The first time I ever heard of Talmon, a small town in the Binyamin region, was last July. Its name appeared on the front pages of the newspapers almost every day because it was the home of Gil-Ad Shaer, one of three teenagers kidnapped by Arab terrorists. For almost three weeks, Gil-Ad, Ayal, and Naftali were constantly in my prayers and in my thoughts. When they were found in hastily dug graves in a dusty field, I cried. I had not known the boys, their families, or even their towns, but through 18 days of prayer they had become mine. I grieved over their loss and my heart went out to their families.
During the tumult of last summer’s events, the international press invaded the towns where the three kidnapped boys lived. They camped out in front of the families’ houses, waiting for any word, any hint of news. It was hot, dry, and sunny, as July always is. Reporters can be invasive and pesky, trying to get a jump on breaking news. People in Talmon brought the reporters cold drinks, water, iced tea, and juice. They opened their doors so members of the press could use the bathroom. Some people gave members of the press the keys to their houses, and left the air conditioning on all day so reporters could go in and cool off.
That was not unusual behavior in Talmon. A number of years ago, an Israeli motorcycle club that had the custom of touring the country every weekend had asked permission to ride through Talmon. They did not intend to stop or ride within the town, but because the town was built along the main road in the area, they asked if they could drive by. Dozens of motorcycles driving by would make enough noise to shatter the peace of Shabbat, and it was only right that they warn the residents they were coming. Imagine the motorcyclists’ surprise when they came up the hill and discovered a Kiddush set up for them at the side of the road. Wine and grape juice, cookies and cake, no doubt some kugel and fish as well, all for them to enjoy with the local community. It was not the way they were usually welcomed, but it was typical of Talmon hospitality.
Last week, on a One Israel Fund trip to the Binyamin region, I toured Talmon with Ofir and Bat-Galim Shaer, Gil-Ad’s parents, as guides.
The Shaers got on our bus just inside the security gate at the entrance to the town. Like most Jewish towns in Binyamin, Yehuda, and Shomron, Talmon is surrounded by a security fence. Arab towns do not have fences. Unlike the Jews, they know they are secure and safe from attack by their neighbors.
Talmon was founded during a rainy winter 28 years ago. Its location was not deliberately chosen in advance. The government had given permission to build Neria, but on the way to the designated site, the truck carrying people and supplies became stuck in the mud. The next night another truck heading towards Neria became stuck in almost the same place. Since they could not travel any farther, the settlers built their new town right there. Neria, also known as North Talmon, was founded four years later.
Ofir took us into a neighbor’s backyard to point out the topography of the area. The view was breathtaking—it is easy to understand why people would want to live here. From where we stood, at an altitude of about 2000 feet, we could see the green hills descending towards the coastal plain. Ofir pointed out nearby Arab and Jewish towns. To the southeast we could see the outskirts of Ramallah; to the west we could see part of Modi’in and Kiryat Sefer. Further away a gray haze marks Tel Aviv. The city is visible on a clear day, which I learned is defined as “early morning in the winter.” Apparently, the fog rises around 7 AM and obscures the city and the sea. Many Talmon residents go to this side of town between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur to say Tashlich, the penitential prayer which is traditionally recited where one can see a body of water that has fish swimming in it. The sight of the Mediterranean Sea 40 km away qualifies these hills as good spots to recite Tashlich.
Water supply is not a problem in the hills of Binyamin. They are situated over the mountain aquifer and are dotted with springs giving potable water. In several places, teenagers have built pools by the springs. These spring-fed pools have become gathering places. Later in the day, when we visited one, our guide told us that Arabs have destroyed this particular pool three times, and each time the Jewish teens have returned and cleaned it out, lined it with cement, and repaired the water channel. It was a lovely spot overlooking the summer-brown hills. As we returned to our bus, we passed three young men headed towards the pool.
For Talmon, electricity can be a problem, because they have no backup supplier. Some families have private generators, but most rely only on the Israel Electric Company. Ofir reported that after the bad snowstorm two years ago, they were without electricity for nearly a week.
Our bus drove through town, past the large elementary school. The playground was full of boys practicing basketball drills. After winding our way past the stone houses we drove past some temporary homes and into Neve Talmon where new homes are under construction. We passed two large signs advertising homes available for less than a million shekels. That is cheap for Israel, where three room apartments in some areas sell for more than a million shekels.
We stopped at the half built synagogue. The townspeople had started building the synagogue a while ago but after the events of last summer they decided to name it in memory of Gil-Ad Shaer. Bat-Galim reminded us that the name Gilad means memorial.When they named their only son, they put a hyphen in his name, so it would mean eternal joy. His life was a prayer and it will continue with the dedication of this synagogue.
We sat on the unfinished cement steps leading to what will soon be the Aron Kodesh and listened to Bat-Galim talk about last summer. She said she started to understand how Jews are one people, one family, and there is a connection among us all, both in the land of Israel and outside it. It was absolutely amazing–the whole
country was looking for three children who had not come home. People prayed for them; strangers came just to hug her. She saw the Jewish People at its best. There was a feeling of unity. Everyone wanted to be part of it. This unity of purpose and of love was the most important thing to come out of their family’s tragedy. The message that the People Israel is one is important, she said. There is a great need to continue to continue and to promote the spirit of unity among our people.
As if to emphasize her message about unity, as we left the synagogue, we all stood on the unpaved path in front for a photo of our group with the Shaers. I turned to hug Bat-Galim, and felt her warmth and strength as her arms pulled me close. Sometimes when trying to give support to others, I feel as if I have received more than I gave. Walking back to the bus, I wiped the tears from my face.
Where is Talmon?