Hilltop youth building a new community
Hilltop youth building a new communityOmer Messinger/Flash 90

At the end of the eighteenth century the two greatest rabbis at the time, the Vilna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov, encouraged their students to move to Eretz Yisrael. These leaders were convinced that the Messianic era had finally arrived.

And so, for the first time in centuries, Jews were returning home. But returning to what? Mark Twain described his impressions of the Holy Land when he visited in 1878, "Even the grasshoppers went hungry."

Indeed, the Jewish pioneers described the pervasive dust; dust that they wallowed in while... "loving every grain."

And these scholar-pioneers went on to establish towns and cities but did not have the national/political will to take the next step towards establishing a Jewish country again.

In the early twentieth century, another wave of pioneers turned their back on the old order and stood up tenaciously to the myriad challenges that moving to Eretz Yisroel meant. In what was named the “First Aliyah,” religious families came to settle the lands bought by Baron Rothchild.

The “Second Aliyah” of the early twentieth century consisted of young single people who were out to change the world and were determined to begin that in Eretz Yisroel. While deeply influenced by the vision of world socialist/Communist revolution, they were the primary force that eventually established the state of Israel and defended it in 1948. They formed the ruling elite and held on to their power and position for the better part of the century until infirmity of the spirit and a loss of direction beset them.

The beginning of the twenty first century is witness to a third and different wave of pioneers, engaged in an undeclared struggle with the old, tired but very resentful elites, for leadership of the Jewish state.

There are few who would question the fact that secular Zionism has been losing steam in the last decades. Socialism, the pride of being the elite vanguard of a great cause has been replaced with, "personal fulfillment" and liberal progressive western values to the extreme.

For some, the very idea of a Jewish state is considered unnecessary in the global village and it is guilty of the charges anti-Zionists make against it.

The "national religious" camp has been steadily replacing the older elites in many fields including the military and volunteerism in general.

However, the real avant garde revolutionary zeal is to be found on the "hilltops".

The young people there represent the opposite of the post-Zionism that has been spreading on the other side of society.

I went to meet these zealots for Zion, "hilltop youth". The vast bleak hills of Judea and Samaria await their redeemers. This is the new frontier, the heartland where Jewish history was made and where that history is being determined today.

The Arabs know this and there is an epic struggle for who will claim the Biblical lands: the people of the Bible or the people of the Koran?

I decided to visit one of the newer "outposts." It is situated in the greater "Shiloh bloc" in the land of Benjamin. It has been named "Malachei Hashalom"- the "angels of peace".

As is often the case, the name memorializes the names of Jews cut down in the land of the Bible by Arab terrorists.

Malachi Rosenfeld and Shalom Har Melech were two more victims in the struggle to keep the land for the Jewish people.

Their friends established the new hill top in their name.

They made certain that it was government land and not Arab owned. In fact, it was a recently abandoned IDF base.

Very typically, these young pioneers face harsh challenges: food, water, shelter, the elements, isolation and terror.

Arabs paid them a welcome visit one night burning down some structures. They must stand guard night and day. There are only a handful as of now, so the division of labor and guard duty is very difficult..

They were also visited by the Israeli security forces sent by the Israeli military government of the "territories". No reason was given when some new construction was pummeled with sledge hammers.

The three boys are trying to establish conditions for additional families to move in and establish a viable village. It was this that drew the attention of the sledge hammers.

I spoke to the three young men. One is Uriyah Merzbach, an engineering student in Jerusalem. He is missing valuable class time, but he takes it one day at a time. The hilltop named after his friends needs him now.

Yisroel Greenberg came from Brooklyn seven years ago and has the distinction of being the first to herd sheep in the Jordan valley. He hopes to introduce sheep herding here as well. It is the best way to create a Jewish presence in large areas, he explains.

There is no doubt that if that is not done, the Bedouin will increase their illegal encroachment in the area, and it will be lost to Am Yisrael.

The authorities turn a blind eye to this ongoing Bedouin mass land theft.

Shimon Shliser comes from Hevron. His parents were among the first returnees to the City of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs after the Six Day war, and now he is blazing his own pioneer path on the edges of the new Jewish frontier.

Shimon is a true Jewish "blue blood" He is a great great grandson of the legendary Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook. His grandfather was murdered by terrorists in Hevron when he was a year old.

Yes, these are the young people who have no questions as to whose land this is and why. They are not impressed by money or position and are not cowered by force or harassment and arrest.

Their heroes are the generations who preceded them facing the Romans or the British occupiers.They are as "practical" as Rabbi Akiva and Menachem Begin were when they wrote Jewish history.

This generation of pioneers are similar to the ones of a hundred years ago but with a major difference. When young people then came to clear the land and face hostile opposition, they knew that they enjoyed the status of the heroic vanguard of the Jewish people. This, no doubt helped them persevere. When there is a “why”, the “how” comes easier.

Today, however, the boys that I met on the hill top are at best, considered misguided dreamers. For many of their people, they are public enemy number one to be expelled and marginalized. Very few have their back or are applauding them.

They persevere as all those who wrote Jewish history have done. and they will yet be recognized for who they are and what they have accomplished.

We need their spirit.

Shalom Pollack a tour guide, filmmaker and writer in Jerusalem, who is writing a book,"Despite Ourselves, a Personal Account" [email protected]