Take the story of Reeva. Reeva comes from Cape Town, South Africa. She lives today in Maaleh Adumim, Israel. I recently had the good fortune of Reeva joining me on a day tour. Little did I know what surprises awaited our tour group.
The tour plan was for a one day tour of the areas south of Jerusalem, specifically to the city of Hebron and the area of Gush Etzion in the Judean Hills. The group consisted of 7 adults- a combination of Aussies, Kiwis (New Zealanders) and South Africans. Fortunately, they were all friends, and all spoke English! We started the day with a drive in my new 2015 Deluxe Touring Vehicle, heading south out of Jerusalem.
Our first stop was the “Mitzpor Ha'Elef” lookout point at Neve Daniel. This lookout point is located at 1,000 meters above see level. "Elef" in Hebrew means "1,000"- hence the name. A short drive and climb to the top to the tower, and you could see for miles around! A tremendous lookout point to see all of the Judean Hills and desert. From here we could see Jerusalem, the Herodian, the Hebron Hills and much more.
We continued south to Hebron. Here we visited “Meaarat Ha'Machpela”, also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Tradition has it that here lie the remains of our forefathers and their wives- Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah (Rachel is buried on the road to Bethlehem). We visited the site, and experienced the holiness and spirituality that surround the area. Driving through Hebron, we stopped to visit Beit Hadassah. This is one of the oldest Jewish buildings in Hebron. Our first “surprise” of the day began to unfold...
It turns out that Reeva was in Israel in 1979 as a visiting student. As we looked at the pictures on the wall at Beit Hadassah, pictures of the group of women who settled there- she found herself! What a tremendous feeling! She remembers visiting with the group as if it was only yesterday. Reeva told us what it was like for her to be here at that time, together with that special group of women. Amazing. We continued our tour. Driving north from Hebron, we had a great dairy lunch at the Gush Etzion Winery. We sampled some of the wine, all made in the winery. Really divine!
After lunch, we went to the Museum at Kibbutz Kefar Etzion, where another surprise awaited us.
We watched the movie about the History of Kefar Etzion. While the new State of Israel was declared in Tel Aviv, four small kibbutzim of the Etzion Bloc, known collectively as "Gush Etzion", held back the Jordanian invasion of Jerusalem in 1948. In the words of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister: "If there exists a Jewish Jerusalem, our foremost thanks go to the defenders of Gush Etzion". Reeva's father Henry had a childhood friend in SA named Yehezkel Berelowitz. Yehezkel and Henry were Zionist youth leaders in SA. They were both leaders of the Bnei Akiva Youth Movement. In 1944, Yehezkel made “aliyah”- moved to Israel. He moved to Israel and became a pioneer on Kibbutz Kefar Etzion.
While living on the Kibbutz, Yehezkel would send letters to Henry, his friend back home. Many years later Henry gave these letters to a kibbutz representative in SA for safekeeping in the museum archives on the Kibbutz in Israel. Reeva wanted to see if she could find these letters. We asked my friend and former Kfar Etzion Museum Director Sandi Amichai for help. Sandi knew exactly where the records were to be found. Reeva was shown a folder with all the letters and info that the Kibbutz had about Yehezkel. Sure enough, she found the original letters, as well as replies that Henry had sent back to Yehezkel!
As Reeva read the letters out loud, tears welled in her eyes. Here were original letters of correspondence between her father and his best friend. Here was the real story of her father's best friend; a true leader who became a pioneer and lived the Zionist dream!
Reeva's father Henry had passed away 10 years ago. These letters, for Reeva, brought the memory of her father back to life! We were all overwhelmed. We left Kefar Etzion and continued on our tour, knowing we had just been part of something special. We drove next to the "Lone Tree", the famous oak tree that's become a symbol of Gush Etzion. During the 19 years that the area was under Jordanian Occupation, the former families of Kefar Etzion would see this huge oak tree from afar, and pledge that they would one day return.
We then continued to the Hilltop known as “Oz Ve’Gaon”- the new tourist site located near the Gush Etzion junction. This site is actually a memorial for the 3 teenage boys who were ruthlessly murdered while waiting for a ride at a nearby bus stop nearly 1 year ago. At this site, we saw and spoke with other young teens preparing the site for visitors, archeological digs and more.
Our last stop of the day was at the Tomb of Rachel. Due to the security agreement with the Palestinians, we drive on a special secure rode to the Tomb site. The road is surrounded by concrete barriers on each side, to make sure that we will be safe. Once there, we went inside the main building where the Tomb Marker is located. Men and women stand separately, as in an Orthodox synagogue. We stayed for a short while to pray and meditate.
We returned to Jerusalem tired yet exhilarated at the end of the tour day.The sites we visited were very historically, spiritually, and personally significant. It had been an amazing tour day for all.
The personal story and experience always add a unique dimension to a tour. Be sure to bring your own personal story or experience with you when we tour together. When you do, be prepared for a most exciting tour day!