Mayor of Itamar: 'Strong Backbone of Love' Holds Us Up
For Leah Goldsmith, a long-time resident of Itamar and the wife of the town's mayor, Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith, the horrible tragedy of last Friday carries with it one bittersweet consolation: In a reaction to the murders of five members of the Fogel family, she has no doubt that Itamar will grow and prosper.
“We have now had 20 victims of terror attacks here in Itamar, a much higher number relative to our population than nearly anywhere else,” Goldsmith tells Arutz 7. “In 2002, three boys from the Yeshivar Hitzim high school in Itamar were killed by a terrorist, and we thought that was the end of the school. What parent would want to send their children to study here? But soon after, the school expanded – quadrupled – its student body. And we've had similar stories after all the terror attacks on our town.” With the murders of the five members of the family - Rabbi Udi Fogel, 36, mother Ruth, 35, and children Yoav, 11, Elad, 4 and three month old Hadas - she is sure that the town will continue to grow.
Her words evoke the verse in Exodus 1, which states that the more Pharaoh caused the Jews in Egypt to suffer, the more they increased and became stronger.
Goldsmith and her husband the mayor, who is also one of the founders of Yeshivat Hitzim, know Itamar as well as anyone. Both made aliyah from the U.S., and have been living in Itamar for about 15 years.
In an interview with Israel National News, Rabbi Goldsmith described the "strong backbone of love in Israel" that helps residents cope with the horror:
The town's website explains its significance as part of the hills known as Gav Hahar, the strategic "hump of the mountain". In this area, families are spread upon ancient mountains, called Harey Kedem. There are 4 communities, Itamar, Bracha - situated on the mountain of the Blessing, Yitzhar, and Elon Moreh. Each one has a panorama unique to its position on the mountainsides:
Leah Goldsmith wrote about the town on the website: "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."
Itamar is full of people like the Fogels, says Leah Goldsmith – idealistic people who gave up everything for a life of Torah. Indeed, Yitzhak Shadmi, chairman of the town of Neve Tzuf and a close friend of the family, said that the murdered Udi Fogel was a brilliant studenta and “could have been a scientist, but chose to be an Torah educator.”
Goldsmith affirms that Udi, and the whole family, were indeed special people. “He was a very bright, articulate person. They originally lived in Gush Katif, and when they were thrown out of their homes in the 'disengagement' they moved to Ariel, and from there to Itamar.”
The Fogels, like many others, were attracted by the deep spirituality that Itamar evokes. “We can look out of our windows and see Mt. Grizim and Mt. Eval, the Biblical mountains of blessing and curse,” Goldsmith says. “And it's very appropriate; I, and so many others who come here, feel blessed.”
Many of those who live in Itamar are engaged in learning or education, and the town is home to not only Yeshivat Hitzim, but also to a Yeshiva Gavoha (adult level yeshiva), presided over by Rabbi Avichai Ronsky, who was until recently the Chief Rabbi of the IDF. Despite the ongoing terror attacks on the town, the Yeshiva now has over 170 full time students; Rabbi Fogel was a teacher in the yeshiva, and his wife, Ruth, was a teacher in nearby Ma'ale Levonah.
The town also has several businesses, and is known for its organic farming, whose products are marketed all over Israel. Many of the residents earn their livelihood by raising olives, goats and sheep, with a number of larger farms, such as Joseph's Blessing Eco-farm (http://www.shechem.org/alon/ecofarm/index.html), which produces a range of products, such as cheese and olive oil.
One thing Itamar is not, says Goldsmith, is “peripheral,” an inaccurate picture painted by the media. “We are exactly one hour away from Jerusalem and the Gush Dan area in the coastal plain. On the map we are at a geographical centerpoint of the Land of Israel. That is anything but peripheral.”
One reason that Itamar is a target for terrorists, is that it stands in the way of their reaching the Tel Aviv area in the center of the country. “This land is not separate from the coastal plain; it's all one small country. As thickheaded as our leaders can be, I think they have to realize this on some level.”