals. I was snapping photos with my phone and the children asked me why. I told them I was a writer and their eyes went round. “Will this be in a newspaper? Which one?” they asked.
Not wanting to confuse them with the specifics of blogging, I told them, “Kol minei,” (all kinds). After that, kids kept coming up to me, asking me to take their photos, and striking unnatural poses. It made me laugh. It made me think that in the U.S., parents would be warning me off. But here, the entire point is to be out there, loud and proud of a nation-building endeavor. Everyone was happy that I would be giving them positive exposure.
Nadia and I spoke at length, and as we talked, she would politely excuse herself to greet the continuous stream of newcomers bearing food, support, and love. Rabbi Israel Rozen, director of the Zomet Institute arrived, and I was honored to be introduced to him. Nadia listed all the dignitaries that had visited thus far. Mayors, chiefs of police, top army officials, members of Knesset, and Rabbi Nachman Kahana (who came bearing a ceiling fan for the comfort of the residents and their visitors).
There were tents, porta-potties, a generator, jerry cans of water, a loudspeaker, prayer books, a Torah scroll, and a vast tarpaulin awning to provide shade from the summer sun, all items purchased with donations to Women in Green over the years.
Nadia gave me a rundown of how the organization she heads in tandem with Yehudit Katsover, Women in Green, morphed from a protest organization in the Oslo years to one dedicated to saving Judea and Samaria by reinforcing the Jewish presence in this area. While she shoots out the details, which I hurriedly jot down, she takes a call from her husband and then tells me to make sure I write in my piece that without the support of their husbands, she and Yehudit could not possibly do this work. It’s hard on the husbands, but they know this work is for the sake of Israel and they never complain.
Next Nadia describes for me the history of the area which was the site of a Yemenite Jewish community, Migdal Eder, from 1927-1929, and which was subsequently destroyed during the Arab pogroms. The territory is designated as state land and consists of two hills, the other one in view from where we sit. It is that hill in the distance that is referenced in Micah as the site from whence the Messiah will come and the reason those Yemenite Jews desired strongly to settle here. Coincidentally, the site overlooks the locus of the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the three youths for which this outpost is named.
I mention to Nadia my confusion about the cries for the annexation of Judea and Samaria. “When Jordan captured the area, only two nations regarded the Jordanian presence as a legal occupation: Great Britain and Pakistan. Why then do we need to annex these areas? They’re already ours! Why not simply apply civil law?”
“Ah,” said Nadia. “You bring up an important point. You’re right. There’s no need to annex these territories, we only need to apply the law. We only need to declare our sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
“Annexation would just be giving the impression we’re taking something that doesn’t belong to us and that’s not the case here,” and with that Nadia handed me a newspaper produced by Women in Green, pointing out the name of this publication, “Sovereignty.”
We talk about the word “settler.” Nadia prefers the word “inheritor.” I raise my eyebrows, quizzical. She explaines, “The root of the Hebrew word for ‘settler,’ ‘mitnachel,’ comes from the word, ‘nachala’ which means, ‘inheritance.’ This land is our inheritance. We’re not ‘settlers!’ We’re inheritors!”
I nod. No argument here. Nadia has sechel, common sense.
Nadia said, “Let me tell you a story. I met a woman, Naomi Solomon, a photographer, during the Expulsion [from Gush Katif]. She eventually went back to California but on one visit back to Israel she said to me, ‘Nadia, take me some place special. I need to refill my Jewish kishkes with kedusha, holiness.’
“So I took her to Maale Rehavam, an outpost founded in 2001. When we arrived, Naomi said, ‘Nadia! How did you know? This place is like my spiritual mother, my beginnings as a Jew! How could you possibly have known?’
“It turns out that Naomi came to Israel for the first time in 2001, as a young secular Jew. She had this idea to do a series of photographs of a settlement. She asked around and got a list of names of suitable places to do her project and decided on Maale Rehavam, which had just been founded in memory of Rehavam Zeevi, an MK that had been assassinated by terrorists. Naomi drove up to the outpost in her heels and city clothes and snapped her photos.
Why Do This?
“As she was about to leave, she asked one of the residents, a young secular man, ‘Tell me: what made you want to be here, to settle the land?’
“In his heavily Israeli-accented English he said, ‘Come. I will show you.’
“He took a shovel and motioned to Naomi to follow him. He chose a spot and began to dig. Naomi got nervous. What was he going to do, she wondered?
“He dug and dug and at last, said to Naomi, ‘Open your hands.’
“She opened her hands and he filled them with the fresh-dug soil.
“He said, ‘Look at it.’
“She looked at it.
“’This is the land that God gave us. Breathe it.’
“Naomi leaned in and breathed in the scent. ‘At that moment,’ said Naomi, ‘I felt all our Jewish history enter me—fill me up.
“’From that moment on, I was a believer. It’s how I became religious! By way of this secular settler, not a religious man, who gave me a sense of my identity—my connection to the soil!’”
I shivered, the hairs on my arms standing up for about the 7th time during my visit. “Wow,” I said, too blown away to think of anything clever to say.
I thanked Nadia for her time and Leora and I walked slowly back to her car. As we left, I had this feeling, kind of like leaving the Western Wall, a sort of regret or loss perhaps, on leaving a place of kedusha, of holiness.
“This,” I thought. “This is ‘Eretz Yisrael hayafeh,’ the beautiful Israel.”
And I felt once again, how privileged I was to live at the center of the world, where everything is important and imbued with spirit.