(Photo: Zoltan Kluger/Wikimedia Commons)
Bringing the Hills of Judea to Life
Commemorating the 80th Anniversary of Kfar Etzion
After two prior failed attempts to settle the Judean hills, a group of young and idealistic religious pioneers from HaPoel HaMizrachi and Bnei Akiva successfully established the new settlement of Kfar Etzion in April of 1943. At the very same time that brave Jewish fighters fought the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, these young settlers overcame a severe shortage of water, the rocky nature of the terrain and hostile Arab neighbors to create a Jewish foothold in Gush Etzion.
Among those pioneers was Shalom Karniel hy”d, a national leader of Bnei Akiva who was later killed when his convoy from Jerusalem to Kfar Etzion was attacked on December 11, 1947. A few months later, on May 13, 1948, the Arab Legion overran and destroyed Kfar Etzion, killing 129 Jewish defenders, including 15 Jews who had surrendered. The settlement was reestablished after the Six Day War by Rav Chanan Porat and other children of Kfar Etzion’s original founders.
On February 20, 1944, Karniel wrote a letter in which he reflected on the new settlement of Kfar Etzion. It is translated here for the first time.
Be”H, Kevutzat Avraham – Kfar Etzion, 26 Shevat, 5704
On the 26th of Shevat, 5704, in the fifth year of the Second World War, upon the completion of the first year of our Aliyah to Kfar Etzion, we, the members of Kevutzat Avraham of HaPoel HaMizrachi, are about to plant fruit and forest trees in Kfar Etzion, to fulfill the Torah’s commandment, “And you shall come to the land and plant every tree…” (Vayikra 19:23), “He created it not as a waste, but formed it for habitation” (Yishayahu 45:18).
At a time when streams of our martyred brothers’ blood are spilled like water and the world is basking in their blood, we have come here to build, plant and strike deep roots in the hills of Judea, for these plantings are a new opening for our redemption and the redemption of our souls. We were detached in exile; our uprootedness was the terrible disease of our people. We need to attach ourselves to our roots and take firm hold of our homeland. This is the work we are doing here.
The trees we plant today will be a symbol for us, a symbol of our way as pioneers of the nation and a sign of our covenant with our homeland – “For man is a tree of the field” (Devarim 20:19). The deep roots of the trees will remind us of our duty to be attached to the world of action – through building, planting and working. The high branches that will rise up to the sky will arouse us to look upwards, to know our Creator and strive always for moral perfection and holiness. This was the way of our ancestors, and this is our path as pioneers of Torah v’Avodah.
Two thousand years ago, the surrounding mountains were full of trees and the joy of life. Today they stand bald in their desolation. Upon our Aliyah to Kfar Etzion we vowed: we will not rest nor be silent until we have removed the shame of desolation from the face of these mountains, until we have covered them with a mantle of fruit trees and forest trees that will sing the song of resurrection. To fulfill what was said: “But you, mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are soon to come… and they shall be tilled and sown, and I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, and the cities shall be inhabited, and the devastated places shall be built again” (Yechezkel 36:8–10).
Blessed are we to have reached such a time as this!
Shalom Karniel hy”d