The park in the center of the קַרְנֵי שׁוֹמְרוֹן (Karnei Shomron) neighborhood is huge. As I walk out of Friday night services, I see the many children of the ישוב (settlement) climbing on the playground and I hear them laugh as they head home for their Shabbat dinners. A sign on the Jungle Gym says in Hebrew that the area is accessible for wheelchairs. The park is constructed to accommodate a weekly visit of disabled children, one of the many programs that קַרְנֵי שׁוֹמְרוֹן hosts to help those with special needs.
David, my host for the weekend, shows me around the neighborhood. A community center for the arts and a separate community center for sports have both been built close to the entrance. A Yeshiva close to David’s synagogue provides the opportunity for men to learn and join the army at the same time. Families walk around the neighborhood. We stop to visit David’s sister. Her children, now married, have all come to the settlement for Shabbat. She welcomes me with open arms and offers me food, we say Shabbat Shalom, and then David and I continue our walk around the neighborhood. What once was a small collection of 35 caravans in Samaria is now a large community with hundreds of families, several synagogues, and a proven contribution to Israel and to the area at large.
A am shown רָמַת גִּלְעָד (Ramat Gilad), an outpost of Karnei Shomron where Caravans have been set up in hopes that one day in their place will be houses and paved roads. Karnei Shomron was once like Ramat Gilad, a small community of caravans filled with a small community of dreamers and idealists. Today, their dreams have been fulfilled and they use this privilege to bring good into the world. Covering only 2% of the West Bank, the contributions of the settlements are unimaginably large. Like the Jewish people, who comprise less than 1% of the world, they make their presence known through good work and a desire to make the world a better place. As I finish my tour around Karnei Shomron, I realize how necessary this place really is and how dire the need in the world is for more dreamers, idealists, and yes, more settlements.
The Druze people pray in a secret location. Their hidden houses of worship are as a result of thousands of years of fear. What once was necessity has now also become tradition and still today they worship under cover.
Thousands of years of religious persecution has led them to this point, but today in Israel there is no necessity for this, only tradition.
In the State of Israel, the Druze can worship freely. They can join the army. They can live out their lives, raise their children, and practice their religion without fear of coming under fire from any power.
The other day I went shopping for a skirt in Jerusalem. As I searched through the racks, I realized that along side me a Jewish woman, Muslim woman, and a nun were all standing next to eachother eachother in pursuit of purchase.
That night, as I looked out onto the Kotel from the rooftop of the Aish building, I noticed something spectacular. There are no signs from the Kotel banning any particular group from visiting. From my view, I could see the first lady of Rwanda in her bright mushanana accompanied by her entourage leaving the women’s section of the wall. Visitors from Asia, India, and all over the world with no connection to Judaism were able to visit the holy site of the Jewish people without fear.
A Jewish state does not mean a state where non-Jews are not welcome. Hachnasat Orchim is a mitzvah in Judaism to welcome guests into the home. The Great Sages said that inviting a guest into the house possessed a higher state of holiness than inviting the Divine Presence. In a state built on the values of Judaism, welcoming guests into Israel, our home, is not uncommon. Druze can be Druze and practice their unique religion within the borders of Israel, Muslim women, Jewish women and nuns can shop for clothing without worry, and anyone traveling through, living in, or finding themselves in the land of Israel is always welcome somewhere with some family at some Shabbat in the Holy Land.
עם ישראל חי
A day in the Shuk
Shuk in Jerusalem, Israel
The windows of the Synogogue at נופי נחמיה look out onto the mountains of Samaria. From where I stand in the בית כנסת, I can see the Jewish and Arab communities speckled across the landscape as I turn the pages of my Siddur and listen to the men on the other side in their tallit and woven Kippahs welcome in the Shabbat at נופי נחמיה, a ישוב (settlement) in the West Bank.
Friday night dinner is outside. A table is set in the middle of the street in front of the caravan and together, along with Jewish people in the settlement, in Israel, and around the world, we welcome in Shabbat. The greenish white lights of the Arab communities and the yellow lights from the Jewish households dot the outlines of the mountains surrounding the area. Meir makes Kiddush and Ligal lays out a Shabbat meal made more sweet by the sounds of children singing the prayers they learned from watching their parents.
Shabbat dinner is followed by sleep and tefillah in the morning. On my walk home from the synogogue, a man sitting at a table outside makes kiddush on wine and we all stop to listen. He finishes, we say Amen, and then continue toward the park in the middle of the ישוב. Young girls with long dresses and their hair in pigtails and little boys with woven colorful kippahs sit in a circle and sing tefillin. Afterwards, they all play together in the center of the ישוב while the parents sit in a circle and chat. This is real community.
As the sun sets on the ישוב, it also sets on Shabbat. I sit with Meir, Ligal, and their two children, Yoav and Omer, as we enjoy the last meal of Shabbat. Meir makes Kiddish and Ligal lights the Havdalah candle as we all bid farewell to a weekend centered around community, family, and G-d.
The other day I visited the ים המלח (Dead Sea). I met a Jewish women from Belize who was planning on making Aliyah. As we spoke, she told me that an easy life is not a good life, a life must be difficult to have meaning. Here on נופי נחמיה, where every Shabbat is a demonstration of the hard work and connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, our day of rest is one of special significance. Every Kiddush made, every Tefillah said in the בית כנסת, every Zemirot sung and every little boy running around with his Tallit and Kippah is an expression of hope for the continuation of the Jewish nation. Life may be more difficult on נופי נחמיה, but it surely is not worse. If anything at all, life may be difficult, but it also just might be much better.