When someone promises something suspicious to Amit Abutbul of Talmei Eliyahu, he pulls out a faded, worn newspaper cutting, waves it under the person’s nose, and reads out loud:
“I’ll tell you, and you can catch me on every word, and everything here is being recorded. I’m Defense Minister and I’ll give Mr. [Ismail] Haniyeh 48 hours. Either you return the bodies and our citizens, or you die. As far as I’m concerned, you can reserve a plot in the closest cemetery. This isn’t happening.”
Amit is tired of promises and fairytale assurances. He’s a longtime resident of Israel’s southern Gaza Strip border settlement Talmei Eliyahu, and his property boasts rows and rows of neat greenhouses where he cultivates high-quality leafy vegetables which he supplies to buyers around Israel.
What hasn’t this veteran moshavnik seen?
For years, he’s been living with the constant shriek of missiles in his ears; air-raid sirens are a routine part of life, and his family is accustomed to the fifteen-second race to the Protected Space where they throw themselves to the floor, cover their heads with their hands and pray for a miracle. Because if those deadly missiles make contact with their house, their hands won’t protect them either.
Like that awful day, years into the past, that Amit still relives every day.
He wishes he could forget it. He wishes he could squeeze his eyes shut, press "delete" and erase the memory from his mind like a computer file. But alas, who can forget such a thing? So the memory remains to taunt and frighten him.
It was 5:20 a.m. when the air-raid siren sounded, and the industrious Thai workers who spend their days tending Amit’s crops awoke in a flash and dashed toward the Protected Space. They all got there in time, save for one female worker who didn't make it within the requisite fifteen seconds and was
mortally wounded by a direct missile hit on the living quarters that Amit had built for his workers next to the greenhouses.
The missile also left Amit with huge damages: One of his tractors went up in flames, and the workers were afraid to return to the greenhouse even after the ceasefire went into effect.
Back then, there was also a line of politicians and cohorts, each promising his own paradise and security. One by one, they promised; and one by one, they failed to deliver, their campaign promises melting like ice cubes in the heat of Israel’s Negev.
That’s why Amit keeps the clipping in his back pocket, and whenever he hears another string of promises that sounds reassuring, cynically removes it from his pocket, shoves it under the person’s nose and chuckles. Really, what has become of all these promises…?
Every morning, when Amit awakens and heads out to his greenhouses, he gazes west and knows that the cerulean sky and delicious sunshine, the refreshing sea breeze and spectacular scenery that end at the point where Gaza’s dense housing becomes visible, are deceptive. At any moment, the idyllic setting and nature’s breathtaking beauty can transform into a perilous battlefield and living gehinnom.
The sweet serenity of the country is illusory, concealing a barrel of gunpowder that can erupt at any time, with or without warning. The Gaza murderers , Hamas terrorists, and jihadists need no motive or provocation to dispatch a sudden barrage of missiles toward their hapless Israeli neighbors. They need no excuse to mark kindergartens as their next targets or murder innocent children.
Yet despite it all, Amit believes. He believes in Hashem, and believes in his G-d-given right to dwell in the Land of our forefathers. And this is why Amit, like his neighbors in the nearby border settlements, continues living and retaining his sanity and aspirations even under enemy fire, grasping stubbornly onto each small tract of precious Israeli soil and refusing to abandon his beloved territory even if the heavens themselves fall on him.
Another military operation, another war. Another barrage, another random missile fired. Incendiary balloons and non-stop aggression. And all along, promises and more promises.
Throughout it all, Amit’s farms flourish. He plows and plants, irrigates, weeds and harvests. His seeds sprout, poke their heads out of the soil and grow luscious green leaves which are picked one by one, washed, cut and neatly packaged to be carted off to supermarket chains.
The cheerful shoppers purchasing his high-quality produce never dream of the challenges and hardships hiding behind each vacuum-packed bag of shredded cabbage that sits so innocuously on the shelf in the open refrigerator.
With that same faith and love of the Land, these loyal farmers remain steadfast to their fields, refusing to abandon them even during times of crisis—and there is no shortage of those… Just last year, Amit’s farm was on the verge of collapse after Covid-19 lockdowns caused the demand for his produce to plummet and struck a nearly fatal blow to his farm. Leafy vegetables have a very short shelf-life, and as the number of foreign workers in Israel diminished, the distribution lines were harmed, resulting in huge monetary damage.
Then, too, there were promises, recalls Amit. The government promised compensation, but the sums that entered his bank account fell short of covering even a fraction of the damages he’d absorbed. Yet even then, our obdurate farmer from Talmei Eliyahu plodded on, refusing to be a victim of circumstance.
With trademark courage and resilience, he pulled himself out of the financial morass and got back on his feet, working hard to repair the damages and cover his losses.
“If Hamas couldn’t stop me, then Covid won’t either!” he declares with a victorious grin, marching on toward the next greenhouse and neat rows of lettuce.
Because there’s no other choice.
Life goes on.
When Amit, who’s known for his sense of humor, made a grand announcement one day over lunch that he had something to tell everyone that night at 8 p.m., no one thought much of it.
At the time, fire balloons were being sent constantly over the border toward the moshav fields, and every so often, a jihadist would check if the locals were up by sending an errant missile for the sake of watching an army plane blast a sand dune or shoot an empty garbage bin in the slums of Rafiah.
The kids guessed that Abba was planning on impersonating another failing politician and his promises, or something of the sort, which was why they were caught slightly off guard when they gathered in the den after dinner and saw him looking completely serious.
“So,” Amit opened with a smile and then cleared his throat dramatically. “I really do have an important announcement to make, one that’s going to affect us all next year—and possibly forever.” His preamble caused his kids to exchange meaningful, surprised looks. What’s Abba talking about?
“As you all know, the next Jewish year is 5782, and it’s Shmitah. And I… would like to keep the mitzvah,” he blurted out in relief.
“Oh, that’s it?” one of his teens, who was old enough to recall the previous Shmitah, rejoined laconically, although the relief in his tone was palpable. Thank G-d, that’s it. “Last Shmitah, I remember that you signed some kind of paper that said that you were, like, selling the farm to an Arab. Right?” His son stared at him, puzzled, oblivious to his father’s true plans and what they entailed.
But Amit wasn’t oblivious at all. He knew exactly what he wanted and what he would do to accomplish it.
The father smiled patiently at his son. “Yes, and no. That’s what we did last time, but this time is different. Very different. This time, we’re keeping Shmitah l’chumrah. With all the halachot and stringencies. No shtick, no tricks. The real thing.”
“Abba? What are you saying? You’re going to drop everything, everything, for a whole year?” his daughter cried in disbelief. She had a friend whose uncle was a farmer in the north and kept Shmitah, and her friend’s family couldn’t get over it.
Amit nodded firmly. “That’s right —or this time, to be more precise, thirteen months because this year is a leap year. Our greenhouses are going to abide by the policies of Keren Hashviis, and we’re about to keep Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s command—in full!”
Amit’s wife was as astounded and skeptical as her kids, and it took her a long moment to process what he was saying and recover from the bombshell that her husband had just dropped on her relatively peaceful existence.
Process. Recover. And then panic.
“Amit, are you out of your mind?!” she reacted in horror. “What for? Don’t be a fool! You can keep Shmitah and still work. There’s no reason to do anything different from the neighbors, especially when our livelihood is at stake! Everyone here relies on heter mechirah. Besides, we’ve got our commitments—our distributors, our suppliers, our workers. There’s insurance and bills to pay. How will we afford it?”
Yet Amit remained confident and committed with his decision, and nothing was going to change his mind. Neither Grad nor Kassem missiles, fire balloons nor terror would sway him. If Hamas couldn’t get him to move, if Covid didn’t cause him to surrender to the challenges of the time, then no one would convince him to change his mind now.
“I love this earth. I love our country, and I love Hakadosh Baruch Hu! I’m not going to cut corners or use any tricks to avoid the mitzvah. This time, we’re going to keep Shmitah k’hilchatah!
“I don’t understand what this is all about,” his wife objected again, fighting tears. Her husband might be stubborn, but she was no less, and she had every intention of talking him out of his foolishness.
She worked hard, recruiting her brothers, brothers-in-law and neighbors to the task, yet seeing how vital it was to her husband and how deeply he’d connected to it on a soul level, she eventually followed the old-fashioned expression, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” and her enthusiasm was ignited as well.
“Amit, when your kids are hungry, don’t come to us begging for help,” one of his neighbors said snidely. He’d also joined the campaign to convince Amit that heter mechirah was good enough.
“Don’t worry, I won’t be asking you for anything!” Amit replied confidently. “Keren Hashviis is going to help us make it through the year without significant losses,” he explained calmly.
His neighbor stared at him in disbelief and then exploded in laughter.
“Amit? Did I just hear right? Are you quoting someone’s campaign promise? Where’s that newspaper you always walk around with? I’m waiting…” With a wink, he mimicked Amit’s regular impersonation of Lieberman.
Yet Amit wasn’t affronted. He merely offered his friend a sweet, confident and pure smile and replied, “No. You don’t get it. Keren Hashviis isn’t a political group with an agenda. Keren Hashviis is Am Yisroel—people who genuinely care about the mitzvot. I believe in them, and I trust in Hashem Who promises a special blessing to the heroic farmers who faithfully fulfill the mitzvah of Shmitah k’hilchatah."