Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Column: Yair Har Sinia -- Memorial to a friend

For the sake of remembering and honoring I want to tell you about a very dear friend of mine that was murdered by Arabs a year and a half ago -- Yair Har Sinai, may G-d avenge his blood.

There are unfortunately so many more who have been murdered and maimed. May this be a remembrance and tribute to all of them as well, and may we see an immediate end to the suffering of our people.

Yair was a shepherd in Susiya in the Hebron Hills, about a 30-minute drive south of Hebron. He was shot and killed there while tending his flock on July 21, 2001.

To describe Yair and his life it is necessary first and foremost to describe the hills and valleys around Susiya for he and that land were one.

Driving south from Hebron, the land opens up in a way that reminded me -- the first time I saw it -- of Colorado. The sky is big.

The hills roll more and more gently the further south you travel. There are few trees except for the clusters of pine that were planted by Keren Kayemet on scattered hilltops and the olive trees in the narrow valleys that wind through the hills. Carmel and Maon are two yishuvim (settlements) that lie between Hebron and Susiya. In the time of King David, Naval the Carmelite had the largest flock in all of Israel-- 3000 sheep and a thousand goats -- the land was made for grazing flocks.

Susiya sits near the western edge of the Judean Desert. Climbing the hills to the east of the yishuv -- going up through the pastureland -- one reaches a place where the desert falls down below in a great expanse, dry and mountainous and empty.

Around Susiya the hills roll softly and the walking is easy. Much of the boulders and rocks are white limestone -- soft and very often flat -- making for a pleasant floor. In the springtime when the grass sprouts, the hills are a green and white patchwork.

There are no springs nearby and rainwater is gathered in ancient cisterns that have been cleaned and made good to use. The softness of the limestone makes it ideal for the digging out of the large, round, room-sized cisterns. Dropping a bucket into the cold clean water and drawing it up by a long rope and pouring it out bucket by bucket into stone troughs is the way the flocks are watered in the pasture.

One of the most interesting sights to come across in the hills is the winepresses. The whole area was a great source of fine wine in biblical times and the winepresses are scattered here and there. Arabs do not drink wine. The winepresses testify to the ancient Jewishness of the land.
This is the setting in which Yair spent his years. He was in the mountains day after day, year after year. There were days of icy coldness, days of hard rain, even sometimes snow. And there were long hot days of blistering heat. Springtime brought the green carpet and wildflowers with the newly born kids jumping and hopping all around -- anxious to get out in the pasture too.

Sometimes at night Yair would take off alone into the mountains -- the limestone shining white beneath the moon. He would go and talk to G-d underneath the stars of Judea, wandering his beloved hills.

Born on a moshav near Hadera in the early days of the newborn state, he grew up with the Israel of agriculture, simplicity, and neighborly kindness deep in his bones. Dalia, his wife, grew up nearby on another moshav. When they became religious they looked for a return not only to their spiritual roots but to a way of living that incorporated their great love of the land of Israel. It took some time for them to find their way to Susiya, having first tried the more standard way of life that most of the religious world follows. But Yair loved the outdoors and he loved work and he loved the land. They found their home and had nine children.
One day we were in the pasture together with the goats and sheep grazing around us. It was a cold winter day. I asked him what he would do if this land was given away -- if a "Palestinian" state was created. He looked at me straight in the eyes in his piercing, ferociously forthright way, and, gesturing to the earth beneath his feet said calmly, "I will die here." I looked around me at the hills and the flock and the sky and then back at Yair and I knew that he meant what he said -- that he had no other home -- and never could.

Yair ben Yehuda. May his memory be blessed.


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