Being a Shomer Shabbat

By Szajnberg, Nathan | Midstream, December 2000 | Go to article overview

Being a Shomer Shabbat


Szajnberg, Nathan, Midstream


Tonight, I, an agnostic, am shomer shabbat, a guardian of Shabbat. I am on patrol, shmirah, with Yonni, my college buddy's Yemenite son-in-law, bumping along the periphery of Kfar Etzion, in a self-propelled jeep. Yonni demonstrated how the jeep was engineered to start automatically and maintain a constant speed, so that we would be shomer shabbat in the traditional sense. Yoram has a rifle tucked between the shift and his right leg, and the two-way radio crackling. Also crackling, more distantly, is the bombardment of Gilo, about 18 kilometers north, at the southern edge of Jerusalem. Between us and Jerusalem are the Minharot, the infamous two tunnels on the road to Jerusalem that are closed intermittently when the artillery fire from the Palestinian Tanzim gets too rabid.

Before we left Shabbat dinner early to go on patrol, Yoram's teen-aged brother-in-law joked that this rifle could not shoot a cockroach, let alone an intruder. Yet I feel remarkably safe sitting next to Yonni.

How did I get here in the midst of a new intifada?

Two years ago, Baruch, our common roommate at the University of Chicago, a former Israeli paratrooper, was recovering from his bone marrow transplant. He reconnected Myron and me. I had become a psychoanalyst. Myron, a father of five and grandfather of four, made aliyah and in 1967 was invited to return to rejuvenate the Dali Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, the "Village of Wood."

An Australian student asked a tour guide, "What does Kfar Etzion have?" "History," she replied.

But there is a surfeit of history in Israel, and there are many stones. So many stones that there never seems enough time.

Kfar Etzion has risen and died three times in the recent history of the Judean Hills.

Founded by a Mr. Holzman (hence Etzion, woods), it fell under illness and barrenness twice: the early settlements were abandoned due to fear of Arab attack during the 1929 pogrom of Hebron and the 1936 Arab riots. Then an aliyah of Romanian Jews took to reestablishing it as an Orthodox Kibbutz. Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor were two of their recent inspirations. In 1948, on the eve of Yom Ha'atzmaut, the Kibbutz of Friar Etzion was overrun by Arab irregular forces -- who slaughtered all 156 people who surrendered. (The regular forces came later and sent the other kibbutzim to captivity). The children and pregnant women had been sent out of the kibbutz in January 1948.

In 1967, Jewish paratroopers freed Jerusalem from the Jordanian army. Among the paratroopers were children from Kfar Etzion. After liberating Jerusalem, they hopped a jeep and sped 20 kilometers to abandoned Kfar Etzion, the kibbutz many had never seen, except in the dreams and stories of their mothers. They reestablished a base in Kfar Etzion (then radioed their command to get permission for the action). They invited Myron, who was on Kibbutz Yavneh (named for the ancient city to which the sages of Jerusalem escaped when Jerusalem fell under the Romans), to join them. Well, that's how he got there. My story is more prosaic.

This was my third visit in two years. This year, we had a conference of infant and child psychiatry scheduled in Jerusalem. Then Oslo and Sharm-al-Shekh fell apart. The conference was postponed. I decided to go myself. I was to lecture in Beersheva, teach in Jerusalem, and interview teens on a kibbutz. But I looked forward to my Shabbat on Kfar Etzion.

Life seems normal on Kfar Etzion; then suddenly, sometimes quietly, it isn't. The Beit Knesset was built by the people around me. The stained glass window above the Aron Kodesh designed to represent the three reincarnations of Kfar Etzion: three boulders from the ground, from which stained glass portrayals of vines arising from them, the stark sky above. …

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