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.
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.
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.
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