Illustration: Pioneers in Samaria (Image credit: Kobi Gideon/Government Press Office of Israel)
During the late 1700s and into the 1800s, the greatest rabbis of the time, including the Hatam Sofer, the Vilna Gaon, and Rabbi Dov Ber of CHaBaD, encouraged their students to move to Eretz Yisroel (the Land of Israel). These leaders were convinced that the Messianic era had finally arrived. And so for the first time in centuries, Jews began 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 student pioneers described the pervasive dust - dust that they wallowed in - "and loving every grain." 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 20th century, another wave of pioneers turned its back on the old traditional Jewish order and stood up tenaciously to the myriad challenges that were Eretz Yisroel. These were young single people who were out to change the world, and were determined to begin doing so in Eretz Yisroel. While deeply influenced by the vision of the world socialist/Communist revolution, they were the primary force that established the State of Israel and defended it in 1948. They were the ruling elite, and they held onto their power and position jealously for the better part of the century until infirmity of spirit and loss of direction beset them.
The beginning of the 21st century is witness to the third wave of pioneers, now engaged in an undeclared struggle with the old, tired, but very jealous elites for the leadership of the Jewish state. There are few who would question the observation that secular Zionism is dead or close to it. The socialist zeal, the nationalist pride, and the pioneering spirit have been replaced by the global village, "personal fulfillment," and moral relativity. The very idea of a Jewish state is considered passe in many such circles.
The "national religious" camp has steadily been replacing the older elites in many fields including, significantly, the military where it is making inroads. It’s avant-garde, full of revolutionary zeal, is to be found on the "hilltops."
To meet the ones who are challenging the values and leadership roles of the old elites, one should visit the "hilltop youth." Choose one of the many bleak and challenging hills of Judea and Samaria. This is the new frontier, the cradle of ancient Jewish history, and where that history is being determined today. No wonder there is all out war being waged against them.
One of the newer "outposts" situated in the greater "Shilo bloc" in the land of Binyamin is Malachei Hashalom, or the "angels of peace." As is often the case, the name memorializes the names of Jews cut down by Arab terror. Malachi Rosenfeld and Shalom Har-Melekh were two of the recent victims in the wave of post-Oslo massacres (The "Oslo agreements" with the Arab terrorists saw a steep increase of Jewish murder victims). The young men who established the new hilltop were their friends.
They made certain that it was government land and not land with Arab claims of ownership that they nurtured. In fact, it was a recently abandoned IDF base. Very typically, these young pioneers face some normal challenges - like basic amenities, food, water, the elements, isolation - just as the pioneers a century ago did. Then there is the security issue. Arabs already paid a visit one night and burned down some structures. They must stand guard night and day. They are three as of now, so the division of labor is very limited.
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 men are trying to establish conditions for families to move in and establish a viable village. It was this that drew the attention of the sledge hammers.
One of the three men 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 Jew to herd sheep in the Jordan Valley. He hopes to introduce it here as well. Herding is the best way to create a Jewish presence in large areas. There is no doubt that if that is not done, the Bedouin will increase their illegal encroachment in the area and it will then be lost to Am Yisroel (the People of Israel). Why the authorities turn a blind eye to this mass Arab land theft is the $64,000 question, and we are waiting for an answer. One thing has been proven though: there is never a lack of government resources when it comes to the hilltop "threat.”
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-grandson of the legendary Rabbi Avraham Yitzchok 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 and position, and are not intimidated by harassment and arrest. Their heroes are the generations who preceded them, who showed a similar attitude to the Greek, Roman, and then British occupiers. They are as "practical" as Rabbi Akiva and Menachem Begin were when those dreamers wrote Jewish history.
This generation of pioneers is 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.
Today, however, the men whom I met on the hilltop are, at best, considered misguided dreamers. For many of their own people, they are public enemy number one, and are getting in the way of progress and peace. The establishment does not have their back and is not applauding them. Yet they persevere.
No doubt their spirit will lead this country in the near future because they are the last ones who really do care and their spirit is worth more than another infusion of money into the defense budget.
Those wishing to visit or contact the pioneers of Malachei Hashalom can request information from The Jerusalem Herald. Shalom Pollack regularly leads tours throughout the beloved Land of Israel.