Shiloh: Building life in an ancient land

“The Bible comes to life in Shiloh,” Rubin says.

Shiloh Winery winemaker Amichai Luria prunes one of his vines (photo credit: Courtesy)
Shiloh Winery winemaker Amichai Luria prunes one of his vines
(photo credit: Courtesy)
WHEN THE sun rises above Shiloh, the sky is a watercolor painting of yellow, orange and pink. The hills of the biblical heartland – today crawling with grape vines and Jewish homes of Jerusalem stone – ignite. The clouds separate as if to make way for God’s holy light.
Perhaps it is because Shiloh is the city in which the first permanent structure was built for the Ark of the Covenant. Or maybe it is because Shiloh was the religious capital of Israel for 369 years, beginning after the conquest of Canaan until King David established Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish nation.
According to former mayor David Rubin, Shiloh is mentioned 34 times in the Tanach.
In his book “God, Israel, and Shiloh: Returning to the Land,” Rubin, the founder of Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund, recounts the story of the struggles and triumphs of Israel’s complex history, dating back to slavery in Egypt and continuing up to the present, including the period in which the Israelites made Shiloh their capital.
Rubin tells The Jerusalem Report that Shiloh was a fitting capital for the Israelites when it was established approximately 3,500 years ago by Joshua, son of Nun, for many reasons, including that Joshua was a member of the tribe of Ephraim, and Shiloh is in the heart of the tribe’s land. Additionally, Shiloh is at the geographic center of the country (approximately 44 kilometers north of Jerusalem). It is strategically located in the mountains and, at the time, had a strong and flowing river.
At some point during those 369 years, the structure for the Ark was built. Rubin says it is believed that the stone foundation for the Ark can be seen still today at Tel Shiloh, an archaeological dig near the city. Visitors can stand on the spot where it is believed the Ark once stood. The Ark itself was taken into a battle described in the Book of Samuel, captured by the Philistines, and never recovered.
“The Bible comes to life in Shiloh,” Rubin says.
The biblical story of Hannah, who pours her heart out in prayer for a child, takes place in Shiloh. Also, according to Judges 21, Shiloh is where the maidens would dance in the vineyards annually on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av, when unmarried men would go there seeking a bride.
“Shiloh, along with most of the land of Israel, lay barren for more than 2,000 years until the Jews started returning,” says Rubin.
Shiloh was among the first biblical cities reestablished after the Yom Kippur War.
First, the southernmost area of Ephraim’s land received government approval for settlement.
There, the community of Ofra was unofficially established in April 1975, ostensibly as a military installation.
“Being situated on one of the highest elevations in central Israel, Ofra was certainly militarily strategic,” says Rubin, “but the intention was to build a community.”
Ofra, a 30-minute drive from Shiloh, became the organizational base for the seed founders of Shiloh, until January 9, 1978, when an official permit was given to eight families and some single young men to inhabit the ancient city. The permit confirmed their return to Shiloh for an “archeological expedition.”
Rubin says that while there was archeology to excavate, everyone understood the intentions were “to dig permanent roots in Shiloh.”
Two weeks later, a ceremony was held on the then-barren, rocky hills of Shiloh. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, 84, and not in the greatest physical health, made the difficult, winding, drive. It was announced at this ceremony that the foundation stone was being laid for the building of a new city.
“It created quite a commotion in Israel and the world, as Israel’s enemies and Israeli apologists recognized the significance of the Jewish return to Shiloh,” Rubin says.
Intentional idealism
The physical living conditions in Shiloh in its early days were difficult. The families received electricity via a noisy generator.
Water had to be carried in from a natural well in the adjacent valley. Families lived in 22-square-meter trailers.
Several of the women were pregnant and far from medical care, with no means of transportation during daytime hours while their husbands were at work.
In his book, Rubin quotes one of the founders, Meir Stein, whose wife was pregnant with twins.
“We were optimists and felt that everything would work out for the best,” Stein says.
“Our parents and everyone else thought we were crazy to give up our comfortable lives in the cities to settle the heartland, but the truth is we didn’t care what anyone thought.”
Rubin says that though these were young idealists, these were not youth in search of meaning. Rather, they were Jews who believed in their Bible, knew why they were in Shiloh, and that living in the biblical heartland was a gift given to them by God Himself.
“It says in the Book of Joshua 1:3-4, ‘Every place upon which the sole of your foot shall tread, I have given to you, as I spoke to Moses. From the desert and this Lebanon until the great river, the Euphrates River, all the land of the Hittites until the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun shall be your border,’” says Rubin. “This is what families believed.”
Those eight families quickly doubled and tripled and tripled again. Today, Shiloh has more than 300 families.
“There is a fierce idealism in Shiloh that shows Zionism is alive and well,” says Rubin.
“Three thousand years later, we’re back – and so is Shiloh.”
Terror Victims Row
But no optimism could shield residents from the tragedy of terror. The first of many terror victims from Shiloh, Rachel Druk, a mother of seven, was shot dead on a bus traveling to Tel Aviv in 1991.
Rubin describes a street in his neighborhood that he calls “Terror Victims Row.”
“Let’s take an imaginary walk through this very real street,” he tells The Report.
“The first house is the Eldar family, whose 16-year-old son, Yonatan, my daughter’s teacher’s son, was murdered by terrorists. In the second house is the Yerushalmi family.
Their son, Shmuel, 17, was killed by a terrorist while standing at a bus stop.
“In the very next house lives the Kessler family, whose 19-year-old granddaughter, Gila, was also murdered while standing at a bus stop. Three houses further on lives the Seton family, whose 17-year-old son Avi, was killed in a terrorist massacre at his high school. You go around the corner, and you come to the Shoham family, whose fivemonth- old baby was killed when terrorists on the side of the highway hit him in the head with a massive rock, while the young family was traveling home from a visit to their grandparents.”
Montreal native Chava Kleinman, who moved to Shiloh in 1996, was shopping at the Rami Levy supermarket in the Sha’ar Binyamin Industrial Zone in February 2016 when two 14-year-old Palestinians carried out a stabbing attack, killing Sgt. Tuvia Yanai Weissman, 21, and moderately wounding an Israeli civilian. Since then, she says, she and her children “are always on high alert.” One of her sons is in trauma therapy.
“It’s something we talk about all the time,” says Kleinman. “We don’t shelter the kids from the things that are happening. I think it helps them develop a sense of independence.
They’re proud of where we live and what we’re doing here.”
American-born Yisrael Medad, who moved to Shiloh in 1981, said the hostility residents face has become part of Shiloh’s character and psyche. He said the community has continued to grow despite being targeted by violence and hostilities.
For example, after Druk’s murder, the government agreed to establish a new neighborhood called Shvut Rachel, Rachel’s Return, in Shiloh. That neighborhood is now a thriving community.
Over the years, Shiloh’s other barren hilltops have been settled, usually by young, idealistic couples and families attracted by the excitement and optimism that guided Shiloh’s original settlers in 1978.
“Each rocky hilltop is now alive with the seeds sown and the trees planted,” says Rubin.
“As it says in Isaiah 49:19, ‘In the wilderness I will set cedar, acacia, myrtle and pine trees.’” Most recently, ground was broken for the first new, officially sanctioned Jewish community in 25 years, filled with the residents of Amona, who were expelled from their homes 15 months ago by order of the Supreme Court. The new community is called Amichai, which means “my nation lives on.”
Rubin says each of these hilltop communities has been given its own name and developed its own character, ranging from farming and agricultural to religious hippie or yuppie-suburban, but all are part of what has come to be known as Gush Shiloh, or the Shiloh bloc, a contiguous group of independent but connected communities, with ancient Shiloh at its center.
“Samaria has suffered from terrorism, but not one family has left as a direct result,” Rubin says. “The terror just makes us more determined to be here. And the fulfillment of prophecy is that more and more people are joining us in that mission.”
Rows of vines
Jeremiah’s prophecy comes to life in Shiloh’s vineyards: “Again you shall plant vineyards on the hills of Shomron; men shall plant and live to enjoy them” (31:4).
Shiloh Winery has grown from producing 20,000 to 200,000 bottles of wine in five years, winemaker Amichai Luria tells The Report. The winery regularly wins awards from wine competitions and critics around the world. It is best known for its exotic, complex, and varied blends.
Luria says he doesn’t make wine “by the book,” because he believes those books are written for wineries in California or France.
“I don’t think it works in the fields of the Shomron,” where 3,000-year-old wine presses sit among the modern vines.
He explains that for thousands of years, nearly nothing grew in the Samarian hills.
“No matter how many people conquered the land, no one could connect to it,” says Luria. “In the past 100 years, slowly the Jews are returning, and the land is opening up to us. We throw the seeds into the ground and the results are beautiful. You can make terrible wine from good grapes but cannot make good wine from bad grapes. You can taste the result of the land welcoming us back.”
Shiloh exports 70 percent of its wine.
Luria says he feels like an ambassador for Shiloh.
“When someone in a restaurant in Switzerland or Belgium or the US tastes Shiloh wine and says, ‘Wow,’ it shows the world what Israel can do,” Luria says.
Medad says the people of Shiloh take their roles as soldiers of God and the land of Israel very seriously.
“We’re here not recreating ourselves into the past,” he says. “The past is being fulfilled into the future.”