Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lilfe On Itamar - Leah's Story

Yishuv Itamar is located in the Gav Hahar region, or literally, "the Hump of the Mountain". It is hill country, tremendously big, picturesque and mysterious, varied with long and wide valleys who resemble a mosaic coat of many colors ranging from pea to deep jade greens and chestnut browns in the winter and spring months. In the summertime the colors are dry, like the colors of Rebbeca's jug, in which she served Eliezer and the camels in Babylon.

There are springs and wells in the hills. The bounty stemming from the blessing given to Joesph…."The blessings of the father are potent above the blessings of my progenitors to the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills"(Vayechi 49). The tribunal portions of Ephraim and Menashe, the sons of Joseph run across these highlands. In every direction that one looks, the views are emanated with authentic biblical greatness and Jewish nobility. This is the chief feature of the landscape, of your life in it, and you are struck by the feeling of having lived here in the past.

When we made aliyah to Itamar 15 (1985) years ago by Divine Providence, a strong vibe pervaded the air- here I am, where I ought to be.

Gav Hahar is crowned by two noble peaks that rise 3,000 feet above the surrounding country, the mountains of the Blessing and the Curse- Har Gerizzim and Har Eval. They sometimes resemble twin Mount Sinais simmering in a purple Holy haze of splendor, the gray, jagged rocks breaking through on the Eval side, and majestic forests waving on the Gerizzim. You cannot imagine why G-d created these mountains for any reason in the world than just to be the gate, the very shoulders of the Land of Israel, with Shechem (literally-shoulder) resting in the valley.

In the winter, the winds blow incessantly here. They strike the sides of the mountains and hills and blow against the windowpanes of our homes. Sometimes the houses shudder from it. The clouds, which travel with the wind, release the blessings of the dew and the bounty, the blessings of Joseph. Huge droplets of rain pour down the little streets of the yishuv and form little temporary streams and pools. The sky can become very gray and dark with a range of gray clouds and you remember Noach sheltering his family in the ark. In fact, the most rain falls in these parts. That is the way it usually is, when the blessings are given. When Joseph was thrown again into the pit, the skies suddenly cleared and the grounds await.  It is a drought year. But, even so, the fields are full of scarlet poppies and blue pansies. The deer run free in these parts and skip from hill to dale.

Interestingly enough, not many Jews have come to resettle this Land. It is still a hidden place to most. In all Gav Hahar there are no more than 500 families. They are spread upon these ancient mountains, Harey Kedem, sparsely. There are 4 yishuvim, Itamar, Bracha - situated on the mountain of the Blessing, Yitzhar, and Elon Moreh. Each yishuv has a panorama unique to its position on the "hump of the Mountain".

Elon Moreh sloping off to the north and the famous portion of the daughters of Zlofchad, Yitzhar, to the west and a breathtaking view of the Great Sea, Bracha- upon the whole of Gav Hahar, and Itamar to the east, to the Jordan.

Before the recent intifada AlAksa, some curious Tel-Avivers would drive out in their 4x4's to catch the breath of this land that reaches beyond time and space. That has stopped now. We, the local settlers, are inquisitive about any vehicle that is not a bulletproof bus on these roads. At times, life on the yishuv seems like that of a hermit, with the stillness of the night sometimes so out of the ordinary. But, all of the time you can feel the overshadowed existence of the local natives, much like the Canaani, the Perizzi and the Chitti, running parallel with your own but on a completely different plane. You can't help but wonder, when will this end? The echoes of our ancestors, the echoes of the screams of Joseph call out from the nearby pit, and you can hear "Ode Yoseph Chay". History and the future whisper in the spring wind. They console. They inspire.

It is only a matter of time that Joseph returns. "And you shall dwell in the Land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your G-d".
By Leah Goldsmith

Itamar Today

Beautiful Itamar - Home Of G-d's People

Itamar 1985 - 2005

Almost 20 years ago, Itamar, then Tel Chaim, consisted of 2 tiny blocks of pre-fab concrete matchbox houses, like parallel rows of white dots on a black domino. White, in its stark symbol of new civilization, upon the black uninhabited earth, scattered with gnarled thorn bushes and many ancient rocks of different sizes. This double row of dwellings sits perched snugly on a low hump of hill in the mountainous region of the central Shomron. The glorious hills surrounding the settlement seemed to hug and mystify the newcomers.

The houses themselves were simple. One could walk around, seeing potential for the little front gardens. In the shadow of the big rocks grew a variety of sage, thyme, zatar and many other wild herbs and flowers. In spring, the earth became mossy, a ready-made green carpet. The backyards faced the North Country and the new and rising Elon Moreh in the distance.

Between the rows of houses ran a concrete lane. Toddlers played there in the bright light, the sky a burning blue. Below this lane stood the public meeting houses, which served many purposes such as for praying, and planning a new decade of settlement and land reclamation. As the twilight sank, couples would stroll down to the new playground. There were hardly any trees at this point and sometimes the world felt a dreary place without them. Later, a huge expanse of fresh grass was put down there, rich and refreshing- it was like going to a country club.

The homes had no phones. This meant waiting on line, usually at night, for the one local phone. There, under the lone light bulb, the dim, yellow glow would give a cozy mood to those hooking up with the outside world. Then, the days were days and the nights were nights. Time had a definition.

At this time a generator supplied the electricity, it’s motor droning away almost always. When it shut down, the silence could be heard to the end of the world. It, like the people, needed an occasional rest too.

On the long winter nights the rain would rattle on the windows, sometimes shaking the frames of the little houses in a thunderous waft of freezing air. Was that someone banging on the thin wooden door? Babies were often held inside thick blankets. Walking down “Main Street”(our famous lane), one could see through the lace curtains, a candle glimmering and providing a warm and cheerful light.

There were days that it felt too cold to go out. Better lay in bed, listening to the steady freezing rain. When it was time to go, it meant trudging through the cold mud. The thought of family was warming to the heart. Then, walking indifferent in the rain, under the umbrella, pleasure was taken secretly thinking of the bountiful things of Eretz Goshen.

The women loved marketing. Tuesday was fruit and vegetable day. Children would wheedle their way between the crates and crates of melons, bananas and oranges. It was a luxurious day, but everyone counted his or her pennies. A big truck would arrive every Wednesday with frozen and dry goods. The women would kind of squeeze together in a heckling dance of reaching and grasping for this and that, beautiful in their bright and simple scarves.

Soon it became harvest time in the new fields. There was the hope of accepting something straight from nature. The people were slowly acclimating themselves with this land, learning its ways, praying for it to bless them. It was not easy.

With the arrival of spring, the children explored the warming hillsides, collecting pansies and anemones, slipping down the sloping hills covered in a purple thistle. They would bring a bright decoration for their shining Shabbat tables. Money was always short, but walking across the new fields gave a rich sense of ownership and pride. The hills were calling, “come and claim me, come and take me”. We couldn’t get enough of them. It was a kind of matrimony with the Land.

The visitors became enthralled with the place. They went out looking for mushrooms, hunting through the wet grass. There was the joy of finding something; an ancient olive tree bigger than a house, a wild vine, good for new starters.

Climbing the steep path to the top of the mountain, all things shone in the sun. The atmosphere, a soft gray, the gentleness of being so near the so ancient, the so ours, provided an intimacy that could not remain abstract. The prophet’s dreams were coming true. At that time, the hum of noise coming from the valley, where the “locals” lived was only a minor detail for us. We felt them, but not intensely. We were so locked into our existence, it was easy to forget the larger picture, feeling only the very being of this place at this time- then, now and forever.

The men transformed quickly from clean-shaven boys to bearded strong men. Some wore flannel or dark blue work shirts and pants with high black rubber boots. Some would be a little more “dressed up” standing in the early morning at the roadside wearing white shirts and large cranberry colored holy books under their arms. There were those that worked the Land, and those that dedicated their lives to learn the details of halacha concerning the Land. Later, there were also many that gave their lives for the Land…

When the tiny buds appeared on the rosebushes in the planters outside our front door, people would be seen emptying their worldly possessions into the backyards. There would be a ceremony of scrubbing down every surface of the little houses. It was Pesach-time. The grey and wet winter was replaced by this ritual, with the arrival of spring. People began to smile, speak and connect to those around them. And when we recited the prayer of Thanksgiving, making Pesach in the Land of Ephraim, it felt all the more special. “ Blesssed are you, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion!” end

Leah Goldsmith