For all of you who are unfortunate enough to find yourselves in the Exile right now, we lucky Israelis are blanketed with snow. It is absolutely beautiful - and fun!
Apart from this bit of news, I wanted to tell you all about our Kumah shabbaton here in Beit El on Tu B'Shevat. I never cooked for 25 people before, and I won't lie - there were times where I thought I'd go mental. But at some point all the chickens were cut up, the cabbages fried, the potatoes mashed, and the kilos of fruits, nuts and other delicacies were laid out.
Due to my culinary responsibilities, I unfortunately missed the tree planting, which many people said was their favorite part of the shabbaton, something really meaningful and Zionistic. Our guests planted olive and oak trees at the Beit El winery, where they were treated to free bottles of wine, and free sips there in the spot. There's a little olive tree waiting for me to plant him - I hope he hasn't frozen in all this snow!
The good people of Beit El really came through for me on Tu B'Shevat. Having never met me, they put up our guests in their homes and had (I hope) a good time with them. Ezra, who had to emergency cancel on us because of a nasty illness (thank G-d, he's better now), still came through with a really nice Tu B'Shevat Hagaddah which we all enjoyed during the seder.
We had all kinds of Jews. Religious, not so religious, pre-crawling, pre-AARP, hippie types, "sensible shoes" types, but the most amazing thing was that everyone really listened to each other. There were a few times that we went around the table, each describing a favorite moment in Israel, or something that's better in Israel than it is any other place on earth, and no one interrupted or sort of zoned out. Everyone listened, internalized, laughed together. Twenty-five Olim, English speakers who'd come to make a home here in this tiny Middle Eastern inhertiance, were building a community at the table. I was totally impressed and having a great time. Let's not forget that there are four cups of wine at the seder. Ah, social lubricant.
The next day, we took a STELLAR tour of Beit El, guided by Baruch Gordon, director of the Arutz 7 english website and "bunker" participant at Yamit. He showed us a lot, including an ancient wine press. He told us many stories about the famous Yaakov "Ketzele" Katz who founded Beit El. Ketzele, is a hero of the 73 war whose life was saved by Ariel Sharon when he was shot in battle. Mr. Katz is a major figure here, often seen walking with bright, strong eyes, and a cane his war injuries made necessary.
After our tour, we came back for Seudah Shlishit - the third and last meal of Shabbat. We had a guest speaker - Ketzele! Our guests were fairly riveted as Ketzele imbued them with the great message of the people who live out here - there's no stopping us from growing and living and thriving. When Hashem wants to bring us back to the land, there's no Arab terrorist, and no misguided Jewish leader who can stop us!
Shabbat over, Havdalah beautifully sung, half our guests hit the road. The other half came to our house for coffee and cake, playing tarbukas and guitars, and chatting over their weekend experiences. Walking the last guest to the bus stop and eating pocketsful of garinim (sunflower seeds), we said goodbye to another adventure and hello to the friendships of new immigrants, eagerly awaiting the arrival of thousands more.