Photo Credit: Effi Eizenbach

If Middle Earth had a synagogue, it would look like the one at Eshel Hanassi. This is because of the way, the Hobbit-friendly habitation was built, with a huge balloon. But I should start at the beginning.

Every community in Israel, whether religious or not, has at least one synagogue. In the early 1980s, the one at Eshel Hanassi, an agricultural high school in Israel’s south, near Beer Sheva, was half mud and half shack. The regional council was insisting the school build a new one. But there was a problem: Zeev Miller, the school’s (and later the village’s) director wanted nothing less than to build a synagogue. In fact, the last time he had stepped foot in one was Yom Kippur 1973. Miller has been called out of prayers, along with hundreds of thousands of other reserve soldiers to fight in the war. Contemplating all the losses around him, he wondered, “Where is G-d?” And if He was there, Miller was angry at Him for what he saw and what he had experienced, including the loss of friends who died around him.


So it was not with a little ambivalence that Miller, as the director, had to undertake building a new beit knesset for Eshel Hanassi.

The regional council hired a contractor, who used a unique technique of inflating a huge balloon and then pouring cement over it. The cement needed 48 hours to set and so a generator kept the balloon inflated while the cement dried. But something happened. There was a power failure. The whole thing collapsed. Miller thought, “Ah there is a G-d!” The process had to be repeated again and this time the contractor slept on site to make sure the generator kept going.

But Miller wasn’t giving up his fight so quickly. He delayed opening the shul – there wasn’t any air conditioning, there wasn’t any furniture, there weren’t any books… people kept urging him to open the shul, and Miller kept finding reasons not to. But an internal conflict was raging inside him: on the one hand, the students deserved a synagogue. What kind of educational example was he setting for them? On the other hand, he was still angry at G-d.

And then, on Yom Kippur, things came full circle. The shul was locked. People had to walk to Tifrach, several kilometers away, through the fields in the heat, to attend shul, and Miller realized that he had gone too far, and he had no right to keep the shul from the students of the school and the residents of the village.

The shul was finally opened with air conditioning, furniture, and books, and has been serving Eshel for about 40 years. But that isn’t the end of Miller’s story.

Shortly thereafter, Ronit Eizenbach came to interview to be a math teacher. She also said she wanted to live at the school (as many teachers do). This set off a red light for Miller. He really liked Eizenbach’s personality and credentials, but she and her family were religious, and when he met Ronit’s husband Effi, he had even more cause to worry. Effi volunteered to manage the shul and even create an after-school program of Torah learning and activities for the students.

What could Miller do? He was impressed with the young couple, and he liked them very much. He warned Effi that if he caused any of the kids to become religious, he’d throw the Eizenbachs out. But the after-school activity became popular and Miller even donated one of the school busses and joined them for one of the pre-High Holiday school trips.

Today, at 75, Miller works for the Jewish Charitable Association and lives in Lehavim. Ronit now teaches Tanach, and Jewish-Israeli Culture, at Eshel Hanassi. Effi is still in charge of the shul and is acting gabbai.

Over the years, Miller’s anger at Hashem has softened and, thanks to Zeev Miller, the Eizenbachs are still spreading Torah at Eshel Hanassi.


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