He shall be like a tree planted by waters, Sending forth its roots by a stream: It does not sense the coming of heat, Its leaves are ever fresh; It has no care in a year of drought, It does not cease to yield fruit.” Jeremiah 17:8 (The Israel Bible™)
A horrible act of pyro-terrorism left an entire community homeless. But even when the people return, as they most certainly will, the trees that required decades of love and devotion, will not be there to greet them. One man who planted thousands of trees in Mevo Modi’im is undeterred and is determined to plant another grove that will grow from the ashes of his community.
When Mevo Modi’im was founded in 1975, the small community was isolated and the collection of government-built houses had already undergone several failed attempts at settlement. Most of the original members were followers of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, hippies drawn to the rabbi’s music and his message of love and inclusiveness. The unique blend of special people in that particular place created a permanent home and the community set down roots that burrowed into the soil of the Holy Land. The forest, planted by the Jewish National Fund, was still one mile away.
The region around them changed. Now, planes from Ben Gurion International Airport fly low overhead, a highway passes right past its front gate, and the ultra-modern city of Modiin with 100,000 inhabitants has sprung up nearby.
Mevo Modi’im flourished though it didn’t grow, remaining at around 250 very special souls. The original founders retained their special brand of Judaism with an open-door policy that helped others find their way back to their spiritual home in the place they called simply ‘the Moshav’. At the center of the Moshav was the synagogue, hand-painted with loving care by the talented artist, Yitshak Ben Yehuda.
Ben Yehuda was dedicated to making the Moshav into a small Garden of Eden so he began planting trees.
“When I got here, it was a barren hillside. I was living in a trailer and it was pretty hot in the summer,” Ben Yehuda told Breaking Israel News, noting that at the time of his arrival, only about a dozen trees stood inside the gates. “I’ve always had an affinity for trees and decided that we had to plant. Over the next 10-15 years, I planted over 3,000 trees. The JNF forest slowly seeded itself until we were ”
As an artist, aesthetics were very important to Ben Yehuda and he carefully planned out where he would plant and which trees, receiving young saplings from the JNF. At first, the young trees required loving care but eventually, they flourished. In total, an estimated 6,000 Moshav trees paid tribute to the miracle of Israel’s deserts blooming as a sign of the end of the exile.
“It ended up looking even better than I had envisioned,” Ben Yehuda said.
The trees grew and Ben Yehuda’s vision came to fruition. the Moshav became a lovely place for him to raise his family, which, like the forest, flourished in the soil of the Holy Land. He was blessed with seven children and close to 30 grandchildren. But all that work went up in smoke one month ago when Arab arson ignited the Ben Shemen Forest around them. The families fled with no warning, leaving as the wildfires breached the fence. Miraculously, no one was injured but when they returned, 40 of the 50 houses were destroyed. The remaining houses suffered structural damage and many will have to be destroyed. In any case, the infrastructure for water and electricity was destroyed and will require at least six months of work until anyone can return. For the first time in Israeli history, an entire community was made homeless.
As for Ben Yehuda’s vision, about half of the trees were burnt as well.
“The pine trees used by the JNF are indigenous and do well but they are highly susceptible to fires and die immediately,” he explained. “I would like to replace them with a few Syrian pine trees that are better in a fire. I would include more fruit trees like pomegranates and pistachios. Oaks used to be much more common in this region until the Ottomans cut them down. They grow slowly but they are tough. Eucalyptus trees are not indigenous but they are a very dense wood that is great for heating. You can cut them down eight times and they will grow back.”
Despite the tragic loss of all his work, he was not bitter.
“This was an inferno,” Ben Yehuda said. “It was a wake-up call, a purification that we had to go through. I don’t see it as a bad thing, it renews nature and I think this place was very green before the fire and it is going to be three times greener. I am planning how to plant the trees now. I think it might even be more beautiful.”
One of Ben Yehuda’s children is getting married in October and Ben Yehuda is planning to hold the wedding on the Moshav.
Israel365 would like to help Ben Yehuda replant the trees of Mevo Modi’im. You can help by going to the website.