Oodles of children scramble happily on the painted playgrounds and roll down the grassy slopes, their sweet voices echoing in the mountain air. Nearby, sprinklers water the vineyards and Yeshiva Bible students amble by, busily discussing points of Talmudic Law.
This happy, thriving scene plays out on the breathtaking, windswept Har Bracha, The Mountain of Blessing, Mount Gerizim. But things weren’t always like this. The establishment of this hilltop community was fraught with hardship, filled with its share of pain.
For many years, Mount Gerizim, overlooking the large, Arab city of Shechem, stood barren. Somehow, it was hard to imagine this as the place where Moses charged the people of Israel with those wonderful words, “These shall stand upon Mount Gerizim to bless the people” (Deuteronomy 27:12). Somehow, it doesn’t feel charged with the historical vitality befitting the place where Joshua brought the Jewish people when they entered the Land of Israel. Ever since those Biblical times, this mountain was known as the Mountain of Blessing, but instead it looked like a place long forgotten.
Until Israel’s Independence Day, May of 1982. A handful of families decided to help populate this Mount Gerizim hilltop, until more families moved in. Unfortunately, as the original people started leaving, so did the new ones, and soon, only one family and four soldiers were left!
In 1987, seven families from a Yeshiva in Jerusalem took it upon themselves to respark the interest in Har Bracha. It was a true pioneering experience, with very little to offer the families other than the knowledge that they were settling a piece of G-d’s land that deserved to be populated!
Every week a food mobile would show up and everyone would line up to stock up on groceries, hoping there would still be food left when it came to their turn. Phone lines and electricity were very primitive. During the harsh blizzards of winter, power outages were common and the brave pioneers would melt snow to drink! The feeling of isolation was not helped by the fact that only one family had a car and a city bus came through once a day.
Soon, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed joined the Har Bracha family. Rabbi Melamed was a charismatic man, a true spiritual leader. In 1992, he established the Har Bracha Yeshiva and his warmth of personality, his passion for Torah and teaching attracted a steady stream of people. He was a magnetic force, and boys would come for the wonderful blend of Bible study and army service, making Har Bracha their home after they married. From a lonely settlement on a barren hilltop, Har Bracha grew to be a dynamic community.
Har Bracha is a Torah-based community with activities, lectures and classes for men, women, teens and even the very youngest of children. The Yeshiva students are an active, wonderful addition to the community, giving Bible classes to the children, studying Torah with the local grownups at night, and taking turns with guard duty.
The people of Har Bracha are unusually idealistic. They believe in the settlement of the land are willing to give up on comforts available in other communities. Har Bracha’s remote location sometimes demands true self-sacrifice; the Arab neighbors are habitually unfriendly and the roads are often dangerous. School-age children go to school in nearby Elon Moreh and must travel on bulletproof buses adjacent to an area, controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Traveling is always complicated: bus service is still sparse and still only gets you to a place where you need to catch another ride; fifty percent of the residents don’t own cars, so hitchhiking is often the only option.
When the government first froze building in Judea and Samaria, Rabbi Melamed put out the word from the pulpit: “If they freeze us on the ground, we will reach for the sky.” His recommendation was to build upwards…build second floors onto existing houses…add rooftop apartments. This way they could keep up with the demand of young couples and yeshiva students wanting to come and share the dream.
The people of Har Bracha feel privileged to be living where they do, and believe their mission is to spread the blessing and tell their story. And they love when the CFOIC Heartland groups come to visit. They find their Christian friends spirited, idealistic, inspiring, and thirsty to learn. They love to show them the results of their generous donations, all community-related… the renovation of the all-purpose Community Center, the upgrading of the community’s library… and now the refurbishing of the local playground.
In 2002, Har Bracha numbered 100 families and today there are over 250, with an incredible ratio of children! And they keep growing! They are all grateful for the miracle of what they have built. Har Bracha- there aren’t many placed in the world with such a name – the Mountain of Blessing… may they continue to be blessed.
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