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In Memory of Gil-ad, Ayal and Naftali:Givat Oz V'Gaon

By Rochel Sylvetsky
7/21/2014, 8:07 PM

Debbie Buckman of Beit Shemesh describes a Shabbat at the Women in Green's Memorial project at the Gush Etzion Junction:

Amidst all the concern and fear felt by all of us living in Israel at this very difficult time, my husband and I (and our dog too) spent a most tranquil and inspiring Shabbat in the beautiful forest area of Givat Oz v'Gaon.  Here is a spot where the essence of what makes Israel and Zionism so special was fully manifest.

Givat Oz has been a hilltop pine forest for even longer than the State has been in existence, and there is a stone forester's house on the land from many, many decades ago.  The additional appellation of Givat Oz v'GAoN is in the name and memory of Gil-Ad, Ayal, and (v') Naftali (may Hashem avenge their blood), and this tourist/camping site was established not far from the place where they were abducted, as an immediate response to their abduction and murder.  

The project to establish this site as a new center of Jewish life was initiated and organized by Women in Green, headed by Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katsover.

Out of the grief and horror over the unspeakable loss of these precious boys, came a positive, uplifting, and Zionist response – the creation of another spot on the Israeli map with a Jewish presence. The project has been jointly established between Women in Green and the Zionist Midrasha, a program for young people from the former Soviet Union which combines learning about their Jewish heritage and active training for aliyah.  

These young people, along with dozens of young people from Gush Etzion and all overIsrael, have been living on the site for the last several weeks and have been the backbone of the project, providing the labor required to clean up and organize the site.  Being here this past Shabbat, we could really feel the incredible ruach and the friendships forged between all of them.

When one enters the area, it is hard to imagine that, less than three weeks ago, it was just a mess of rocks, weeds, and debris, as well as garbage left by picnickers from the nearby Arab villages over the past many years.  Women in Green has made a short video about the place and its rapid development:

Now, the rocks have been moved away and organized to create pathways and gardens throughout the site.  The weeds and debris have been removed, and the dirt smoothed out, to create many tenting spots.  A metal door and metal windows have been added to the stone forester's house.  In front of that building, a large patio has been created with a shade covering, tables, a children's play area, couches, and more.  Every single piece of furniture, every addition to this previously barren forest site, has been purchased thanks to generous donors and Women in Green, and lovingly put together and painted by all these hands.  

The stone building was completely cleaned out and now houses an organized kitchen and storage area.  At the entrance to the area is an especially inspiring addition--a garden planted specially in memory of Gilad, Ayal, and Naftali, which the grandparents of Ayal Yifrach started by planting three trees.  A number of other flowers and plants have been put into the ground since, and a watering system is already in place.  

When we arrived on Friday afternoon, a family had come to celebrate a birthday specially by bringing a tree to plant in this garden. Everything from cleaning and maintenance of the environmentally-friendly bathrooms, to the food preparation for the young people living there, to the constant cleanup and construction of improvements to make life more comfortable, is organized and done by all the hard-working people staying at and visiting Givat Oz v'Gaon.  

I cannot think of a more wholesome, inspiring, and positive way for people to spend their time than creating what these young people, along with many others (of all ages) who have come to help from the surrounding communities and all over Israel--all under the inspired and inspiring leadership of Nadia and Yehudit--have created at Givat Oz v'Gaon. 

Many people have been visiting and camping on this gorgeous pine-covered hilltop, with breathtaking views on all sides, over the past almost three weeks.  There have been programs everyday, including children's craft activities in the afternoons and excellent speakers in the evenings.  A constant presence and increased participation are welcomed and encouraged.  

People can come to enjoy a picnic or a scenic walk or to camp out.  Some people come with tents to camp out for a Shabbat, others during the week.  The huge number of people who were camping there this past Shabbat were joined by many more coming for davening and just to visit throughout the day.  We also enjoyed the company of the groups of chayalim who secured our safety throughout the night and day and who also seemed to really enjoy the tranquil setting and peace of Shabbat in the hills of Gush Etzion.

We had to bring a tent and our own food and equipment, but we were provided with an incalculable and enduring dose of inspiration and the excitement of witnessing Zionism in its most beautiful form.  Huge thanks and kol hakavod to all who have created something wonderful—may it continue to grow and flourish--at the beautiful Givat Oz V'Gaon.

Beit Shemesh