Monday, August 7, 2017

In Honor of Tu B'Av

Tu B'Av: Written Six years Earlier
courtesy of

Among the many reasons we chose to make Shilo our home was the agricultural connection that the community had. When we first came twenty-four years ago there were several herds of sheep, a number of fruit orchards, and it was not unusual to hear chickens clucking in neighbour’s gardens. A few years later the planting of the grapes began. 
Now about a half a dozen Shilo families own and are responsible for their vineyards. Even an American family, who wants to have a share in the Torah laws applicable to working the Land of Israel, owns a grove. Fifteen years ago the family hired a manager to clear the land and set up the irrigation system. After working for two weeks, he hired ten teenagers to do the planting and my oldest daughter was among them. She remembers getting up early in the morning, something she usually avoided, dressing in old clothing, and spending three hours planting the 5,000 seedlings. It was hard work and the pay was minimum. Still, she has fond memories of her experience.

She also remembers how that vineyard was almost destroyed shortly after the planting. One Friday morning in August carloads of Arabs, accompanied by their reporters and cameramen, came to the fields to burn the plants and cut the pipes. Evidently they wanted a story on Arab land being stolen by Jewish settlers. That land belonged to Shilo, though, and before the grapes were planted it had been barren of anything save rocks and thorns.

That same Friday morning there was a brit in Shilo. The alarm came in the midst of the ceremony and most of the men rushed to their cars and raced down to the vineyards where they engaged in hand-to-hand combat to save the grapes. As they fought to defend the land, a group of boys gathered at a site overlooking the struggle and recited Psalms. Apparently those prayers helped because the confrontation did not escalate into a full riot. All of our men returned without any serious injuries.

For the first three years after the planting, the vineyards were carefully tended and none of the fruit was eaten, according to the laws of orla. In the time of the Holy Temple, the grapes would be taken to Jerusalem in the fourth year. Now, that we no longer have the Holy Temple, there is a special ceremony called Chilul HaKerem, changing the vineyard from holy to mundane, so that the grapes can be used. I remember well one of those ceremonies that was held on Tu B’Av twelve years ago.

Tu B’Av is the fifteenth day of the summer month of Av. It is six days after Tisha B’Av, the day we mourn the destruction of our first and second Holy Temples. Less than a week apart on the calendar, they are eons apart in spirit, as Tu B’Av is a joyous day.  

There is a strong connection between Shilo and Tu B’Av, as read in Judges, Chapter 21, verses 19 through 21. Since its founding in1978, Shilo usually marks the date with special activities. Twelve years ago there were plans for a concert, festival, and even a wedding.

Things do not always go as planned. The day beforeTu B’Av, we awoke to the horrible news that Arabs had murdered the Shilo rabbi’s son and his friend while they were doing guard duty. With their deaths, the cemetery at a nearby village began. Busloads of mourners from all over Israel came to the site. Once there we made our way through a rocky mountain terrain full of thorns to accompany Harel and Shlomo, hy’d, to their rest. Since that day we have buried many more who have fallen to Arab terror. Yet, I have not forgotten the pain of hearing our rabbi say the Mourner's Prayer for his son.

He and his family returned to Shilo following the funeral and began observing their week of mourning. A Tu B’Av concert and festival were deemed not appropriate, but the marriage would continue as planned. So would the Chilul HaKerem that was to serve as a backdrop for the introduction to the wedding ceremony.

Many of us gathered in the vineyard to honour the bride and groom. Men and boys escorted the young man around one side of the vineyard. I joined the women to accompany the bride on the other side. Little girls wore garlands in their hair and danced in front of the bride who was enthroned on a cart pulled by a tractor. The women followed, but we were not able to move so merrily. The rocky mountain terrain full of thorns made dancing difficult. I was not the only one to make the connection between the walk we were taking then and the one we had made the day before. First to a funeral and then to a wedding. It might be trite, but it is true that life goes on.

And the grapes continue to grow, as do the children. Five years passed and it was time to harvest the grapes. One of the owners had advertised for help. Several of my children went to make some money. My husband and I also joined in for a bit.
It felt good to cut the clusters and put them into basket full of grapes. They would be going to the winery, and I was proud to be part of the process. Next year I would be able to buy the wine and serve it at my table.

The rows were full of all kinds of workers. I saw a schoolboy with the dark skin of Yemenite background give his clippers to his Ashkenazi friend. An American tourist helped his little Israeli-born cousin. There were some Russian immigrants who needed the extra money. A number of the college students, whom I had watched grow up in Shilo, had spare time since they were still on summer break.

In the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan says that there was no joy like the joy of Tu B’Av. Why? Because it was a time of unity for the Jewish people.
I looked at these workers, young and old, religious and not, immigrants and native born. This was unity and I felt joy.

Before we know it, it will be Rosh Hashanah. In the synagogue, on the second day, we will read from the haftarah that is taken from Jeremiah. The promise will be read, "I shall yet rebuild you and you will be rebuilt as the maiden of Israel; you will yet adorn yourself with drums and go forth in the dance of the celebrants. You will yet plant vineyards in the mountains of the Shomron; the planters will plant and redeem. For there will be a day when the watchman will call out on Mt. Ephraim, 'Arise, let us ascend to Zion, to HaShem, our G-d'."

We have rebuilt homes. We have had our dancing and celebrations. Vineyards have been planted and redeemed. May the watchman come and herald the coming of the time of our redemption and true peace.

Orla: the first three years after a tree is planted and its fruit is forbidden
hy’d: May HaShem avenge their murders

Haftarah: reading following the Torah in the synagogue 

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