As I my husband and I drive into Beit El, through the traffic circles which display large models of a pomegranate, fig, and grape of the shiv’at haminim (seven species that Eretz Yisrael is blessed with), we feel like we were entering another world. Beit El has a very different feel from Beit Shemesh.

Once upon a time, my pocketbook was a functional yet personal item.  I’m not the type who needs a chic and trendy accessory to match my wardrobe. I do need something big enough to carry the contents of my house, and then some.   I’m often the target of teasing from the peanut gallery, aka my family, when I reach deep into my bag, Mary Poppins-style, and pull out whatever anyone needs.  They think my bag is bottomless and make requests: “Can you please hold my wallet?” “My keys?” “My bicycle?”  

I did not grow up in a coffee house.  Neither of my parents drank coffee and I don’t even recall ever seeing a coffee jar of any kind in our pantry.  But I did have many opportunities to inhale the delicious aroma of coffee.  My very dear childhood friend, who lived directly across the street, did grow up in a coffee house and we had many sleepovers.  Besides the countless hours of preparing and performing award-deserving shows, playing Risk, Racko, and Rummikub (the three R’s), trading stationery, and engaging in whispered conversations and giggles late into the night, I also relished the scent (first C, and yes, I’m allowing myself the use poetic license) of freshly brewed coffee wafting up the stairs even before we opened our eyes and rolled out of bed. It was paradise.  I hope my friend never finds out my true motivation for our sleepovers.     

About fifteen years ago, I was home alone, working upstairs at my computer when I suddenly heard a strange sound as my entire house began to sway from side to side.  At first, I thought I was imagining things.  My house had never swayed before. But it was real! As I was carried from side to side, I recalled discussions with my neighbors about how our homes were built on swampland and that slowly, one millimeter at a time, our homes were sinking into the ground. I worried that the process had suddenly accelerated and our houses were going down. Fast.  I ran down the stairs and out of my house as quickly as my feet would take me.  Once outside, I noticed my neighbor across the street standing at her second-floor window.  “What on earth was that?” I screamed.  “It’s an earthquake,” she answered.  An earthquake?! Earthquakes happen in places like L.A.  Japan. Indonesia.  I’d never experienced an earthquake before and it definitely did not feel like I would have expected.  I believe it measured “only” about 5 on the Richter Scale, but even so, it shook me up, both literally and figuratively.

For me, Shmita has always been about the challenges in managing my kitchen and providing my family with fruits and vegetables during this special year.  But to be perfectly honest, I never really thought much about the financial difficulties that farmers face due to not being able to work their fields during Shmita. But a recent event held in Ramat Beit Shemesh opened my eyes to the mystique of Shmita, the potential brachah that lies in its observance, and the incredible emunah and mesiras nefesh exhibited by the farmers who keep Shmita.

As you all know, in Israel the army is not voluntary; most young Israeli men and women serve in the IDF, although there are many notable exceptions.  Any soldier in any army faces many challenges.