Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Blast From the Past: Part I

Ma Nishtana Ha’Lila Ha’Zeh?

....A Samaritan Pesach Sacrifice!

  • This is definitely a unique and probably the most bizarre experience I have had in Israel. For more information about Samaritans, click here.

  • I had heard about the Samartian Pesach many years ago from my friend and former high school teacher, Rabbi Herbert Kavon. So, seeing this was one of my goals for the year. Coincidently, my professor mentioned it in class and I asked how I could attend. A few days later she had information for me. I organized a group of 10 classmates and friends and last Wednesday, we went (over the Green Line) to Ariel in order to meet the bus from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (yes, ironic that an environmental organization led a group to an animal sacrifice) that would be taking us to Har Gerizim, where many of the Samaritans live.

  • Little did we know, we signed up for a tour of the West BankShomron – Jewish settlements. We boarded a bullet proof bus, with mostly people our senior, and began our journey. Interestingly, many of the attendees were wearing kippot. We later found out that this was a big year to go and see this, because for the last four years the sacrifice has been on either Shabbat or yom tov. Until then, I had been to Efrat, Ramallah, and Bethlehem, but this was a little different…

  • Our first stop was a small caravan settlement near Elon Moreh. From there we could peer westward and see Har Gerizim to the left, Nablus in the valley, and Har Eval on the right. While it surely was a beautiful view, it was upsetting to see soldiers, basically wasting the country’s resources, protecting a “community” of seven families. Although they were on a strategic mountaintop, with Askar (a Palestinian “refugee camp”) below, and may have been there otherwise, I was frustrated that such a small group of right-wing radicals could demand that a group of 19-year-old boys waste their service time there. On the other hand, it was amazing to see that Israel really does go to every length in order to protect each citizen.

  • Next, we travelled to Itamar. This is a family farm, which produces organic goat milk and related products. I was very confused by the people who live and work there. On one hand, they are down-to-earth, environmental hippies; while on the other hand, they are right-wing fanatics, who want to hold on to every little bit of land. The photo below explains it all:

    • Although this is a magnificent piece of land, its location is quite controversial. While I believe that at some point soon Israel will have to officially give some land to the Palestinians, this visit got me thinking again. As liberal as I am, I am a bit scared to give land to the Palestinians, who have yet to show any national initiative for peace and/or development in the last 62 years, especially in light of what happened in Gaza after the 2005 unilateral withdrawal by Israel. How do we balance peace with national security and productivity?

    Next, came Har Gerizim and the Samaritans…

    • We got there around 2:30pm and the area was empty. I had no idea what we were about to experience in the next 6 hours.

    • While walking around, I spoke to a Samaritan kohen. I asked about the different garbs people were wearing, their culture, and Pesach. He explained that everyone wears white today as a sign of purity; the kohanim adorn special dresses and caps; and just on this day, they do not eat bread. There are only 5 families – hamulot – but about 700 Samaritans in total. Most live on Har Gerizim, but there is also a small community in Holon. Today, they were sacrificing 50-60 sheep (…I thought I was just going to see one…but 50…wow)!

    • It seems to me that the Samaritans on Har Gerizim have a confused identity. They speak Arabic, as they live among Arabs; they speak Hebrew, since they are Israeli; and religious services are conducted in Aramaic. They are not accepted as Jews, but they are definitely not Muslim or Christian. And, to top it off, they live on this small island in the middle of the West Bank, but serve in the IDF.

    • We went off with the guide to explore the ancient ruins and receive an explanation of the area. When we returned after about an hour and a half, the place was packed with a couple thousand spectators. This religious ritual for the Samaritans, the holiest day for them, has become a spectacle for many more.

    • The mizbeach was set and the Samartians were gathering as they brought in their sacrifices to be. The young men, dressed in all white with butcher-type hats, stood along this trough, with the sheep between their legs. Eventually the Kohen Gadol arrived, the crowd quieted and he began reciting their t’filot. He read Aramaic phrases and they responded aloud. Finally, after about 15 minutes of prayer with hands swaying in the air, he said something, the men raised their knives, they said something, and all at once, in one swift motion schechted the sheep. (Don’t worry, there were too many people crowded around, so I did not get to see/photograph this actual moment [a bit disappointing, actually]).

    • Now the fun begins... They dip their fingers into the newly drawn blood and smear it on each other’s foreheads and kiss on the cheeks. Interestingly, the Kohanim do not actually do the sacrifice; they stand in the middle of the action and continue to sing/chant t’filot…kind of like the Pesach Seder. At this point, many more boys and men of all ages get involved, skinning the sheep and removing all the “forbidden” body parts. Then, they take these 12-foot wooden skewers (looks like a HUGE toothpick) and slide them through the entire animal, creating a large shish kebab. Next, it’s barbeque time! They carry it off and place it over the alter. After watching this done to over 50 sheep simultaneously, it was time to go.

    • This is when the challenge actually began. First, in the dark and cold wind, we had to locate our bus, among at least 60. Ours, of course, was parked the farthest away, behind three rows of buses. We also realized that we were not going to return to Ariel on time (as originally told) to catch a bus to Jerusalem. So, being the de facto rosh edah, I scrambled to find different options of returning home. In the end, I was able to find tremps (rides) with various people on the bus in order to return the entire group home safely. The hero of this story is really my main man, Josh Goldberg, who writes more about this @


1 comment:

  1. Wow!

    Thanks for this... I'll have to check this out in my Israel year!