“What’s that noise mummy?”
“It’s a bird, it really is a bird!”
Eleven families, that is all we had managed to muster, despite our rousing newsletters sent to the garin members who met yearly at Simcha-By-The-Sea. The eleven families who had braved the months of initiation at our foster moshav, Mevo Choron. The umbilical cord had been cut, this was it. We had arrived to take possession of a little bunch of thirty pre-fab houses dropped on the scar tissue of a blown off mountain top with not a blade of grass nor a bird in sight. We came with our lifts filled with over-sized furniture and pampers stuffed wherever they would fit.
“Spoiled Americans,” that’s what the Jewish Agency called us. How could we talk of hardships when we were given houses? Real pioneers start their settlements with tents and wells. We had houses and electricity – even though it was from a generator that needed its afternoon rest.
We had houses, cute little houses with red roofs. We had electricity, though only enough for lights, three fridges between us, and a rotation for using any other electrical equipment. We claimed our houses opening our front door and finding whitewashed walls, stone floors carpeted with dust and builders’ rubble, and a substantial population of every sort of creepy crawly known to man.
If inside the house it was somewhat chaotic, outside was pure havoc. By day the sun relentlessly bleached and boiled our “work in progress” building site. By night our torches tried to save us from the bigger pit-falls as we picked our way along unprepared, never trodden paths.
Our first Shabbos was coming. How would we prepare it without electric ovens and very limited space to store things in the fridge a few houses away? Then we all realized we had no food. No food; no shop for miles around and no private cars. Our chosen shopkeeper collected our “wish list,” took the moshav car back to Mevo Choron and purchased everything at its shop. Who knows if and how we paid them. It was an honors system. You were trusted to ask for only what you needed. Eventually we were handed the keys to the shop building and our tzorchania opened its doors.
Summer gave way to winter after a hard-fought battle known as autumn. The sand piles and rubble turned into quagmires as the rain thrashed down as mercilessly as the sun on the newly exposed land which had been hidden since maasei Bereishis.
Where to start? This was our home. We had to make it habitable and presentable if we were ever to fill the nineteen empty houses and then build some more. The Jewish Agency wanted numbers. Eleven families was a start to make a Jewish presence but to get more resources we had to be big enough to deserve it. We needed resources to attract people and we needed numbers to deserve the resources.
Our paths were paved, streetlights went up and we started looking like a place and not just some scattered houses. What would you expect to find if you blasted off the top layer of a mountain? Rocks, of course. Rocks might grow moss and colored molds but flowers, bushes, grass or trees? We needed gardens; we needed plant life for our houses to snuggle in.
So one evening, after our hard worked men-folk finally finished their toil, we planted grass by a house that had been commandeered for use as the office. We all came: adults, children and babes in arms and applauded as the grass roots gleaned from Mevo Choron’s lawns were spread and sprinkled on. Finally some color.
Inside the houses we had swept and swept; sluiced and sluiced until we could finally reach the real floor. The walls, though, proved unbeatable. Anyone who touched the walls was whitewashed. The whitewash wasn’t washable so we couldn’t sluice off the white powdery layer that dirtied anything that came near it. The lime-based paint needed to be scraped away should we want to try out more colorful and washable surfaces. Who had the money, who had the time?
Slowly, slowly, we tamed our environment, salving its raw rocks with soothing top soil, leveling its bumps and craters into useable roads and filling its silent emptiness with the songs of young families building a Torah Yishuv.
Finally Keren Kayemet came and planted trees. Real trees, somewhere for the dove to rest its feet. So it was that my Matityahu-bred young one asked:
“What’s that noise mummy?”
And I, with the thankfulness of having a long lost loved-one returned, beamed out:
“It’s a bird, it really is a bird.”
Matityahu is building again; filling up its half-finished streets and civilizing its wild empty places. Building house by house, playgrounds, public gardens and bright plentiful street lights.
The original simple one-story houses have been grown by their owners into family villas: some spreading luxuriantly over the generous house plots and some stretching upwards in an added story. The number of Matityahu households has finally reached three figures.
We have made it!
And yet, when I pass through our main playground and see an unfamiliar face, I don’t know whether it belongs to one of “us” or to a “visitor” from the town that grew up on our borders. I can spend a day or so alone in my house and not have contact with a single fellow resident. They no longer need me and I no longer need them.
The trees have grown and flourished. The blackbird’s song serenades in the coming evening and I recall the rocks, the dust and the camaraderie. Our dream hasn’t quite come true.
For most of the people living here, Matityahu is just a quaint place to live. We live in houses with gardens and not just in apartments. We have plenty of space and very little traffic. Our playgrounds have character and imagination. We even have a swimming pool. Yet these people didn’t hear the first birdsong. They came to a completed Matityahu. They didn’t live through its birth pangs.
And yet, I have had the privilege of interviewing some of those brand new families about their new home. Each one talks of the unseeable part of Matityahu: the caring, the spirit, that soupcon of a being one big family, a humming of shared purpose: community.
A Matityahu tree is not just for a dove to rest its feet. It’s for it to build its nest.
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