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Beit El Celebrates 28th Birthday

Beit El celebrated its birthday this past Sabbath with Gush Katif-centered events - and a young neighborhood joyfully received a new Torah scroll where Jacob saw and was promised the Land.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 12/12/2005, 10:35 AM / Last Update: 12/12/2005, 12:10 PM

The dozens of guests who arrived especially for this Beit El Sabbath included:
* families from Gush Katif;
* a Chicago law school professor who is getting married this week in Jerusalem;
* grandfather Eliyahu Herbst, who spent over nine weeks in prison because of anti-disengagement road-blocking;
* and Eran Sternberg, the spokesman of the now-defunct Gaza Coast (Gush Katif) Regional Council.

Beit El is the 10th-largest town in Judea/Samaria, with some 5,000 residents.

The Sabbath festivities spilled over to Sunday with a joyful parade of close to 1,000 people accompanying a new Torah scroll into the synagogue in Beit El's highest neighborhood, Pisgat Yaakov (Jacob's Summit; see below). This morning (Monday), a new resident family - recently expelled from the southern Gush Katif town of Slav - introduced its week-old son into the Jewish People with a ritual circumcision ceremony.

The Sabbath activities began Friday night with Eran Sternberg speaking to hundreds of guests and residents, including students of the town's various yeshivot and high schools. His topic was "The Attitude to the IDF," and his remarks drew both enthusiastic support and heated objections.

Sternberg asserted that the army has replaced its goal of supporting and defending the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel with a culture of "adherence to orders." He said that if many idealistic youths from the religious camp do not enlist at all, or unhesitatingly refuse orders that negate Jewish Law, the army will be forced to change.

Arguments and discussion continued outside the hall well after he completed his presentation, even as a large group of Breslover Hassidim and friends held a happy Oneg Shabbat session inside the hall.

The next day, women from Gush Katif met with Beit El women who have been active on behalf of Gush Katif, and they shared their experiences of the past few months. Two women who produced and performed a play earlier this year about life in Katif, expressed their thoughts and questions about how to adapt it to their new circumstances. They have already performed a pilot edition of the new version, and are working on improvements.

A Beit El resident discussed her new (Hebrew) internet site, holot.org, in which expellees share their thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Eliyahu Herbst, 62, of Arad in the south, spoke with the youth of his experiences in prison. He has a previous acquaintance with some of them, having been a calming and unifying influence in what was known as the "Disengagement Wing" of the Ramle Prison. The hundreds of youths who were arrested during the course of anti-expulsion protest activities were incarcerated there, some of them for up to three weeks or more.

In the afternoon, Beit El resident Hagi Ben-Artzi, a doctor of philosophy and a past national Bible contest winner, escorted many of the guests on a tour of the "Artis" - the hilltop Pisgat Yaakov neighborhood. Ben-Artzi is a brother of Binyamin Netanyahu's wife Sarah, and an uncle of pacifist conscientious objector Yonatan Ben-Artzi, who has served jail time for refusing to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

Dr. Ben-Artzi, a Bar Ilan University Bible professor, remembers that noted Land of Israel researcher Zev Vilnai "took the residents of Beit El, on its third birthday, to what is now Pisgat Yaakov, and showed us a Moslem burial site right nearby that he identified as the spot where the Patriarch Jacob dreamt his famous dream."

In that dream, described in this week's Torah portion of VaYetze (Gen. 28,10 - 32,3), G-d promises Jacob the "land on which you are lying," as well as "sea-ward, eastward, northward and towards the Negev." Vilnai said that the sanctity attributed by the Moslems to the site is rooted in Jewish tradition, and that most or all of the Land can in fact be seen from there.

The next day, a busload of guests and hundreds of adults and children took part in a festive Torah scroll ceremony. Rabbi Moshe (Marvin) and Judy Pachino, from Toronto, Canada, sponsored the writing of the Torah scroll in memory of his parents, and donated the ornate silver crown and "hand" in memory of hers. "In addition," Rabbi Pachino emotionally told the participants, "I have the special merit and privilege of having had my own son, Rabbi Zev Pachino, write the Torah scroll himself."

Four generations of Pachinos, including two youths who study in the Beit El Yeshiva and a great-granddaughter, led the joyous parade from the Avraham Ohavi synagogue in Beit El up to the Pisgat Yaakov synagogue, about a mile away. Accompanied by a music van and dozens of torch-bearing kindergarten-age children, the marchers took a very symbolic route. They passed Yeshivat Beit El; Arutz-7's studios; the town's largest elementary school; the Beit El municipal offices; a small industrial zone including Herby's Bake Shop, a carpentry and metal working plant, and more; two ancient wine-presses and the renewed Beit El Wineries; a forest hiking trail; the new Givat Ulpanah neighborhood; and the Water Tower Observatory from which, on a clear day, the Tel Aviv region can be seen in one direction and the northern Israel mountains from another.

The excitement at placing the Torah scroll in the synagogue's new Holy Ark, just recently built by one of the new neighborhood's young residents, was expressed in song, dance and general good cheer.

"When G-d promised this land to Jacob," said resident and event MC Yishai Fleisher, "He didn't just promise him the two square meters on which he was lying. [Renowned Torah commentator] Rashi says that the entire Land of Israel was folded up under him at that moment - and this teaches us that what happens in and to Beit El is an indication for the entire Land of Israel. We therefore hope and pray that the joy of this event here in Beit El will mark the onset of similar joy in the rest of the country."

Beit El Mayor Moshe Rosenbaum welcomed the Sabbath guests with this message: "Your participation in our joy gives us the strength to continue ever more enthusiastically building our Land. May the Torah blessings [G-d's promise of the Land to Jacob and his descendants] be fulfilled through us... How fortunate we are to see our roots becoming more entrenched in this land with bonds of love, and to see with our own eyes - and not only in a dream or a far-off vision - the Holy Land's mountains, valleys, rocks and horizons. How fortunate we are to build here with our own hands, just like our forefathers, a home in the Land of Life."