So many of us want to grow… so badly. We commit to growth, however, it’s all too often that we just don’t. Then there are others who do not feel any compelling reason to grow. Rosh Hashanah is the time for transformation and new beginnings. But what forces can we draw on to power that growth?

Our family trip to Israel was nothing short of exhilarating! We spent three weeks in Israel and enjoyed visits to Jerusalem, Gush Etzion, Bet Shemesh, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Caesarea, Haifa, Tiberias and Ramat HaGolan.

We spent Shabbat at Moshav Keshet-Yonatan, visited the Beit HaTfutzot Museum, saw the sound & light show in Ir David, baked bread at Pat B’Melach in Rosh Tzurim, davened Friday night at the Kotel, survived banana boating on Lake Kineret (never again!), endured a water hike in Ein Tina, went fruit picking on the Syrian border in Ein Zivan, cut our son’s hair at Kever Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, shopped in the beautiful Sarona market in Tel Aviv and went camel riding in the Judean Hills at Eretz Bereisheit.

While this was all extraordinary, nothing topped our day traveling through the Shomron. Our visit was arranged by Chagit Moshe the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem who joined us with her husband for the tour. Our guide was Davidi Ben Tzion, Deputy Head of the Shomron Regional Council. We were also joined by Rav Doron Perez the Director General of World Mizrachi.

While I had been to Chevron countless times, for some reason I had always shied away from the Shomron. Our tour began with a drive to the top of Har Bracha (a.k.a. Har Gerizim). There we enjoyed a magnificent lookout of the entire city of Shechem. We saw firsthand how Shechem is nestled between the mountains of Har Grizim and Har Eival. It was regarding this place that Moshe instructed the Jewish People: “when you enter the land of Israel, six tribes should stand on Har Gerizim and six tribes should stand on Har Eival. The Kohanim are to stand in the valley between them and recite the blessings and the curses.” How spectacular it was to be there on the Shabbat after we read these verses in Parshat Re’eh. From our lookout we were even able to spot the Tomb of Joseph.

Next we drove through the neighborhood of the Shomronim. This is a community of individuals who have both Israeli and Palestinian citizenship. They only accept Torah SheBichtav (the written Torah) but not the Torah She’bal Peh (the oral tradition). As such, their neighborhood is dark on Shabbat and they continue to bring sacrifices to this very day.

From there we drove to Elon Moreh which no doubt was the highlight of our trip. How meaningful to be in the place where Avraham and Sarah had their tent and welcomed countless people (including the three angels) into their home. Upon our arrival we were greeted by HaRav Elyakim Levanon, the Rosh Yeshiva of Birkat Yosef, the Yeshivat Hesder in Elon Moreh.

We visited the Har Gerizim winery which last year won an international award. Itamar Weiss, the farmer who oversees the winery, showed us how the wine is made. He emphasized how important it is that we appreciate the land we are in. He said: “We are living in a time where we are witnessing Jeremiah’s prophecies about the Land of Israel being fulfilled. I see this before my very eyes. Anyone who was here five months ago would see that the vines were depressed and desolate. Any non-farmer would walk away and say ‘what a waste of time.’ But in fact in a matter of a few weeks the vines ripened producing savory luscious grapes.” He continued, “Much the same are the Jewish People. A few generations ago one could write us off as irredeemable and hopeless. But look at Am Yisrael today; brimming with renewed strength, hope and optimism.” We enjoyed a hearty lunch at Elon Moreh’s local restaurant which offers magnificent views of Har Gerizim and Har Eival.

Throughout the afternoon we continued down Route 60 which is essentially the spine of the Land of Israel. We visited Itamar and Shiloh. And we passed by many front-line communities with breathtaking views that populate the heartland of Israel. Among them were Itamar, Yitzhar, Ariel, Kfar Tapuach, Eli, Shiloh, Ofra and Beit El. We even drove past an Arab village where Yehoshua ben Nun is buried.

How much admiration I have for our Jewish brothers and sisters who are fulfilling the Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael (dwelling in the Land of Israel). Whether they live in the populated cities or on the small Yishuvim, they proudly dwell in the land that G-d gifted to our forefathers. How much respect I have for the residents of the State of Israel for what they have accomplished over the course of seven decades.

This year – as we celebrate 71 years of the modern State of Israel – we ought to reflect on how blessed we are to live during this time in history, to witness the restoration of our People to our ancestral homeland; something that so many righteous leaders of past generations did not merit to see. Seventy is a significant number in Judaism and no doubt we are in the advanced stages of the Redemption.

At this High Holiday season we should be asking ourselves: Are we a part of… or apart from… this vitality and future? Are we engaged with Jewish communities and Jewish institutions in Israel and to what extent? Are we observing from a distance or are we passionately part and parcel of the unfolding Jewish experience? Do we continue to be inspired by the miracle of the State of Israel? Are we still dreaming and longing and hoping and yearning? When was the last time we visited Israel? Maybe it’s time for another trip. Spending time there will certainly recharge our spiritual batteries and strengthen our religious connection. 

This message is especially important as Jewish People around the world face escalating anti-Semitism and the State of Israel continues to be unfairly scrutinized both in the media and on college campuses. We need to stand strong with Israel, have hope for our future and remain united with one another.

May we be inspired by the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “Kumi Ori Ki Vah Orech U’Chvod Hashem Alayich Zarach.” Arise! Shine! For your light has arrived and the Glory of Hashem has shined upon you.

With best wishes to you and your families for a happy, healthy, safe and blessed New Year. Shana Tova!

Rabbi Gideon Shloush

RAJE-Manhattan