By Rachel Greenblatt
Where flowers and grass grew, a shul would sprout, and with Hashem’s help, last week, Moshav Roie commemorated 37 years since its establishment with a grand celebration escorting its first sefer Torah dedicated by Professor Fein and his wife of Karnei Shomron to its newly built synagogue.
Rabbi Raanan shared his proposal with the local council to dedicate the shul to the memory of the murdered young boys Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’ar, and Naftali Frenkel; they accepted the proposal and visited the grieving families to comfort them. The families themselves could not be present as they were still within the week of mourning.
Israel’s Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan was among the 200 dignitaries and participants present at the ceremony. This included Kurt Rothschild, president of World Mizrachi, Member of Knesset Moshe Feiglin, Rabbi Ephraim Laniado of the Beit Yaakov Safra Congregation in San Paulo, as well as Chief Rabbi Menachem Glitzenstein and David Alchayani of the Jordan Valley.
It was a scene of mixed emotions but, in typical Jewish optimism, it affirmed the belief that Jewish life must continue in spite of, and sometimes because of, our tragedies. Orit Harel told the large crowd that this was the second shul she’d helped establish in a place where there had not been one for probably 1,900 years. She assisted and encouraged the building of a shul in the secular town of Timrat together with Ayelet Hashachar.
When Rabbi Shlomo Raanan, director of Ayelet HaShachar, received a phone call from the Moshav Roie over four years ago, he was swift to move into action. Leaders of the community turned to him with a request. Could he help them establish a regular Shabbos minyan? This lit a red light in his head–no minyan, no Shabbos? His Jewish heart ached. Something had to be done to help them infuse the community with a spark of Yiddishkeit.
Moshav Roie nestles on the northern side of Habika, the Jordan Valley, the white, stony Israeli desert forming its backdrop. Setting out from Jerusalem, he began his journey from the built-up golden city of Jerusalem on the road towards the Dead Sea. This area is the lowest place in the world, home to natural fauna and flora not found anywhere else on the planet.
Continuing on the road, one takes a left at the Jericho junction, traveling north towards Beit Shean. This region boasts vast sweeping lengths of banana and date tree plantations. Their palms showing off their prowess, these trees not only bear fruit for the locals and for export, but also provide the population with lulavim just in time for Sukkos.
Approaching the Adam Junction, a left turn onto route 57 leads to a deserted 15-kilometer trek. Arab villages swathe the area, the threat of the unknown in the air.
Roie, a jewel in the midbar, shines in the sunlight even from afar; the tent-like arches that protect its growing produce resemble the white cloth sails on a windy ship. The description is apt for Roie, whose green beauty rivals the empty spaces it calls home. This oasis filled with promise mushrooms out of the land like a desert island in the ocean.
Forty five families, a population of 300 residents, dwell on Roie, named to commemorate fallen Israeli Paratroop Commander Uzi Yairi, who gave his life attempting to rescue the trapped occupants of the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv in a showdown in 1975. The building had been overtaken by terrorists, threatening the lives of those inside, and the Israeli Defense Forces made a brave evacuation attempt.
Founded in 1976, the moshav was established by Jews whose vision was to make the desert bloom, and bloom it does.
Greeted by workers on tractors with ruddy, sunbaked skin, they are quick to offer to show Rabbi Raanan around. With justified pride, they show him their achievements–a thriving, beautiful cooperative settlement.
But for all these achievements; homes and flowering gardens, kindergartens and schools, and a community center building, the moshav has existed for almost 35 years without a synagogue.
After being shown around and some in-depth discussions, Rabbi Raanan was overjoyed to receive another call some months later informing him that, with his encouragement, they had applied and been allocated a shul building by the Israeli government. Now their needs had changed. They required furnishings–an aron kodesh, bimah, benches, and a basic library, plus a mechitzah for the women’s gallery.
Rabbi Raanan and his trailblazing organization Ayelet Hashachar is in the ‘business’ of building synagogues, but his dream is Jewish unity and understanding, and the synagogue is the outcome of his endless efforts, acting as a ‘meeting place’ between the secular and the religious. There is a new awareness in the land of Israel, a great awakening, and it is his privilege to be able to harness this enthusiasm and turn it into a great and wondrous reality.
It will be his joy and privilege to watch the desert bloom, in more ways than one. v