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A Garden in Yitzhar

By Moshe Dann

"Let's make a garden," my 22 year old daughter Ayelet suggested when I during my weekly visit to their little home in Yitzhar, a Jewish community in the Shomron, near the ancient city of Shechem, or Nablus as it's called today. Nestled in the valley between two mountains, Eval and Grezim, Shechem is the place where Jacob bought property, where Joseph is buried, and where Joshua built an alter and blessed the Jewish people shortly after they entered the Land of Israel, the Promised Land. It's also become a major center for Palestinian terrorism.

"A lovely idea," I replied, bouncing between my two grandsons with chunks of watermelon and love.

'Back to The Land.' Independence. Organic veggies. Every year in Detroit, where I grew up my father planted tomato plants in our backyard, teaching us that we too could be pioneers in a way, as we tended them carefully through the hot and humid summer.

"Now that's a tomato," he exclaimed proudly, holding up a very large one, his redemption of city life and a genetic thread to his Russian peasant roots.

Ayelet led me to a patch of ground covered with thorny weeds and stones.

"Here," she said handing me a shovel and pickaxe.

'Where's the earth?' I wondered. But trusting her instincts and hopes I began to dig, prying stones from their earthen womb, until the soil exposed itself, dark and merciful.

Ayelet, her husband Akiva and my grandsons live on a hilltop, from where I could see the outskirts of Shechem to the north; to the west, the Mediterranean Sea shimmered on the horizon. In the valley below, the sounds of Arab children and street vendors swirled in the wind. The Promised Land, I thought, wasn't such an easy bargain as I dug into the unyielding ground.

Turning the earth I suddenly noticed something unusual – a small cube, a mosaic tile. Trained as a tour guide, I understood that this indicated the presence of someone from either the Second Temple (Roman) period or the Talmudic (Byzantine) period.

At first I thought it was a fluke, but then I found more tiles, hundreds of them. Tile floors are unusual, usually a sign of luxury. Could it mean that someone important lived here? A few meters away, the rock surface had been chipped away to form a place where water was collected, perhaps a mikve (ritual bath), and nearby the rock had been carved out to form a place where grapes were pressed. Heaps of stones might once have been the walls of homes. A Jewish village, here on this hilltop?

Tomato plants in the midst of an archeological site? I dug more, looking for evidence of life some two thousand years ago. A jug handle turned up, a few bits of pottery, but the mystery of this lost community remained hidden beneath the rubble, if at all.

My grandsons watched me work, too young to help. Leaning against the shovel, I tried to show them how to dig, their tiny limbs straining with the weight of tools too heavy for them to hold. One day soon they will hold shovels and plows when I can no longer lift them and they too will dig, in their home, our land. A promise.

In front of their newly built home, consisting of two old metal shipping containers connected by a roof, Akiva made a small cement porch. While still wet, Ayelet took some of the tiles we'd found and placed them in the floor, spelling out in Hebrew: Baruchim Haba'im, Blessed are those who enter.

Welcome home.


from the September-October 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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