Once upon a time, the people that built things with their own two hands were admired. The pioneers. Their sweat and the dirt beneath their fingernails was a badge of honor, a testament to their courage.
The builders, people who created something from nothing, were upheld as an example. They who made the rocky hills green, who planted vineyards and made fruit trees grow where, once, there was only desolation – they were the ones to emulate.
To set out alone, relying on no one but oneself was the mark of a man, free in his own land.
They toiled under the sun, individuals with a few family members. People with no family found friends who became family. Together they carved out an existence reborn in the land of their forefathers.
And the world watched in wonder.
They dug wells and planted seeds. They built homes and schools and synagogues. They created places of beauty. They laid the foundation so that more people could come and join them, start families and have children whose laughter rang in the wind as they ran on the hilltops.
Children that were free and strong, stubborn like their parents.
Children who knew they could do anything, achieve anything if they were willing to work hard, like their parents.
Can you imagine the pride of looking at a hill and knowing that it is green because you planted all the seeds? To bring forth wine from a land once empty? To put your arm over your son’s shoulders and tell him: “Son, do you remember the day we finished building the house? You helped me lay the titles for the roof. Our home, we did that, together.”
They are the pioneers.
Once they were admired.
In America, the land of my birth, pioneers of the land are barely remembered. Who remembers a time when there were no roads, no cities or towns, no gardens, no businesses?
“You didn’t build that” and “Build it for me” are much more common than, “Get out of my way and let me build for myself.”
In Israel, the land of my heritage, the pioneers are still building and creating new life where once there was none. No longer upheld as ones to be admired, they remain as stubborn as their parents. The ground resonates through their feet and the wild freedom of their hearts cannot be imprisoned by disapproval of others.
Looked on with scorn, the world now calls them the “settlers”. As if it is not due to their hard work that I have a place in which I can settle down and call home. As if there is any difference between the “settlers” of today and the pioneers of a generation ago, our founders responsible for the rebirth of this land.
People whisper in horror: “They are religious fanatics, ideologues.” As if it was not thousands of years of keeping faith with our religion and our heritage that led the pioneers back to the land that, even in exile, was always home.
As if the idea of being a self-actualized nation, free in our own land, is a right reserved only for those who are not Jewish.
Many say, “What is wrong with them? Why do they put their children in danger?” The pioneers know that being custodians of the land of our ancestors comes at a terrible price.
The murderous waves of hatred of those who wish Jews gone from the land of our fathers break upon the backs of the pioneers. All too often they pay in blood and tears for the right to enjoy what they built with their own two hands. It takes a will of steel to stand unmoving but they know that they stand in the gap. Should they step aside, the waves will crash, washing away everything: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya and Haifa.
What choice is there?
They are the pioneers. Courageous and bold, stubborn and unbending, they remain unchanged in a world that has changed dramatically.
They have earned everything they have. They built what we have today.
And I, who have built nothing, am grateful.