I live in Gush Etzion. Efrat to be exact. Efrat and Gush Etzion’s history is rich with stories of the Jewish people dating back to times of the Torah, leading up to its triumphant return to Jewish hands in 1967. We are part of the Hills of Judea thus accounting for Efrat’s many hills and the man-made stairs to help residents climb between levels of buildings.
Efrat is an exerciser’s paradise. Residents get a workout wherever they walk. One of my favorite roads is the one my family calls the forest road. It is a very steep hill (as in my legs are burning after I’ve taken only five steps) on a section of Efrat’s security road that abuts a lovely small forest. At the top of the hill is a wonderful playground.
Today my husband and I walked this hill together and as I looked at my watch I was hoping to make it to the top by 11:00. Today is Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and victims of terror. The siren was going off at any moment and I wanted to be at the top of our security road, in our Hills of Judea remembering the men and women who died so that I could stand “right here, just like this.” I looked at my watch again and could see that we would make it; we would be at the top by 11:00.
At 10:59 as I looked up from my wrist watch I saw the soldier. He was standing among the trees on a rock standing guard. He wasn’t quite at the top of the hill. I approached him, pointed to my watch and asked him in Hebrew if I could stand with him. Somehow standing beside a soldier seemed even more important to me than reaching the top of that hill.
He understood that I was referring to the sounding of the siren. He answered “Of course, I will come to you.” We stood there, the three of us together facing Jerusalem as the sirens sounded. I wasn’t standing quite at the very top of the hill as I had hoped to be but I felt I had reached the top of something even higher. This young soldier was by my side here in the Land of Israel because I live here. I knew I was in a moment I would never forget.
Standing in Israel at anytime, anywhere, can be a moment to never forget. Everyday, when I leave my house, I look at Eretz Yisrael before me and I thank God for bringing us here almost three years ago. When I get on a bus and the driver wishes me Shana Tova (Happy New Year before Rosh Hashana) or Shabbat Shalom because it’s Friday, I still get a thrill.
Just last month when we stood on the Eitam, the newest hill of Efrat, I felt blessed. I could tell my children, standing with me as the sun rose, that we were seeing the sun in the same place it was when The Almighty first created it. Right here, in our land, where creation began.
When the countrywide sirens went off last week for Holocaust Memorial Day, I was overwhelmed at being a citizen of a country that protects its citizens, and Jews the world over.
Before 1948, no one really worried about protecting us. Today, the State of Israel, the state of the Jewish People, has an army. It has a really strong army.
And today the people of Israel remember its fallen, to whom we owe a debt beyond measure. Because of them, since my family moved to Israel, we have enjoyed riding horses in the Golan, swimming off the beach in Ashkelon. Because of them we have explored the tunnels beneath the Kotel, and stood where our forefathers and mothers are buried in Hevron. Because of them, my son retuned from Har Habayit, (The Temple Mount) with light radiating from his young wonderful face.
And, because of them, today I could walk up our forest hill and stood with an Israel soldier.
Leora Hyman made aliyah three years ago from Boston and lives with her family in Efrat.