Two of my four children live in places defined as “settlements” and are therefore characterized by most of the secular press as “obstacles to peace.” But if the journalists who use such terminology ever spent time there, among those idealistic and brave Jews, they might have to rethink their definition.
My daughter Tammy has lived in Shiloh for the last 16 years, raising her eight children there. Shiloh is one of the holiest towns of ancient Israel, home of the Ark of the Covenant for 369 years, from the time of the conquest of Canaan under Joshua (Joshua 18:1).
It was the religious and political center of the tribes of Ephraim and Benjamin in the time of the Judges. Tu B’Av is still celebrated in Shiloh, where once maidens danced in the vineyards so that young men could choose their brides.
In the 11th century BCE, after the decisive battle of Ebenezer, the Ark was taken by the Philistines. This battle marked the end of the period of the Judges, followed by the selection of Saul and then David to be kings of Israel. Shiloh was in ruins for 150 years, until rebuilt at the end of 10th century BCE.
Today, modern Shiloh stands next to Tel Shiloh where excavations have unearthed impressive remnants of a fortified settlement circa 17th-16th century BCE, with large, well-to-do houses. There are also remains of two Byzantine churches from the 5th and 6th centuries with magnificent mosaic floors. One depicts two does and fish flanking a pomegranate tree, echoing the biblical verse “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God” (Psalms 42:1).
A group of Jews from Gush Emunim returned to settle in Shiloh in 1978, and a year later the Israeli government officially authorized its status as a recognized village.
More than 1,500 people live there today and it has all the amenities – schools, playgrounds, a grocery, sports fields, a swimming pool, synagogues and a hesder yeshiva combining military service with advanced Talmudic studies. There are immigrants from many countries, particularly Western ones, and the people are mostly Modern Orthodox, friendly and welcoming with a modest lifestyle.
As frequent Shabbat visitors, it is hard for us to reconcile the harsh descriptions of settlers with the idealistic people who live there. On our most recent visit we enjoyed the davening, took walks along the scenic pathways and visited the beautiful lookout point with its seating area, donated by the Klass-Mauer family in memory of Rabbi Sholom Klass, founder of The Jewish Press.
Located next to the playground, overlooking mountains and plains unchanged since biblical times, it’s an ideal spot to relax while listening to the laughter of young children enjoying the swings and slides on a sunny Shabbat afternoon.
As the shadows lengthened and evening began to fall, we ate seudah shlishit in our daughter’s garden, where grapes, pears and pomegranates grow and shade is provided by a spreading mulberry tree. The family’s pet rabbit ran around the lawn, unperturbed by our singing, while down below, in the Arab village of Turmus Aya, the muezzin called the Muslim faithful to prayer.
Amid the peace and beauty, one could almost forget, for a brief while, the terrorist attacks and loss of loved ones some of Shiloh’s residents have had to suffer.
These people are not “obstacles to peace.” They are brave, idealistic, Zionistic Jews who love their land, their people and their Creator.