Looking westward from Nir-Etzion
The scene from kibbutz Nir-Etzion’s resort hotel is magnificently beautiful, overlooking the slopes of Mount Carmel as they descend gently towards the Mediterranean coast.
The ambiance is somewhat similar of another guest house that stood at the heart of kibbutz Kfar-Etzion until 1948. It was the pride of the kibbutz established in 1943 at the summit of the Judean ridge, 30 kilometers south of Jerusalem. In the following years, three other kibbutzim would join forming “Gush Etzion.”
The enthusiasm and optimism that characterized the Gush did not last long. The UN participation resolution left the Gush outside the borders of the future Jewish state. Isolated and dependent on a single road, the Gush fought for its life for several months. Eventually the Gush fell a single day before the establishment of the State of Israel. Kfar-Etzion suffered a terrible loss with 127 of its defenders being massacred after its surrender. All in all, 240 men and women gave their life for the Gush. Their sacrifice, however, was not in vain. Ben-Gurion would write that Jewish Jerusalem’s gratitude for holding out should mainly go to the Gush’s defenders.
Two of the four men that survived the massacre were brothers – Nachum and Yitzhak Ben-Sira. Along with other remnants of Kfar-Etzion, they decided to establish a new kibbutz. After some deliberations they chose a place on the western slopes of Mount Carmel that reminded them of Kfar-Etzion. They hoped the location would suit a new guest house. They were joined by two groups of Holocaust survivors, which included Yesha’ayahu (Tibi) Shachar. In a decade he would marry another Holocaust survivor, Bat-Sheva Miller. Their youngest daughter Nira would become my wife, intertwining my personal story with that of Nir-Etzion.
Nachum and Pnina, who also survived the fight in the Gush, rebuilt their life in the new kibbutz.
Their son, David, also decided to raise his family there with his wife Miri. Oded and his twin sister Moriyah, were the youngest of their six children. Oded was an introvert and sensitive child, with inner beauty “that radiated outside.” He was also a gifted musician playing guitar and piano and a devoted listener to varied musicians from James Blake and Fleet Foxes to Amir Lev.
Before joining a Mechina at the age of 18, he wrote in his diary that he expected himself to “open up to new people and to myself, try out new things, be a better person, a better soldier.” At the age of 19, Oded joined the Nachal infantry brigade as a combatant and then a platoon sergeant. This wasn’t the obvious choice for him; he found the service to be tough and difficult, but wanted to contribute as much as he could.
Days before operation “Tzuk Eitan” in Gaza in 2014, Oded and his friends were honorably discharged of military service. In their last day in active service the IDF entered the Gaza strip. They were summoned by their battalion commander and given the choice to join in or go home. Oded decided that he could not leave his soldiers. A few days later he was killed by a sniper in the Palestinian town of Beit-Hanoun.
Oded’s parents decided to commemorate him by building in the kibbutz a Beit-Midrash that would reflect his personality. A hub for Torah learning with an emphasis on music and the environment.
The story of Oded and the Ben-Sira family is the story of Israel in a nutshell: hope, sacrifice, courage, Jerusalem, the kibbutz, solidarity, success and a dire cost. To me it is also a story of endurance, linking the chain of the Jewish people from past to future.