I remember the first time I was invited to Netiv HaAvot, the hamlet between Neve Daniel and Elazar. It was just about this time of year. They were having a Lag B'Omer Bonfire, Iyar 2002. (The photos in this blog are from that visit in 2002.) These brave young families had been living in caravans and even stone homes for more than a year (the community was established in February 2001) on a hilltop between Gush Etzion's Elazar and Neve Daniel.
The original neighborhood was called El/Dan (Elazar/Neve Daniel), but the young families and their children had taken upon themselves the responsibility in those precarious times to protect the Path of our Patriarchs. The hillside overlooked Derech HaAvot, part of the watershed line between Chevron and Yerushalayim, Beersheva and et El, where Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and David had traveled their Biblical journeys.
So Netiv Avot seemed a very appropriate name for the community.
The beautifully preserved mikveh a(ritual bath) long the path with its separate entrance and exit arches for "impure" and "purified" olei regel (pilgrims) to Jerusalem, testified to its role as Jewish thoroughfare during the time of the Second Temple. And then 2000 years later, Jewish children played nearby calling Derech HaAvot their home.
The sun was just setting on the hills of Gush Etzion, and the auburn, green, grey patchwork of fields, stone terraces and olive trees were still visible as the yellow evening lights of Neve Daniel, Betar, Tzur Hadassah, Rosh Tzurim and Alon Shvut shimmered around us.
The residents were roughing it, but not that much (this is Gush Etzion, after all).
They shared communal water and electrity hookups. There were no telephones there back then. The cellphone companies got a great boost from the new hamlet. And when rainstorms were very great (there was rain back then), the caravan dwellers feared that their rooftops would fly off (two actually did).
My friend Linda Friedburg moved from her comfortable home in Neve Daniel to help establish Netiv Avot in the very beginning. She really took the pioneering in her stride. No buses came up there yet (although they did have a decorative bus stop for the day when things would change, and B"H, they have). She drove her kids along their bumpy stone road to Elazar every morning at 7:30 AM to catch the schoolbus. She cooked on one gas burner. She washed dishes for her bli ayin hara growing family in a sink that held only a few at a time. And her TV screen jumped every time someone opened the refrigerator.
But she said she would never forget those days. The children could hop over to the Bet Knesset caravan (just a few steps from their home). They hosted chayalim (soldiers) frequently at their Shabbat table. They danced outside with the Torah on Simchat Torah, lit their Chanukah candles outside and the smoke from the little flames swirled along with the memories of our forefathers who walked through the same area.
When Netiv Avot was well-established, more than a year later, Linda and her family returned to Neve Daniel. Meanwhile the community has grown and flourished so beautifully over the years. The children have grown strong and filled with emunah (faith) among the rich soil and the stones of Eretz Yisrael.
"For your servants take pleasure in her stones, and favor her dust." (Psalms 102:15)
"For the Al-Mighty will redeem Zion and will build the cities of Judea, and they will settle there and have it as a possession. And the seed of his servants will inherit it, and those who love His Name will dwell therein." (Psalms 69:36-37)