(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
I don't know about you, but the daily drumbeat of depressing headlines is becoming increasingly difficult to digest. Rocket attacks on Israeli towns and cities continue unabated, government ministers speak openly about dividing Jerusalem, and the Iranian president would like to ship us all off to Alaska.
On the home front, strikes threaten to disrupt the school system, celebrities such as model Bar Refaeli bad-mouth the country, and our premier faces police questioning in a dizzying number of corruption cases.
It's enough to make you want to reach for the remote control and switch to one of those South American soap operas that seem so popular nowadays, even if you don't speak a word of Spanish.
It is difficult to recall a time in recent memory where there was so much gloom and despair all around us, as we sit back and watch everything we hold dear seemingly crumble to pieces.
Simply put, this country desperately needs to recharge its Zionist batteries, and fast, before despondency and lack of direction immobilize us altogether.
IF YOU ARE looking for a quick and easy way to do so, you might be surprised to learn that the remedy lies just a short car-ride away. Stretching some three kilometers outside of Ariel, the road leading to Nofei Nechemia winds its way energetically up through the hills, amid the verdant and rocky scenery of Samaria.
Perched on a hilltop with a commanding view of the entire area, the small community of some two dozen young married couples provides an uplifting reminder that Zionism is alive and well in the 21st century.
Though their homes consist of little more than modest caravans, with spartan furnishings and few luxuries, the residents of this nascent little town brim with confidence about the future.
The community came together one afternoon this week for a brit (circumcision). The child's parents, one pursuing a Ph.D in archeology while the other studies engineering, beamed with evident pride as their son was entered into the ancient covenant of the patriarch Abraham.
The event was followed by the requisite singing, dancing and rejoicing, as those gathered celebrated the addition of yet another Jewish soul to the ranks of the growing village, which now numbers more than 60 people (shhh, don't tell Condoleezza Rice!).
LOOKING around the room, I couldn't help but be moved. So complete is the residents' dedication to the land of Israel and the State of Israel, that they are willing to devote the best years of their lives to building a new community in its midst. This is truly what Zionism is all about.
But that hasn't stopped the usual array of opponents from trying to tread on their dream. For years, the Left has sought to uproot Nofei Nechemia, calling it an illegal settlement. Just last month, Israeli police dismantled a caravan on the site, claiming that it lacked the proper permits.
It doesn't seem to matter to the critics that Nofei Nechemia is built entirely on state-owned land, that it does not encroach on its Arab neighbors, and that its residents are simply seeking to dwell in tranquil and peaceful surroundings. Some people just can't seem to stomach the idea of Zion's children returning to her borders.
But despite the setbacks and difficulties they face, the youth of Nofei Nechemia provide a refreshing contrast to our dour politicians, who offer us little more than a tired old litany of retreat, withdrawal and surrender.
The Jews of Nofei Nechemia, and other such "outposts" across the territories, symbolize the energy, the passion and the commitment that still rouse Jewish youth to action. They exemplify the power of Zionism to animate our national life and infuse it with a sense of purpose and meaning.
VISITING ONE of the outposts scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, or other Jewish communities on the periphery, such as Hebron, is a sure-fire way to reignite your Zionist engines. Spending just a few hours with such people will inoculate you against the melancholy and distress that the mainstream media just loves to conjure up. And it will remind you of the precious values that lay behind the settling and building of this land.
To be sure, Zionism is being pulled in two starkly different directions, even as we speak. On the same day that I visited Nofei Nechemia, Vice Premier Haim Ramon was quoted as saying that the government is ready to hand over parts of Jerusalem to the Arabs.
And that is why it is so crucial now for each of us to reconnect with Zionist principles and ideals, before they are torn asunder and washed away by our lackluster leadership.
At a time when many people's aspirations don't extend much beyond their own backyards, nothing could be more crucial than to cultivate, encourage and promote the next generation of Zionist builders and pioneers. Like it or not, they are the best hope for Israel and its future.
What's more, Nofei Nechemia is just a 30-minute drive from downtown Tel Aviv. Everything Israeli society so desperately needs to reclaim - from its belief in itself to a sense of confidence in the justness of our cause - is on display there, well within reach.
So the next time you find yourself wondering about the fate of this country, just cast a glance at the hilltops and pay them a visit.
Come what may, they will be there, ready to lead the charge.
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