May 20, 2024
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A Sampling of the Many Faces of Israel at 70

The Pesach dishes are packed away for next year. Along with them are the memories of Pesach 2018, packed with impressions ranging from spiritual to tangible. Israel at 70 remains our Holy Eretz Yisroel combined with the most state-of-the art accoutrements of the 21st century. Our Chol Ha’moed experiences attested to that special combination.

Prepared to brave the crowds gathering in celebration of the Chag in Chevron Ir Ha’avot (City of the Fathers), we set out with our daughter and several grandchildren to Kiryat Arba where we parked the car and boarded a bus to Chevron. We joined hundreds, if not thousands, of our compatriots in celebrating. For the mostly Charedi and Dati Leumi visitors, the live music featuring well-known Chasidic artists created a festive backdrop for touring of the city.

We latched on to a guided tour led by a charming 35-year resident of Chevron. With great excitement she pointed out the two newest acquisitions of housing in Chevron, just weeks old. Known as Beit Rachel and Beit Leah, these two structures took years to claim and will take many months to refurbish into proper living conditions. But the very fact that they are in Jewish hands brings great joy to the residents of Chevron. Our guide went on to show us the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, which has been greatly updated since our last visit. Still within a confined area, the buildings are newly constructed and modern. Situated in the center of the tiny space is a children’s playground. In our minds, the image of many little Jewish children playing freely within the confines of tall walls speaks Chevron. Through the winding, narrow but immaculate streets, we were led to the famous Avraham Avinu Synagogue. Once again, we were awed to see the many physical improvements to the structure, which hosts a magnificent Aron Kodesh housing a good number of Sifrei Torah salvaged from the Chevron massacres. We were treated to the classical story explaining the name of the shul. As the story goes, one Yom Kippur eve, the pious men of Chevron found themselves one short of a minyan. To their relief, an elderly man came through the door just in time to complete the quorum. After the conclusion of the fast, the assembled were vying with each other for the privilege of hosting the savior. To their puzzlement, he had disappeared. For them, there was no doubt that this had been Avraham Avinu himself saving the day for those who returned to his burial site.

As you can well imagine, joining a Mincha minyan at the site of the seventh step, which was traditionally the closest Jews were allowed to approach Me’arat Ha’Machpela, was a spiritually uplifting experience. In contrast, the local vendors selling olive oil and wine produced in the hills of Chevron, in addition to a variety of kosher for Pesach refreshments, with and without kitniyot, completed the experience.

The next day of Chol Ha’moed found us in Rishon L’zion at the huge agricultural complex known as Misrad Ha’chaklaut U’Pituach Ha’kfar, loosely translated as the Center of Agriculture and Development of Farmlands. In celebration of Israel’s 70th, the campus was dotted with pavilions displaying the newest farming advancements through creative, hands-on activities for the children. One large pavilion featured a 360-degree film exploring the enormous advances in the agricultural industry in Israel to date. Waterless tomatoes and practically self-peeling clementines were only two of the most recent developments cleverly portrayed through the film. Israel’s worldwide leadership in the technology of farming was quite evident through the film and the reliance of other countries upon her innovations was a great source of pride to the visitors. We were also treated to a floral wonderland in a pavilion displaying the many spectacular varieties of flowers that Israel grows and exports throughout the world.

From nature to mystery. Our next stop was in a commercial area of Petach Tikvah. Housed within a commercial building was a suite of rooms making up nothing less than a Biblically themed “escape room,” Israel style. Developed by a dati teacher and managed by an endearing sabba, the room is one in a chain of escape rooms called Ruchot Hamidbar, the Winds of the Desert. At this particular location, the two themes offered were the tracking down of the Philistines in Jericho through the assistance of Rahav to the spies sent by Joshua.
The second option was freeing baby Moses from his basket. We opted for the more military style and found all 10 of us in a small anteroom where we found our initial clues, two gold coins. Fifty-three minutes later, we emerged from the final room victorious, having warded off our enemy. The process involved interpreting color codes, figuring out number sequences, specific placements of objects, undoing combination locks and moving statues. We were jubilant that we had broken all previous time records, or so they said!

We topped off our Chol Ha’moed tripping with a visit to the Gush Etzion region where we visited Machon Tzomet in Alon Shvut. There we saw firsthand the amazing technologies that are constantly being developed and enhanced to enable Shomrei Shabbat and Yom Tov to implement technology which is fully in compliance with halacha. The lecture and explanatory stations were viewer-friendly and humorous while being informational for all ages. From there we went down the road to Kfar Etzion to see the newest cinematic re-creation of the story of the brave heroes of Gush Etzion who sacrificed their lives for the new nation in 1948. Their story never ceases to move and inspire us.

We are now gearing up for the formal celebrations of Israel’s 70th birthday. However, truthfully, every day in Israel is a celebration of its meteoric growth while maintaining its status as a “light to the nations.”

Chag Ha’atzmaut Sameach!

By Pearl Markovitz

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