Up in the scenic hills of Shomron, Israel, lies the picturesque town of Itamar. Established in 1984, Itamar is a growing community, spanning the largest piece of land of any yishuv in Judea and Samaria, and facing the mountains of Har G’rizim and Har Eival – the mountains of “the blessing and the curse” mentioned in next week’s parshah. From over 700 meters above sea level on the top of the hill on which Itamar strategically sits, you can view the Kinneret, the Dead Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea on a clear day. Keeping this location Jewish strategically protects much of the rest of the country; if Hamas had such a view of Eretz Yisrael, you can be sure bombs and rockets would easily reach the coast, the Golan Heights, and Jerusalem, all from the one outpost. The town is named after Itamar, the son of Aharon HaKohen, who was buried there.
Last week, the former Mayor of Itamar, Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith, and his wife Leah, visited Queens to speak at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. Both are American olim who left Brooklyn in 1984 to participate in the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel and with the ultimate goal of “paving the way for the development of Samaria communities.” After a short video to introduce us to their home, which is very close to the biblical city of Sh’chem and the Tomb of Yosef, they described how, in the early days, Itamar was made up of nothing but ten couples in pre-fabricated homes on a dirt road. Water arrived at the village on a truck, and a generator allowed them to use electricity in the mornings and evenings. Life was tremendously rustic compared to their childhoods in New York City. Today, they boast 300 families – around 1800 people altogether – with an organic farm, a petting zoo, vineyards, hydroponic greenhouses, schools, a yeshivah, batei midrash, and a single shul that unites the whole community. With Ashkenazim, Lubavitchers, Breslov chasidim, Sefardim, and Yemenites praying together, they maintain a schedule of alternating the nusach of the sh’liach tzibur to create a welcoming atmosphere for everyone.
The residents of Itamar view their strengthening and expansion as a m’sirat nefesh for the sake of all of am Yisrael. They look forward to the day when the rest of am Yisrael has their backs, too.
The residents of Itamar are idealists and ardent Zionists, and the Goldsmiths’ love and pride for their rapidly-growing community are infectious. They’re so connected to the land as the history and future of the Jewish people. The bulk of the community is Dati Leumi, with many of the originals having been students at Mercaz HaRav. They work with the Israeli government to develop and approve city plans and to receive funding for growth and infrastructure. The fact that the community has tripled in size, and the high school has quadrupled in size, over the past fifteen years shows their determination. They have filled to capacity, so new homes must be built for any additional families that want to move there. Being equidistant between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the center of Israel is a sensible place for expanded settlement, as more olim come, and for new cities and towns to develop. Rabbi Goldsmith’s dream is “to see hundreds of thousands of people” living with them in the hills of Shomron, with Itamar as a major metropolis.
Leah explained that the mountain range from the North to the South, also called “Eretz HaAvot,” is made up of a straight line of cities: Shiloh, Beit El, Yerushalayim, Beit Lechem, and Chevron. This is likened to the spinal cord of the Land of Israel. In this depiction, Itamar is located right where the heart would be. The center of Eretz Yisrael is the makor, the source of our Jewish heritage.
Facing the Mountains of G’rizim and Eival is quite a premonition for the experience of life in Itamar. On one hand, it might be reasonable to argue that they have been cursed with numerous difficult and ugly nisyonot. But on the other hand, there is a prophecy that is being realized in the rebuilding of Israel, and the residents of Itamar have clearly seen many blessings, including the expansion of their community, the recent Fogel Beis Midrash that was completed, and watching the desolate mountainous land turn green right before their eyes.
The people of Itamar also connect very much to Yosef, whose kever rests nearby, and until the Oslo Accords in 2000, they could access it freely. But the connection runs even deeper than geography: Like the people of Itamar, here was a concerted effort to throw Yosef into a pit, to keep him down, so to speak. But only once all the brothers unified, could Yosef’s true greatness be revealed. Similarly, when am Yisrael will stand up, fortify, and take responsibility for one another, the truth will be revealed. The residents of Itamar view their strengthening and expansion as a m’sirat nefesh for the sake of all of am Yisrael, because they’re holding down the fort, so to speak, for the entire Jewish People. They look forward to the day when the rest of am Yisrael has their backs, too.
Unfortunately, Itamar has sustained several horrific terror attacks, most infamously the one carried out in the Fogel home, which have claimed precious Jewish lives. In truth, there has been a higher incidence of terror attacks than any other yishuv in Yehuda and Shomron, primarily since the Oslo Accords provided weapons to their nearby neighbors under the Palestinian Authority. But the Goldsmiths and Itamar residents focus on the positives in their lives: the growth of their community being high on the list. Security is, of course, a basic need for the residents of Itamar, and as such, this is highest on the list of fundraising projects. It isn’t easy to protect such a large landmass, since it can’t all be fenced in, but all of the homes are within the electric and barbed wire fencing. They’ve recently improved the security cameras, which aren’t foolproof and require a large budget. Itamar’s answer to terrorism is to take serious security measures and always keep building.
There are non-terror-related projects to participate in, too; they’re also looking to finish the yishuv’s community day care center for babies and toddlers. Chitzim, a special high school that serves 300 boys with PTSD, ADD, and ADHD, would like to build dormitories, a study hall, and a kitchen. Boys who come to the high school often come in from larger cities, but many love the quieter, simpler life in Itamar so much that when they grow up and get married, they have chosen to build their families there. By having the kids gather in permanent buildings, rather than simple caravans, Goldsmiths hope to make them take greater pride in their space and feel more settled. Because they want to support Jewish employment for building projects, they have chosen to only bring in Jewish laborers, which is 30% more expensive.
The Goldsmiths and other residents of Itamar have recently seen an influx of Israelis visiting their yishuv as a tourist site, coming to see for themselves what the yishuv is all about. Recently, an entire motorcycle club came up! Currently, Moshe Goldsmith is building the first guesthouse in Itamar, with hopes of building several places that can be used for visitors.
Rabbi Moshe and Leah Goldsmith invite everyone to plan a visit to see Itamar on your next trip to Israel. You can also visit virtually on their website, www.touritamarsupportisrael.com.
Friends of Itamar is a non-profit to which you can donate online or write tax-deductible checks to Friends of Itamar, Attn.: Goldsmith, 1483 East 34th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11234.