Thursday, August 31, 2006

Lava of Love for Eretz Yisrael

Lava of Love for Eretz Yisrael

by David Wilder

The Jewish Community of Hebron

August 31, 2006


A few days my wife and I, together with our two youngest children, (aged 11 and 15) took a break from Hebron city life and drove up north. All the way up north. To Kiryat Shemona.


Actually, we had been planning on going north at the beginning of August. However, at that time, Nasrallah, Olmert and G-d had other plans for that part of the country. So we had to wait.


Life in Kiryat Shemona is, at least for tourists like us, back to normal. People moving around, cars, shopping, restaurants, etc. On the other hand, it was difficult to escape an intuitive impression that life was, very much, not really back to normal. It takes a little time to readjust after having had missiles being shot into your homes. In Hebron we had some experience with such events. True, we didn't have rockets being shot at us, but two years of bullets isn't a bad second.


Sunday night we had dinner with old friends. It was a nice evening of 'catch-up." Monday morning we went 'kayaking' – that is, river rafting, down the Hatzbani river. If you've already done it, obviously you're having a difficult time waiting for a repeat performance. If you've never done it, you don't know what you're missing.


Gliding down the river in a rubber boat, or kayak, soaking in the scenery, heating up under the hot sun and then cooling off in the refreshing water, playing 'splash games' with the kids and colliding with other water-travelers; it's two hours of totally losing yourself, forgetting the real world, simply drifting, mind and body alike.


Unfortunately, the two hour water venture finishes much too soon. As you disembark you feel like you could do it again and again and again. However…


Reality quickly reminds you that the Garden of Eden is still something of a fantasy.


Leaving the Hatzbani, we looked for something else to do before leaving the area. We sighted signs to Tel Chai and decided to make the short ride there.


Tel Chai is located on the outskirts of Kiryat Shemona, sort of between the roads leading to Misgav Am and Metulla. It became famous during the skirmishes between the French and the Arabs during World War One. The Arabs, thinking that the Jews were assisting the French, attacked them and the small villages they had founded along the Israel-Lebanon border. One of these outposts was called Tel Chai.

At the end of 1919, a former Russian war hero named Joseph Trumpeldor was asked to take command and find a way to protect the few isolated settlements and their meager population. It was an almost hopeless task.


Arguments raged amongst the Jewish leadership of pre-State Israel. Interestingly, according to the movie shown at the site, David ben Gurion favored sending reinforcements, saying that Jews must be protected wherever they are. On the other hand, Zeev Jabotinsky preferred to evacuate the civilians due to the excessive danger.


On March 1, 1920 – the 11th of Adar, six Jews were killed at Tel Chai, including the one-armed Trumpeldor. His famous last words, heard by three people were, "It's nothing, it's good to die for the sake of our homeland." The outpost was burned to the ground and evacuated. A year later, Jews returned to the area and reestablished a Jewish presence in the north of Eretz Yisrael.


Trumpeldor and his fallen friends were buried on the outskirts of one of these communities, Kfar Giladi, and a huge stone lion was place above their common grave, called 'the roaring lion.'


After viewing the movie, we took a short ride to the cemetery, to see the lion. It really is quite impressive. However the lasting impression wasn't formed from the lion. It came from the blackened areas, surrounding the cemetery. Black, burnt, from the katusha rockets recently aimed at our homeland by our enemies, from only a few kilometers away. It left a very empty feeling in my stomach. On the one hand, such courage, such heroism, and on the other hand, a big question mark, where has it all gone?


From Tel Chai-Kiryat Shemona we drove a few hours south, reaching Zichron Ya'akov. A tourist town, not far from the Mediterranean, Zichron Ya'akov sports a seemingly unending amount of coffee shops and restaurants. Being that there's a limit how many breakfasts you can eat, we wandered the streets and happened upon another historic site – the Aaronson home. We bought tickets and went inside.


In Israel, the Aaronson family, Sarah Aaronson, Aharon Aaronson, and their colleague, Avshalom Feinberg, are almost a synonym for dedication and heroism. Initiating one of the first Jewish spy rings in Israel in 2,000 years, called "Nili" – (Netzach Yisrael Lo Yishaker – the eternity of Israel will not be silenced), the group assisted the British fighting against the Turks and the Ottoman Empire during World War One. They had one goal: to oust the Turkish invader and prepare conditions for the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael.


Feinberg was killed by Bedouins in the Sinai, when trying to make contact with the British. Twenty-seven year old Sarah, after having been captured and tortured by the Turks, committed suicide so as not to reveal secrets she knew about the organization and fellow members. Others were captured and hanged.


In the Aaronson house, seeing the bathroom where Sarah shot herself to protect others, you get goose pimples, you can experience the electricity of moments that occurred almost 90 years ago.


And again, that sensation, the same one felt at Tel Chai. On the one hand, such unbelievable heroism, and on the other, where has it all gone? The Aaronson's and their compatriots never had a chance, and more than likely, they knew it. Who did they have behind them? There was no Jewish army, no state, virtually nothing. We are talking about Eretz Yisrael of 1915-1916-1917. (Sarah died the day after Succot, in 1917.)


Despite their miniscule chances of success, they refused to despair. A small group of dedicated Jews, against the Ottoman empire. One of those captured and hung in Damascus, Yosef Lishanski, moments before his death, declared: "We are not traitors, we did not betray our homeland, for before their can be treachery, there must first be love. We never loved the [Ottoman] homeland; we hated it the supreme hate...those of us, members of Nili, headed by the 'great Jew' (Aharon Aaronson), have dug you a huge grave, disgraced Ottomans...For as you are busy hanging us, the great British army is entering our holy city, Jerusalem and your armies are fleeing from the city without a fight."

Such dedication, such courage, such heroism, - there aren't enough adjectives in the English language to describe these people, the Trumpeldors, the Aarnonsons and Feinbergs, and others like them, who laid down their lives for one thing and one thing alone: for Eretz Yisrael.


And today I can only ask: where has it all gone? Has that same love of the land that they died for disappeared?


Despite the superficial illusions, I think not. The love is still there. But it has been buried, deep inside our souls. It no longer glows and shines as it did for Sarah Aaronson. The brainwashing of 'reality,' the indoctrination of 'a palestinian homeland,' the propaganda of self-hate, the lies of wolves in sheep's clothing, whose sole desire is the eradication of the State of Israel, all have obscured love of the homeland. Trumpeldor's and Aaronson's love of Eretz Yisrael wasn't contrived, it was natural, as natural as eating, sleeping and breathing. And dying for what you believe in.


Nature isn't easily changed. We need only dig a little, and when we hit it, it will spout forth as a volcano spews lava – the lava of love for our land, for all our land, for Eretz Yisrael.


That's the lesson of this year's vacation.


With blessings from Hebron.

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