Photo: AP
Prayer in Yitzhar (Archive)
Photo: AP

The fine qualities of olive-tree uprooters

My brother lives in Yitzhar. After six long years, I finally paid him a visit


For six whole years, I have not visited my brother and brother-in-law, who live next to each other a mere 50-minute drive from my home. It is one thing to live in a lightweight settlement in Gush Etzion and feast your eyes on marvelous view, ten minutes from Jerusalem. It is another to live in Yitzhar, on the outskirts of Nablus, and drive past the backyards of Hamas leaders every day.


The road leading there scares me, as does the unfriendly settlement itself, filled with right-wing activists who are often disappointed by the fact that I misrepresent them. It has been six years since I last went there. Six years in which I carried in my heart a suppressed sadness that the brother I grew up with in the same house now lives in a house I never visit.



Last weekend, we decided to go there. Hawara was still Hawara, Nablus remained the same, and Yitzhar was still home for quite a few people who find even Pinhas Wallerstein too leftist to their tastes.


Still, my brother's eldest, who is named after our father, Avraham, had his bar-mitzvah and this made us break through the wall of fear and distance and roll over to Yitzhar, into the heart of darkness, and if we're lost, we're lost.



It is not difficult to speak ill of the Yitzhar people. It is home for settlers who believe that the Yesha Council is a leftist organization, going through a troubling post-Zionist process.


They do not pray for the State of Israel, they do not really believe the Arabs have a right to exist in their vicinity, they consider homosexuality a mental disease, and are very strict about modesty edicts, which can easily be viewed as outright chauvinism. Even I have a hard time with them. Oh, yes. Disputing brothers will forever carry emotional burdens.



Most of all, I feared the Sabbath Eve prayer, my first encounter with the community. When I set foot in the synagogue, my heart was beating fast, but as the prayer continued I deeply realized that something special was taking place there. I wish all bourgeois communities of educated and decent people with average views could have one-percent of the energy and joy worshipers feel at the Yitzhar synagogue.


Those who want to pray, pray; those who wish to study, study; people who feel like jumping up and down do just that; those who wish to be alone are left alone; and those who need company stand outside and chat with friends.


When they dance in the synagogue, they really dance. They are very religious, but they have the moves! When I go to Tel Aviv parties, I always look at the happy and carefree movements of the dancers and wonder what exactly went wrong in our sector that makes out dance parties look like pathetic Hora-dancing circles.


Dear readers, the best of clubbers have a thing or two to learn in Yitzhar. They can dance there, I tell you, and if you can dance, you will be saved. I have no doubt about this: If I ever pray again with the joy I had in my youth, it would be in a Yitzhar-type synagogue, where there are hardly any rules.



Yes, I know, it is hard to separate the two. It is hard to separate the warmth and love I found in the Yitzhar synagogue from the way the very same people treat the IDF soldiers who guard their settlement. It is hard to separate the authentic joy of those worshipers from the most troubling fact that the settlement where my nephews live has no fence around it because it does not match the settlers' ideology.


It is not hard to see only the weaknesses of the Yitzhar dwellers. It is very easy to speak ill of them and fan the flames of the already prevailing public hatred toward them. Even if they are wrong, even if they think differently, there is a lot of beauty and kindness to be found in their midst. I believe it is important to remember that. It is important for me to remember that.



I don’t know why it is so important for me to convince you that the Yitzhar residents have lots of fine qualities. It must have something to do with the fact that I too forgot that over the past six years. I have grown used to thinking of them as olive-tree uprooters, and forgot their finest quality - the one that every Israeli should study thoroughly and deeply.


Making an income is a marginal chore for the Yitzhar people. They work in their professions and make a living, but money is far from being the center of their lives. They work to live, and not live to work.


They do not compete over who has the best or nicest car (though there is tough competition over who has most bumper stickers on their cars; it sometimes seems that if you peel the stickers off the cars, they will fall apart).


They do not compete with each other for higher positions. They do not judge themselves or others by their jobs. They all work in whatever they want, as much as they want, when they want, and most of them lead a very correct and sane life, charmingly distributing their resources.



There is plenty of Zen and spirituality for a dime in Israel today. Many search for peace and self-fulfillment. In Yitzhar, with no directives or public statements, live people who could not care less about money or social status.



I am aware of the logical flaw here. If the residents of Yitzhar are not tolerant toward people who disagree with their views, why should we be tolerant toward them? Why should we even try to get to know the finer qualities of people who hold backward, even racist views?


I have no answer to that. I can think of no satisfactory explanation for my sudden desire to tell you about the fine qualities of the Yitzhar residents. All I can say is that if we want to live here together, someone someday will have to take the first step.



When the Sabbath was over, I told my nephews stories about Yotam the Dwarf. My son Yehuda and I spend every evening making up stories about this dwarf so, at my nephews' request, I told them about him. They sat there for two hours, their eyes wide, listening to Yotam's adventures in Dwarfland.


I choked with sadness. I realized what I have been missing, the price I paid for staying away from Yitzhar for six long years: I do not really know my nephews and they do not know me.



Driving back home, I told Efrat that there is no political view in the world, no matter how dark it seems to you, that is worth six years of not visiting your own brother. There is no armed Palestinian, regardless of the popular front he belongs to, who is worth not knowing your brother's children.


Good God

So you gave Amir and Trimbobler a conjugal. I don’t mind that you decided to cater to the murderer's needs, but I feel I should tell you that eventually - and I am trying to speak mildly and not reveal my plans - if I should not feel the urge, young Mr. Daum, Yigal Amir will have no urge too.


פרסום ראשון: 10.31.06, 00:11
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