Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedPR photo

During the same week in which we were struck twice, the week in which two young men of marriageable age, brothers Hallel and Yagel HY”D, were murdered for the sanctification of God – in that same week, a son and daughter, born and raised in the yishuv (community), got married. The son even intends to make his home here on Har Bracha.

In addition to that, five members of the yishuv got engaged this week (the events had been arranged beforehand). A week earlier, another son of the yishuv got married. There has never been a week filled with so many joyous marriages and engagements in the history of Har Bracha. The yishuv's school-age children have about a hundred children on each grade level, but those of marriageable age today were in grades numbering about twenty boys and girls, so on average, only once every two weeks an engagement or a wedding should be celebrated. And now in one week – two weddings, and five engagements!

Intensifying Life

On the day of the murder and the day after the funeral, the yishuv was extremely quiet. Children and teenagers spoke quietly, and refrained from playing in the streets. Members of the wedding to be held that night assembled quietly in their homes, getting ready in private. A heavy cloud of grief encircled all the houses and seeped in through the windows, and with it, anxiety about how to continue living after the terrible loss of our glorious youth.

Among the builders and people in charge of accepting new families in the yishuv, there was fear that as a result of the attack, new families would be afraid to come to Har Bracha, and thegrowth of the yishuv would come to a halt. Perhaps there would be families whose anxiety would overcome them, and they might decide to leave.

The day after the funeral, the hundreds of residents arose early to go to their regular work in all branches of the economy, and drove through the Arab village of Huwara where the murder had taken place. Children’s voices began to rise from the houses, and the paths and streets filled with a thousand boys and girls with backpacks loaded on their shoulders, going to and from school. The Isaac family prepared for their son’s wedding. In the afternoon yards were filled with laughter, children went on talking about all the things they typically talk about, and playing all the games they normally play – as if nothing had happened. And I knew it was impossible to stop a life-force pulsating here so vigorously, and that in the face of every obstacle, it would continue and grow stronger.

In my Kabbalat Shabbat speech, I spoke about the importance of persevering: in relation to the lighting of the Ner Tamid (the constant light in the Holy Temple) – about the constant study of Torah; the Korban Tamid (Daily Offering) – about the sacrifice for the sake of God and the People; the Ketoret (Incense Offering) – about the unity of Israel, and the garments of the Kehuna (priesthood) – about our standing as messengers of generations for the Jewish People in the settlement of the Land of Israel. I also added that if there were some residents afraid to remain in the yishuv, we would bless them on their chosen path, and that they would be messengers of the yishuv in Torat Eretz Yisrael, wherever they go. However, I said, precisely because of this, more families will want to come and be part of the great vision of settling the Land on the frontline of settlement, and fulfilling Torat Eretz Yisrael at the highest level of connecting heaven and earth.

Strengthening

During the week, my wife held conversation groups with women interested in talking, and strengthening themselves. Out of these meetings, moving stories emerged.

One woman said they came to the yishuv because her husband wanted to study at the Har Bracha Yeshiva because of the style of learning, but after Rabbi Itamar Ben Gal was murdered about five years ago, they understood the mission and importance of living in the frontline of settlement, and during Rabbi Itamar’s shiva, they purchased their house here.

A relatively new woman in the yishuv said that they came to Har Bracha because of the high Torah-level of the community. The matter of Yishuv Ha’Aretz (the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel) was not on the top of their minds, however this week, after the horrible murder, they realized just how important it is to strengthen the yishuv, and right away, decided to buy a house here.

Baruch Matziv G’vul Almana (Blessed is He Who Sets a Border for a Widow)

35 years ago, less than half a year after I arrived at Har Bracha to serve as the rabbi of the yishuv, on the evening of the 5th of Tevet 1988, Yaacov Parag HY”D was murdered. He was the first victim of the first intifada. At the time, we numbered a little more than twenty families living in the yishuv. One by one, army commanders and people from the Regional Council began arriving at the yishuv’s secretariat. Leah, Yaacov’s wife, raised in Kiryat Gat in a traditional family that had immigrated from Morocco, and became more religious through the ‘Bnei Akiva’ movement, realized that something had happened, however, no one dared to inform her.

All the men were required to gather at the meeting hall for a briefing from the army officers. Leah also arrived, and everyone fell silent. From there, she went to several houses to look for her husband and find out what had happened, but she did not receive an answer. The Head of the Welfare Department, Chaya Shechner, called my wife, the Rabbanit of the yishuv, and instructed her to inform Leah that her husband had been murdered. My wife, who was 24 years old at the time, asked Chaya to come to Har Bracha quickly, because she did not know how to inform a 25-year-old pregnant woman with three children, that her life had been destroyed. Chaya, of course, arrived.

Meanwhile, my wife called my father, and asked him to come help. When he arrived, she went with him to Leah’s house (I sat with the men and army and Council members). Leah was informed of the terrible news and asked: “Am I so bad that God has to punish me?!” My father replied that Yaacov was holy, a Jew martyred for the sanctification of God, and despite the terrible pain, it was a tremendous merit. Later on, Leah said his words changed her perspective on the disaster, and strengthened her. She realized she had a mission.

Towards ten o’clock at night everyone had gone, and we were left alone – twenty young families. As always in the winter, a cloud covered the mountain, but that evening, the cloud was extremely heavy, and gray. The weak streetlights between the two rows of modular homes, barely managed to shine a dim light through the fog.

The funeral took place, the pregnancy continued, and after a few months, Leah the widow, gave birth to a daughter and named her Techiya (revival). Her family dined with us regularly on Shabbat, and we became a family. About two years later, Leah married David Ziv, and after a short while, they made their home in Har Bracha, and Leah gave birth to six more children. Since then, the yishuv has also grown, and currently numbers about four hundred and fifty families.

Today, approximately a hundred more apartments are in the process of being built, and another hundred about to begin. All these apartments have already been bought. Two hundred more apartments are in the planning process. About three hundred and fifty children study in the boys’ school, and the same mumber in the girls’ school as well. About three hundred and eighty girls from Har Bracha and other communities in the Shomron study at the regional Toranit Ulpana Tzviya, and about two hundred students study in the Yeshiva High School , established after it.

For many years, Leah has been a member of the Tzachi team (the community emergency response team), resourcefully helping widows and orphans, and providing a living example of comfort and growth. However, this week at the Yaniv family, Leah was unable to offer her support, because two hours after the funeral on Mount Herzl, she and David married-off their daughter, Tamar. Men and women from the yishuv traveled from the funeral to the wedding, and on their way to make the bride and groom happy, changed their clothes.

Support and Mutual Responsibility

It is impossible to describe the kindness and love that so many people showered on the residents of Har Bracha, who live on the frontline of settlement in Gav Ha’Har. I will mention the communities and groups that graciouly gave of themselves to all the residents.

From the settlement of Alei Zahav in the Shomron, people sent potted flowers to all the families. The chairman of the yishuv’s secretariat, a school principal, and other volunteers passed between the houses and presented the pots.

The Lod community sent cakes and hung signs of encouragement throughout the yishuv.

Each of the communities of Yitzhar and Avnei Hefetz in Shomron sent fifty homemade cakes.

The residents of Avnei Hefetz also personally distributed two hundred challot.

The Ramat Beit Shemesh Ulpana sent a hundred sets of toys for the children.

Residents from Yerucham, Oranit, and Hashmonaim sent flowers in honor of Shabbat to all the families.

The residents of Shavei Darom, in cooperation with the “Chaslat” company, sent cakes and lettuce.

The “Shomron Businesswomen” – a group of businesswomen from the surrounding communities, took care of dinner for the families who returned from the funeral, and also brought cartons of drinks and cookies for all the residents.

Girls from the Neria Ulpana brought a small gift for all the children and ran an activity for the school girls.

The Yaffo community, connected to the Yeshiva, sent treats to the school children.

Teachers from three schools in the Shomron – Elon Moreh, Bruchin and Ulpana Revava – came throughout the week to serve sumptuous meals to the girl’s school’s teachers.

Students from the Elon Moreh High School Yeshiva distributed sweet snacks to all the families, and organized an activity hour for the children of the boy’s school. The Katzrin Ulpana sent chocolates to the youth of the yishuv, both boys and girls.

From the yishuv of Itamar, people sent yogurts to all the residents.

Youth from “Regavim Kinneret”, an agricultural educational program, came and handed out to all the residents bags of grapefruit and avocados they had picked themselves.

The youth from Beit El sent chocolates and Israeli flags to all the residents.

Youth from the yishuv Eli sent cookies to the school students.

From the community of Peduel, people sent two hundred homemade cakes to the residents, some of them gluten-free.

From the communities of northern Shomron, they sent a gift to all the residents – a decorative Havdala mat.

The girls of Shavei Shomron sent a sumptuous dinner to the girls of the yishuv.

The Municipality of Rehovot, and the Municipality of Karmiel, sent hundreds of mishloach manot (packages for Purim).

From the yishuv Kida, they sent strawberries and chocolates, to be distributed in the synagogue.

The women of Ariel sent chocolates to the women, and the kindergarten there sent treats to the children.

From Neve Tzuf, they sent treats and a refrigerator magnet with a picture of the Yaniv brothers. The residents of Kiryat Netafim in the Shomron, as well as the residents of Gitit in the Jordan Valley, sent cakes.

There were so many cakes and treats that a good number of them overflowed from Har Bracha, and were distributed to soldiers serving in the area. From “Amit” Petach Tikva, they sent mishloach manot. From the Tzvia Yeshiva of Ashkelon, they brought mishloach manot to the students of our High School Yeshiva. From the yishuv Bruchin, they brought chocolates. From various schools in Israel, students sent letters of encouragement and support to the boys and girls of the elementary schools, for example, from the Rabbi Akiva School in Or Akiva. The girls of the ‘Reishit’ school in Sderot prepared mishloach manot for all the Ulpana girls. From the girls’ school in Revava, they invited all the schoolgirls in the yishuv to a day of rest and fun before Pesach.

Rabbi Yoni Lavi gave classes to the youth, and “Amiti the Storyteller” volunteered to come after Purim.

These are the good deeds that touched a wide number of people in the yishuv, and were brought to my attention. Undoubtedly, other messages of encouragement were overlooked, and not mentioned here.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated