A brutal murder of a couple and three of their young children in a terrorist attack in Itamar has only strengthened the West Bank community’s resolve to stand up to such violence, says its mayor.
“The fact is we have been subjected to so many terrible attacks, and our only response has been the great will to grow, to build, and root in even deeper,” Mayor Moshe Goldsmith told NJJN. “What the terrorists want us to do is give up hope. But, of course, no one is going to break our spirit and our tremendous faith in building the land of Israel and paving the way for future generations to live in the land of Israel.”
Goldsmith and his wife, Leah, arrived in the United States March 24 for two weeks of speaking engagements.
On March 25-26 Goldsmith came to Highland Park and Edison. He spoke at Shabbat evening services at Agudath Israel of Edison-Highland Park, on Shabbat morning at Congregation Ohav Emeth in Highland Park, in the afternoon at Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison, and at seuda shlishit at Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park.
That evening he spoke at the Highland Park home of Barry and Susie Wolf.
Goldsmith estimated he has about 50 speaking engagements in the metropolitan area, most of them at Jewish day schools in New York City.
In a phone conversation several days later, Goldsmith spoke of the sadness that has engulfed the community of about 1,300 nestled in the Samarian Hills since the March 11 attack. Investigators say one or two terrorists jumped a fence surrounding Itamar and broke into the home of Ruth Fogel, 35, and her husband, Udi, 36. Stabbed to death were the parents, a three-month-old girl, Hadas, and two boys, Elad, three, and Yoav, 11. Two other sons, two and eight, were in another room, but were not attacked. The family’s oldest child, a 12-year-old girl, was not home.
Goldsmith acknowledged that “it was hard to leave the community at this terrible time,” but accepted the invitation to come to New York to raise awareness about its needs and struggles.
“Unfortunately we’ve had 22 people murdered in the last decade, but we are a very strong people and we believe in our connection to the land of Israel,” said Goldsmith, a Brooklyn native who made aliya 26 years ago. “We believe in the Jewish right to have a homeland.”
‘What Itamar means’
In response to the latest attack, a new neighborhood is being planned at the location where the terrorists entered the community. Residents are more determined than ever to complete work on a permanent synagogue and a youth cultural and entertainment center. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who last week approved development plans for four West Bank settlements, is under pressure to similarly approve Itamar’s plans for new building.
The wedding of a new Itamar couple was recently held at nearby Kever Yosef, Joseph’s Tomb, the first wedding held there since it was destroyed by terrorists in 2000.
Goldsmith is a rabbi and teacher in the settlement, which has a small perfume factory but mostly subsists through organic farming; it also maintains a yogurt and cheese factory.
The Fogel family had lived in Itamar for only two years, but was well thought of in the close-knit community, Goldsmith said. Udi Fogel served as head of community absorption.
The mayor called “Rav” Udi “a very special man.”
“He was an army officer, a teacher, a rabbi,” recalled Goldsmith, who last saw Udi Fogel the night before his death in synagogue, studying Talmud. He emanated a “special glow,” Goldsmith said, which he feels came from Fogel’s soul, which was already connected to God.
“The entire community is broken, of course, to lose such a special family,” said Goldsmith, but he said the Fogels’ strength and spirit continue on through their surviving children. Their grandparents will most likely raise the Fogels’ daughter Tamar and her two younger brothers. A video of Tamar, in which she talks about the tragedy, demonstrates “strength that is mindboggling for a girl her age. She is a true mother of Israel,” said Goldsmith.
While the murders were met with shock and disgust across the Israeli political spectrum, they didn’t forestall Israel’s ongoing internal debate about settlements and the peace process. In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, right-wing politicians called for an expansion of settlements, while their left-wing counterparts accused them of exploiting the murders for political gain and reiterated their opposition to settlement expansion.
“Unfortunately, one of our greatest tasks is to educate the world about what Itamar means to the Jewish nation,” said Goldsmith. “We are literally where the Bible lives in the Land of Israel. Abraham entered the Land of Israel in the town below. The Tomb of Joseph is right here. We are completely surrounded by biblical sites. We maintain the history of the Jewish nation in our backyard, and it is important for people to realize that without Itamar we are turning our backs on our forefathers and our heritage.”
A website, friendsofitamar.org, offers information on visiting and assisting the community.