Apr 7, 2008

Touring Eretz Yisrael: Adopt a Soldier: FillBox

As I have mentioned once or twice before, the company I work for is a sponsor of an army unit in the program called "Ametz Locheim", or "Adopt a Soldier (unit)".

In an effort to promote the program to sign up more companies, and to thank the companies that are already part of the program, they arranged a day for representatives of the companies to come, with representatives from the adopted units, and to tour certain areas that have importance both in Judaism and in the security situation, mostly being along the security seam with the Security Fence that is being constructed.

Due to timing and good luck, the regular food chain of people who would normally have been the reps for this were not able to go, so somebody was chosen and he asked me to join him. Of course, I jumped at the offer. Who wouldn't want a day off of work to go touring some great locations, to hear generals speak about the security situation and to be shown by them details of the fence, methods and forms of technology most people cannot even imagine that are being used to enhance Israel's security?

We met at the Pikud HaMerkaz army base in Jerusalem. This is the main base for the whole Central region (I am sure someone can correct me if I get any of the army details wrong). After some brief shpitzering and meeting people, we hopped onto a bus and headed out.

Our first stop was Nabi Samuel, or the grave site of Shmuel HaNavi. As you can see in the first picture below, yesterday was also the first day of bein hazmanim for the Yeshiva world, and the boys were out in full force enjoying their vacation.

From the rooftop of Nabi Samuel, aside from the details of the security fence that he showed us, including the phenomenal expenditures he detailed, the routes used, the difficulties being overcome, etc. most of which I cannot remember, he pointed out the surrounding villages and towns, both Arab and Jewish. The one below is an Arab village called Bir Naballah. This village was made famous in 1994 when Nachshon Wachsman was captured by Arab terrorists, and then killed during a failed rescue attempt.

We were given the tour by an archaeologist. He showed us places that are still not yet open to the public, and it was interesting up to a point. I got lost in all the detail of which century the area was under control by which nomadic tribe. The one thing I did notice and it did disturb me was that the archaeologist went out of his way to find and explain every explanation possible for the sites to be under the control of various tribes, but he was never willing to talk about the Jews. Even the door-post below which is crowned with a Star of David, was associated to some tribe and not the Jews. Maybe it is true, maybe not, but he seemed to be claiming the Jews had almost nothing to do with the site.
Another example of that was when we went into the structure of the Kever Shmuel HaNavi. he was explaining the structure and the various signs of who was there and all that. Again, he never mentioned the Jews and when I asked him afterwards, there was no way that the grave was really the grave of Shmuel. He could be right, I have no idea. But despite many years (I do not know how long the tradition goes back) of tradition saying that it is the site, he was not even willing to offer it as one of the options. Basically he says it is simply the grave of a few unknown crusaders, probably.

Anyway, from there we went to Kever Rachel. Coming in to Kever Rachel is very depressing for someone who knows what it used to be like. There used to be one road from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion and eventually down to Hebron. That road went right through Bethlehem and Kever Rachel was right on the side of the road. We would take the bus from jerusalem, get off at Kever Rachel, if we so wished, and would go in and pray. We would then wander around the market across the street while we waited for either the bus back or the next bus to the Gush, if that is where we were going.

Then we started to make peace with the Palestinians. All this "peace" we have been dealing with for the past 14 or so years, has led to Bethlehem being carved up. No longer can you just go to Kever Rachel. Now you have to go by bus. No cars. The bus has to be pre-arranged with the army so they should have escorts available. The road leading to Kever Rachel right through Bethlehem has been split in two with the Kever Rachel side being barricaded like a fortress. They make you get off the bus and rush right in to the Kever, so as not to be within range of the snipers that sometimes sit ion top of a building 500 meters away that they were still not yet able to block completely with the barricades. As you leave the kever, you cannot step out until the armored bus pulls right up to the door, again so as to keep you out view of the possible snipers.

Peace, and the talks of peace, have done wonders for the area.

Anyways, we had the good fortune of my friend having grown up with the soldier who is the commander in charge of the whole Kever Rachel area. So while the rest of our group went in to Kever Rachel, the two of us got a private tour from the commander. And I got to learn a new Hebrew word.

The word is "Fillbox" (I wrote it phonetically). It means, get this, Pillbox. It is a tall towering structure the army sets up to guard and overview the surrounding areas. This commander took us in to the Fillbox outside of Kever Rachel. We had a great view of the length of the barricades, including both sides of it. He pointed out to us some of the various cameras and electronic equipment being used to monitor the area and enhance the security.

Here is the view of the road split by the barricade. The view is from the Fillbox. The right side is the compound of Kever Rachel enclosed by the barricades. The left side is Bethlehem.

From there we headed out to Herodian. Herodian is the site of a palace that King Herod had built for himself. It is considered his summer home, or a rest spot. We did a 2 or 3 hour tour in about 40 minutes, so we missed a lot, but we got the idea of the place, with some of the stories.

One thing I want to mention is a side room he took us into. This was a bathing room. He pointed out a fresca at the bottom of the wall and told us this: There is a great debate in history and in the Gemara about the status of King Herod. Was he a Jew, a slave, a convert, good bad, etc. The thing is, and this does not prove anything as far as the debate is concerned, in all the palaces and structures of Herod that they have so far uncovered around Judea, in all the frescas they have revealed, there is not a single picture or item that is against Jewish halacha and tradition. I thought that was an interesting comment.

We did not really have time to go down to the newly uncovered grave of Herod that was recently revealed. After a bit of urging, the guide agreed to run us down and give us a quick few minutes there. This is the grave of Herod. One more thing about Herod I would mention is that I asked why he was buried there. The guides answer is that they believe the reason why Herod chose that specific location for his grave was what was exactly opposite it. Very far away, but directly opposite. On a clear day it is perfectly in site, but yesterday was very windy and hazy, so this is the picture, zoomed in from very far away, of what is exactly opposite the grave:

If you did not recognize it, that was Har Hazeisim.

From there we went back to the army base. They were going to hold a ceremony thanking the various companies sponsoring the units and present them with some sort of certificate.

Walking in to the Conference room, we were greeted by a wall of pictures of previous "Alufei Pikud Merkaz" - the previous generals of the Central region. The country is basically divided into three - North, Central and South. Each one has a top dog general as the top commander of the region. So these pictures, and below are only a few of them - the more recent and famous ones, are previous generals. these are the ones whose names you would more likely recognize.

They include: Ehud Barak, Itzik Mordechai, Amnon Lipkin Shahak, and the bearded guy is, of course, Amram Mitzna.

Below is Gadi Shamni, the current top dog general. He is the current Aluf Pikud Hamerkaz, and he delivered a very heartfelt talk about the security situation and the benefit of these sponsorships and thanks to the sponsors (among other speakers who spoke).


  1. do you know the URL of the organization? If so, can you please post it? maybe my place of work will do, or the shul at work would.

  2. I think you can go through Aguda Lmaan Hachayal. i will look later at the rest of my pictures - it is possible I might have the name and website on one of the posters in there somewhere...

    BTW, the cost of this program is a 3 year commitment at 100,000 NIS per year. And the investment is really very often even greater. For example, we have corporate events, and when we do, we have a bunch of guys from the army unit join us. For example, we are having a yom gibush soon, and we invited the army unit to send 10 guys to join us. That means another 7 or so thoudsand shekels.

    During the year the sponsor often sends gifts to the unit, such as jackets to protect them from the cold at night or whatever (every sponsor does that as much or as little as he wants, but it is above the sponsorship of 100,000NIS).

    here you go. I just found it. It is on the Agudah Lmaan Hachayal website...

  3. Rafi: Nu? I'm disappointed. Not one picture of a Pillbox!

    Guess I'll have to start a phot collection and post them (I pass about 10 every day on my way to work :)

  4. can you post the pictures so we can link to them to see greater detail? Id like to get a closer look at some of those. Looked cool.

  5. I recently got a very different view of Bethlehem :-)


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