On a warm Sunday afternoon, the last day of January, I traveled with a busload of Jerusalemites towards Maoz Zvi, a hilltop community next to Mevo Dotan, tucked away in the Northern Samaria (Shomron). The sun was smiling as the bus careened down windy roads, up rolling hills and through lush green valleys. Tu B’Shevat, the Rosh HaShanah for the trees was just the day before, and with it came signs of Spring.
When we arrived on the hilltop, we were greeted by men, women and children from all over Israel who had their hands deep in rich soil, planting olive trees. They had come from near and far to participate in a Tu B’Shevat tree
Like many of its neighbors, this hilltop came as a response of resolve and growth following tragedy. Maoz Zvi was named for Zvi Shelef, a founder of nearby Mevo Dotan, murdered by terrorists in 2001. The hill is home to two families, a group of at-risk teens, sheep and horses. But founders, David and Shana Botzer, don’t like the term “hilltop community.” Instead, they explain, Maoz Zvi is an educational farm, a therapeutic ranch, which immerses at-risk youth in agriculture and responsibility. Here, the Botzers say, young people can “breathe.”
Towards nightfall, young and old accompanied the new Torah scroll with joyous singing and dancing. Amidst the specter of a ‘freeze’ on building and development, feelings of joy triumphed. Over the loud music, MK Yaakov “Ketzaleh” Katz shouted, “Mevo Dotan is a place where we can see the future of our nation!”
The Torah was finally placed in the Holy Ark, on which was inscribed the verse:
Gaze down from Your holy abode, from the heavens, and bless Your People Israel people Israel, and the ground that You gave us, as You swore to our forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Deuteronomy 26:15)
These words spoke volumes and summed up the day’s emotions. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed, explained that the intimate connection between the Torah and the Land is expressed on the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai and also happens to be the holiday when one’s bikkurim, first fruits, were brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. “Both Torah and agriculture are fundamentally about growth,” he explained, “for the Torah is ‘a tree of life for all who grasp it (Proverbs 3:18).’”
And Sunday was about growth and life, amidst ‘the freeze.’ For Tu B’Shevat reminds us that amidst the cold
Shana Botzer, who lives on the hilltop that she founded, along with her husband and their small children, remarked that Sunday felt like a “wedding.” “It was an emotional day, filled with intense joy and pride,” she said.