A Jewish mother on ‘Life in the West Bank.’
- Published: 12 December 2010
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13 December 2010
Sara lives on a Yishuv, in Samaria in the West Bank. Others may term this a Settlement but Sara dislikes the word ‘Settlement’ and does not use it during her story of life in the West Bank. Yishuv (Hebrew) (????) translated is in fact Settlement.
The word first came into use in the 1880s, when there were about 25,000 Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, before it became a State. By 1948 there were about 700,000 Jews living in Israel. Now, the word Yishuv is generally used when referring to Pre-State Jewish residents in the Holy Land. A distinction is sometimes drawn between the Old Yishuv and the New Yishuv.
She spoke to me about her life as an Orthodox Jewish woman living in one of the most controversial parts of the world. Sara and her husband moved to the Yishuv three years after arriving in Israel for a variety of reasons. Some of these were ideological.
The Village (Yishuv)
As Orthodox Jews we believe that the land of Israel, including the places liberated in the 1967 War, were given to the Jews by G-d, and modern circumstances have made it possible for us to fulfil the dream of building the land by living there.
My village was started by seven families who were willing to live on a barren mountain (no Arabs were displaced to build there) in caravans of 48 square meters. Electricity was provided by a generator - and for a long time the families had to take turns using their appliances so that the electricity wouldn't blow.
The "road" leading up the mountain was nothing more than a dusty track. Every man did guard duty of course, especially at night. The men, and some of the women, were all young professionals and needed to go to work the next day so this was difficult.
As time went on more families joined Sara’s village, the seven became 20 and then 20 became 35 and slowly the village grew bigger until there were 55 families. By this time the village was provided with electricity and some families had built permanent homes while others still lived in caravans, even with their children. At that time there were no cell phones and it took three months for the families to receive phone connection.
The company delivering our newly purchased appliances (we had lived in an absorption center before this so we needed to buy everything at once) told us that they only came to our area once a month. We depended on our very helpful neighbors to provide meals for us for about two weeks until we had our own oven and refrigerator.
The other main reason we moved where we did, the practicalities. We knew that we wanted a warm and supportive place to raise our kids. Many people living in urban areas do not know what it is like to live in a small village - where people help their neighbors without a second thought.
I could let my kids play outside and at other people’s houses without hesitation, since I knew everyone around me. This was even more important to us as new immigrants, as our family in Israel was very small.
To this day there are committees for almost everything, and most people join at least one. There is a committee to help mothers who just gave birth (food and babysitting help), there is a free-loan fund (you take the loan and give the committee post dated checks to pay it back, no interest), there is the synagogue committee which takes care of the ritual needs, and the culture committee - which plans social evenings and the main celebrations for the Purim holiday and Yom HaAtzmaut.
In addition there is the absorption committee - which shows the place to new families interested in moving here (including hosting them for Shabbat) and makes sure that they have a "Big brother" family to help them when they first move here. (Our big brother family arranged for all of our meals the first two weeks, as I mentioned earlier.)
This type of social cohesion helped during both the first Intifada and the second Intifada My neighbors had to deal with nails on the road and rocks thrown at their cars. This escalated to shots at their cars - where most of the people were miraculously spared.
Inevitably the miracles ceased - and we lost two of our members to Arab terrorists - who shot them as they were driving. In addition three of our members have lost siblings to Arab terror.
Most people, when hearing about these attacks, are momentarily shocked and dismayed - and then they go on. These families have to live with the tragedy for the rest of their lives.
Sara’s village is now a thriving community. They have permanent buildings for their Synagogues, Kindergarten and school.
Most people have built their homes, although the young couples are still living in caravans (many had to wait to build because of the latest building freeze). The children who grew up here are now marrying and having their own families, and most want to make their home here too. We have a waiting list of people who want to move here.
One day in Sara’s life
Friday is a short day.
I wake up Friday morning with my mind on the long list of things to do that day. The Sabbath comes in early in the winter months, so I need to finish my preparations by 4:30 in the afternoon. Candle lighting time – 18 minutes before sunset – is the final deadline – no extensions allowed.
As I progress with my cooking, I realize that I forgot to pick up an important ingredient on my way home from work the previous day. The local makolet (mom and pop store) doesn't carry it, so I decide to make the 20-minute trip to the nearest large grocery store.
Grabbing the car keys and my cell phone I head out.
I live in Israel in the southeast part of what is called Samaria (we use the Biblical name Shomron) in a Jewish village nestled in the first ridge of mountains directly east of Tel-Aviv.
The day is clear, and as I glance at the view before I start the car I can see all of the way to the coast, including the Azrieli buildings and the ocean beyond.
Arriving at the Mega supermarket I notice a short line at the entrance. A man ahead of me, who is wearing a knitted skullcap, is asked by the security guard if he is carrying weapons. He shakes his head and the guard passes a wand over his body and then lets him through.
When he gets to me the guard looks into my bag, and cups it from underneath to check the weight, and I think to myself for the hundredth time that I really need to clean it out. Satisfied that I too do not pose a threat, he waves me in.
Making my way through the crowded supermarket, I pass both Jewish and Arab shoppers, most with children in tow. Finding what I need I head to the checkout line and start to chat with the woman ahead of me, discussing the prices of various products here and what we are preparing for the Sabbath meals.
Dressed in tight jeans and a revealing blouse, she is obviously not Orthodox, but in Israel the Sabbath belongs to all Jews. I glance at the Arab woman who is ringing up the purchases, and notice that she is wearing a salwar kameez. My scarf covers my hair, and hers covers her hair and neck, but for all intents and purposes we are dressed very similarly.
It reminds me of my trip to the mall recently, where I saw a beautifully dressed Arab woman wearing a gorgeous headscarf. In an alternate universe I would have gone up to her to ask her where she had bought it. In today's reality I shrugged off the opportunity, not knowing how my request would be received.
I head back, enjoying the scenery. My heart always lifts at the site of the hills outside my window as I travel up the mountain road. For thousands of years the Jews have been wandering the globe, and I feel grateful to have been born in a time when we can make our home in the land that G-d promised us in the Bible.
I also feel privileged that I can add to Israel's security by living where I do. I shudder to think of what might happen if terrorists with rockets used our vantage point as a launching pad. The people in Tel Aviv would then suffer what the people in Sderot do now.
Back at home I rush to continue my cooking. One son comes home from dormitory high school, and drops his bag filled with dirty laundry onto the stone floor. After kissing me hello he rummages through the kitchen to see what he can grab to fill his perpetually empty teenage stomach. I remind him that it is his turn to wash the kitchen floor this week. Groaning through a mouthful of brownie, he catches my eye and nods reluctantly.
The other kids come home from school, and start their preparations. The rest of the afternoon's chores get done in frenzy – the clock is unmerciful. I just have enough time to shower quickly and put on fresh clothes before it is time for my husband and sons to go to the synagogue, and for me to light the Sabbath candles. Sighing contentedly I go outside to enjoy the sunset and to watch the little ones playing.
Since it is the Sabbath the children play not only in the yard and the sidewalk but in the street as well, until the familiar roar of an approaching IDF jeep signals them to scamper to the side. Jewish law prohibits driving on the Sabbath – except in cases of danger to life.
Army patrols are considered necessary for our safety, and are permitted. The drivers know that the children play on the road, so they drive slowly.
As the sky turns black and the stars come out the Friday night services come to a close. My husband and sons return from the synagogue with an expected guest. My son's best friend will join us for the festive evening meal.
There is a tradition in many families to bless the children before the Kiddush (benediction on the wine) is said at the meal.
As my husband tenderly places his hands on my eldest son's head and recites the words, I catch sight of our guest and it hits me. This boy's father was killed a number of years ago by an Arab terrorist.
The ritual being performed now is something he will always miss and I feel a wave of sorrow for him. Then I remember what my son told me recently. His friend had confided in him that he wanted people to treat him normally, and not like a poor kid whose father was killed by a terrorist.
I push down the sadness as much as I can, but I am sure my smile looks forced. After the children are blessed and the Kiddush is said, we enjoy the good food and conversation into the evening.
Another Friday has turned into the Sabbath.
Author’s note: When writing this piece I attempted to keep all links as balanced as possible. I avoided using any one link that seemed one-sided, apart from the Jewish information links: Lynda Renham-Cook.
SEE ALSO: Part 1 of this series: On the ground in Palestine with Joseph Dana.