Neve Tsuf from south by יעקב (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
When a terrorist infiltrated Halamish and murdered three members of the Salomon family on Friday night, July 21, 2017, the community turned to its spiritual leader, Rabbi Jonathan Blass. Confined to a wheelchair after surgery on his legs, he was unable to leave his home to see the aftermath of the slaughter. Although severely limited, he found the strength to comfort his community. Many felt fear and confusion as security forces searched for what they thought might be other terrorists. By Shabbat morning, the area was cleared and residents confronted the tragedy: Yosef Salomon, 70, his daughter Chaya, 40, and his son Elad, 35, father of five were dead; Yosef’s wife, Tova, was seriously wounded. They had been celebrating the birth of Yosef’s new grandson to his other son, Shmuel. By Saturday night, the country knew. Grief-stricken, even some who had never heard of Halamish and others who opposed its existence, the entire nation mourned together. Halamish, also known as Neveh Tzuf, is a community of 280 families in the Samarian hills, located off the main road between Ofra and Shilo. Driving along the perimeter fence that surrounds it – often only a few meters from the road – it is easy to understand its vulnerability. In the middle of a forest, Halamish has been an easy target of arsonists and terrorists. The terrorist, a member of a Hamas-affiliated family from the nearby Arab village of Kobar, had been arrested several times before and was known to the security services. He posted a Facebook message boasting of his plans, but no one informed the police. That night, he climbed over the perimeter fence, attacked the Salomon family in their home, and was wounded by an off-duty soldier who lived nearby. This was not the first time Rabbi Blass had to deal with tragedy. On a Friday evening in late November, Arab arsonists lit fires around the community; 15 homes were consumed and many others badly damaged. In 2011, when terrorists slaughtered the Fogel family on Shabbat evening in Itamar, Rabbi Blass had to inform the grandparents who lived in Halamish to drive to Itamar and bring their grandchildren back home. As Palestinian terrorism exploded between 2000 and 2002, three residents of Halamish were murdered on the road: Sarah Leisha, 42, Yair Nebenzahl, 22, and Esther Yaffa Kleiman, 23. In a close-knit, religious community like Halamish, traumas are felt intensely and collectively, and Rabbi Blass is at the center. Born 1951 in Boston, he made aliya with his parents and siblings in 1970, studied at Mercaz Harav with Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, and became a dayan [religious court judge]. In 1975, he and his wife, Shifra, were among the founding families of Ofra and 10 years later he was invited by the community of Halamish to be their rabbi. How does a community deal with such tragedy? “Emunah [faith],” Rabbi Blass responds, “and our determination not to let this evil triumph. Every time they attack, we will build. We are saddened by our loss, but we do not despair.” “Our community is filled with hesed – caring for others – and something for which there is no Hebrew word: grit. We will not let terrorists defeat us. And we are not alone.” His words resonate with resolve. Near the entrance to Halamish, dozens of dust-covered boys and girls are digging in the rocky ground with picks and shovels to erect a pergola which will be the beginning of the new neighborhood. Built in memory of the victims, it will link Halamish to the nearby mechina (pre-IDF military academy) of Elisha. “This,” Blass emphasizes, “is the Jewish and Zionist response to tragedy.” At his brit the following week, Ari Yosef ben Shmuel was named in memory of his grandfather.
This article, reprinted with permission of the author, first appeared as "View point: Halamish - A community responds to tragedy.” The Jerusalem Post | JPost.Com, 13 Aug. 2017