A Yishuv On The Front Lines
By Shai Gefen
Terrorist leader Yassir Arafat’s hopes were dashed. Yishuv Sa-Nur in the northern Shomron nearly fell into the hands of Palestinian terrorists a few months ago, but was saved by the arrival of a Chabad chassid, Rabbi Uriel Garfinkel, and an additional group. * A chanukas ha’bayis was recently held, with hundreds attending. * Shai Gefen reports on life in the shadow of war in this isolated yishuv rescued at the last moment.

Arafat was hoping for this: The first yishuv in Yesha finally abandoned by the settlers. He could have claimed the first victory in his goal of uprooting the settlements a few months ago, when Yishuv Sa-Nur - not a large yishuv, but strategic - was abandoned by its settlers, nearly leading to Palestinian domination of the region.

The abandonment of yishuvim was and remains the nightmare of the Yesha Council and the Amana movement (whose mission is to settle Yesha, and recently received the Merkaz Moreshes Begin Prize). Their fears were compounded because the abandonment of Sa-Nur would create a domino effect, leading to the abandonment of other small, isolated yishuvim in northern Shomron.

The projection wasn’t farfetched. Sa-Nur is the first line of defense for other Jewish settlements in Yesha. If Sa-Nur would fall… Everybody knows how these things start, but not how they end, chalila. Yet on a Sunday three weeks ago, 500 Jews celebrated the revitalizing of the yishuv. Led by rabbis and leaders of the Yesha Council, they brought a new seifer Torah to the yishuv, which has a shul, mikva, and now a yeshiva.

The hundreds of celebrants knew good and well the tremendous responsibility - and the tremendous mesirus nefesh - the new settlers have, for they form a physical barrier to Arafat. There was simcha in the air for the yishuv not being abandoned, but mixed with sadness due to the hefkeirus (irresponsibility) that allows terrorists and Tanzim gunmen to continue their mission of chasing Jews out of Eretz Yisroel.


Sa-Nur is isolated, located in the valley of Sa-Nur in northern Shomron amidst a complex of yishuvim whose situation is no less difficult. These include Chomesh, Chermesh, and Dosan - all of which would have been abandoned had Sa-Nur been discarded.

Jenin, Sh’chem, and Tul Karem, all terrorist hotbeds, surround Sa-Nur; nearby are the enemy villages of Jaba and Silat, where 11,000 Arabs live and smuggle weapons from Jenin to Sh’chem.

The areas east and west of Sa-Nur are Area B; to its north are the villages of Aja and Azna, part of Area A. The yishuv is boxed in by Arab villages that dominate the entire area, and the residents of Sa-Nur smilingly call themselves the "fortress of the Shomron." This isn’t far from the truth. All the problem areas and danger zones feed into this place, which has recently become a stronghold for Islamic Jihad, a group responsible for most of the suicide attacks.

A village of Russian immigrant craftsmen was established here in 1987. In its heyday, 35 families lived there. They enjoyed the magnificent scenery, the clean mountain air and the pastoral quiet. When the "Oslo War" began over a year ago, most of the craftsmen moved to safer areas. Tile-roofed houses surrounded by large gardens were left empty.

The newly arrived residents live in the most difficult area of the Shomron. On the map you can see the road to Sa-Nur; it looks like a narrow passageway between huge blocks of Area A. The trip to the yishuv, previously via the roads of Shomron, now involves detours leading first to Afula. At the Shaked Junction (between Afula and Sa-Nur) an armored military vehicle joins travelers dressed in armor and helmets. The atmosphere is tense. From the vehicle window one can see an Arab shepherd walking fearlessly near the road with his flock. Another Arab walks on the road. The contrast between the tension of those in the vehicles and the calm of those outside is striking.

The trip from Yerushalayim can take between three quarters of an hour and five hours, and even eight hours. It often happens that the roads to the area are closed due to discovery of roadside bombs, a routine occurrence. Until the bombs are neutralized there’s no getting through. Residents have become accustomed to living with the background noise of shooting or explosions.

A strong military presence on the roads provides protection. There is no entering or leaving the yishuv without full military escort. "When we arrived at Sa-Nur, we began to understand what they told us about the convoys during the War of Independence in 1948," says Rabbi Uriel Garfinkel, the Lubavitcher chassid responsible for the revival of the yishuv.

Q: Why is it that we hardly hear about you despite all the shooting?

Uriel smiles sadly. "Reports from Sa-Nur hardly ever make it to the media because it’s no longer news. It’s routine. How did one of the senior officers here put it? ‘Would they report that I ate breakfast this morning?’ It’s part of life here in this region."


There’s a gas station twenty meters before the entrance to Sa-Nur. It belongs to Arabs. It has a large PLO flag drawn on one wall. At the border post there are armed soldiers. A gate displays a giant picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The settling of Sa-Nur began during the period of government subsidies for settlements. When the first settlers arrived in the hills of Shomron, Sa-Nur was a way station for yishuvim that had been established in the region, whether as small settlements or squatter’s camps - like the yishuvim of Chermesh, Dosan, Genim and Kadim (which are also boxed in thanks to the Wye Accords).

Residents of these yishuvim are not necessarily Torah observant. For a time, the yishuv provided temporary living quarters before permanent settlement in other yishuvim in the region, but ten years after the subsidized settlement started, artisans began settling there permanently and building homes. A few dozen craftsmen built factories in the yishuv.

Despite the earlier Intifada, those residents lived in relative security and did not leave. But with the start of the present trouble, the situation became extremely dangerous. Shootings and roadside explosives made life increasingly difficult, and most of the residents left. Five of the original craftsmen had no alternative, and remained.

The fate of the yishuv was set: it was to be abandoned. The military informed those remaining that security would no longer be provided. Local Arabs seemed particularly joyful about the first abandonment - the fall of the settlers of Yesha. They knew it was only a matter of time before the domino effect kicked in, and with it the fall of Chomesh, Shavei Shomron, Chermesh, and Dosan.

Over half a year ago, the heads of Amana and members of the Yesha Council suggested to Rabbi Garfinkel, who had previously lived in Kedumim, that he try to develop the place so it wouldn’t be abandoned. Garfinkel was familiar with the difficult situation in Sa-Nur. Nevertheless, he decided to take on the difficult task. He saw his role as literally protecting parts of Eretz Yisroel

"As Lubavitcher chassidim trained by the Rebbe MH"M, I couldn’t not get involved. I knew that if I didn’t undertake it, the yishuv would fall into the hands of terrorists, and who knew what that would lead to. At Sa-Nur we see the literal fulfillment of the Shulchan Aruch in siman 329: ‘Go out towards them with arms, lest you open the land before them.’ If, chalila, I didn’t take on this project, the land would be easily open before them."

Garfinkel and Tamim Itzik Sendroi of Yitzhar got to work. Sendroi says, "Our first move was to sign an agreement with the secretary of the yishuv, Yossi Dahan, to open a yeshiva. That would be the basis for holding on to the yishuv. The first and most important thing was for the sound of Torah to be heard in the area. Because this area is such a difficult place in which to live, we needed a nucleus of bachurim."

Their efforts began to bear fruit. The two managed to assemble a core group of bachurim as well as a group of boys who were first learning about Yiddishkeit. Three months ago, fifteen bachurim went to Sa-Nur, accompanied by three new families: the Garfinkel family from Kedumim, the family of Zev Cohen from Yitzhar, and the family of Ariel Eden from Migdal HaEmek.

Q: What do people think about your project?

"Because we were full of apprehension, we decided to ask the Rebbe. We’ve gotten encouragement and brachos from the Rebbe, many of them in the Igros Kodesh, about the z’chus of settling here and the obligation to develop the yishuv so that it’s successful and flourishes."

Uriel Garfinkel, 34, was born in Uruguay to a Zionist family that was not Torah observant. He was a member of the Beitar movement, and at age 16 moved to Eretz Yisroel to realize his Zionist dream. He joined the army and served in Lebanon in elite units.

In the army Uriel became accustomed to miracles. "I met death face to face more than once," he says. "One day in Lebanon we made a joint ambush, going through a plowed field. We found out that the field was full of explosives. The commanding officer immediately wanted to get us out of there. Suddenly I stepped on something sharp. It was an anti-personnel mine containing ten kilograms of explosives. It was an open miracle that it didn’t explode. I don’t know how we got out of there alive."

After the army, "when I finished my Zionist duties," as he puts it, he felt an inner emptiness. "I felt that something was missing, and I began to search for answers to questions. I went to a lot of places until I found Chabad."

Q: Who did you meet?

"I was living in Netanya and I met the shliach Rabbi Menachem Volpe. I learned chassidus with him. From there it was a short path to the great light of the Rebbe."

Uriel Garfinkel finished his first degree in law and nearly completed the second. He didn’t take his final exams because he feels his shlichus today is Sa-Nur.

After he married, he received an answer from the Rebbe about where to live, and he moved to Kedumim. When his wife wrote to the Rebbe that she was afraid to live in such a dangerous place, she received an answer in the Igros Kodesh: " ‘Shluchei mitzva einam nizakin’ (emissaries for a mitzva are not harmed); a person doesn’t know where the safest place is."

In recent months Garfinkel experienced three shooting attacks, and his car was hit by 14 bullets. He miraculously remained unhurt.

The Garfinkels have lived in Shomron for eight years, in Kedumim and Mevo Dosan, and now in Sa-Nur. They moved to Sa-Nur with their baby, Yosef Yitzchok (aged one year). The Garfinkels waited many years before having a baby, and his birth was called a medical miracle by the doctors.

"B’derech ha’teva there was no hope," says Uriel emotionally. "We didn’t move without asking the Rebbe in the Igros Kodesh, and we received much support and encouragement. One of the times we asked for a bracha for children, we opened the Igros and the letter said, ‘Birkas mazal tov on the birth of your son, Yosef Yitzchok.’"


The scenery at the yishuv is captivating and the pure air is refreshing. There are mountains the likes of which are seen only in enchanting photographs of Switzerland. If not for the background music of explosives and shooting, it would be the Switzerland of the Shomron. But for now it’s a war zone. Travel is only by military escort-and only when the army can provide an escort. Leaving involves aggravation because you can get stuck for hours in traffic. Residents leave only when urgent. Food supplies can be obtained this way only every few days.

On the day the new families arrived in a large convoy with their luggage to settle in Sa-Nur they were greeted by a welcoming committee: near the village of Silat a gas balloon suddenly exploded, hiding the terrorists who set it off. "I was in the car near where the gas balloon exploded," says Itzik Sendroi. "I immediately veered to the side as the armed escort jumped and returned fire. The terrorists fled. Then we realized the magnitude of the miracle - there had been another large gas balloon that hadn’t exploded, which is why the entire convoy was saved."

Every breath taken here is a miracle. "One day we were going in the direction of Chomesh when we encountered a stone roadblock," adds Sendroi. "Molotov cocktails, rocks and bullets began flying from all directions. We returned fire, but the danger was enormous. It was only a miracle that we managed to escape."

"The Birkas HaGomel bracha is a regular part of our davening on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbos," adds Sendroi.

Uriel Garfinkel continues, "Two weeks ago we had another big miracle when a vehicle from the yishuv was going towards Chermesh. The driver noticed something suspicious on the road and stopped at the last minute about 30 meters away from a huge bomb."

The terrorists have been following the goings-on at the yishuv - its falling apart, abandonment, and revival. It seems likely that they gather intelligence information using telescopes, helped by Arabs who used to work there. The revival definitely worried them, and in recent months the yishuv has experienced a great deal of shooting.

"On more than one occasion we’ve had to quickly hide and return fire until things quieted down," says Uriel. "One time a bullet entered the gas tank near the shul. It was a miracle that nothing happened. You realize that the closest Arab settlement to Sa-Nur is only 700 meters away."

These people are living under almost constant siege. "What is the longest time you were under siege?" I asked Garfinkel.

"There was a two-day period when we couldn’t get out. They told us the army was setting up ambushes. Then they reported explosives on the road. There’ve been other incidents which kept us in the yishuv. We received constant intelligence information about one group of soldiers or another who were on the way or hiding in fields. The situation is not easy."

A faded yellow sign hangs from a green iron pillar. It says "Sa-Nur to Netanya via Tzomet HaSharon: Line 38." This used to be Eged’s bus stop, but in the past ten months there has been no public transportation. Yossi Dahan complains, "Obviously no one will stay here. It’s not that the residents left; the government simply forced them to leave." He points towards Chomesh and says: "Up to the Sa-Nur Junction is where explosives are placed, and from the junction and on, leftwards towards Afula, is one big shooting gallery. A bus used to come here five times daily. Now it’s been ten months since we’ve had any bus at all."

Dahan is the secretary of Chomesh and Sa-Nur. They are five kilometers away from each other, but the road between them passes through the village of Silat-a-Dhar. The village is supposedly under full Israeli control, but the reality is that this village is a frontline enemy enclave. Movement here is impossible for Jews - travelers are likely to be shot at with bullets, Molotov cocktails, and stones. To go from one yishuv to the other, Dahan has to take a roundabout route and travel an extra 150 kilometers.

Q: It’s no wonder people left.

Garfinkel: "I don’t blame the people who left the yishuv, but we chassidim of the Rebbe are aware of the great danger threatening the Jewish people. That’s why we saw it as our obligation to do something in order to stop the withdrawal and to help provide security for millions of Jews living here."

Itzik Sendroi of Yitzhar describes the situation in Sa-Nur as similar to that of Kever Yosef, which was surrounded in the difficult days after the evacuation of Sh’chem.

It seems the settlers receive a great deal of siyata di’Shmaya both from the yishuv and from the yeshiva. "The yeshiva provides chayus for the whole place," says Uriel. "Imagine how you feel when you go into the yeshiva and see bachurim in the middle of a shiur or a farbrengen."

The yishuv is more like one happy family than an assortment of people. Each evening they gather and eat, talk and farbreng in the homey atmosphere. The Shabbos meals are an experience. The bachurim who came here have changed so much as to become unrecognizable.

Our trip to the yishuv was an introduction to what the residents go through. Every so often we hear about incidents in the area, like a roadside bomb that was discovered or a terrorist who was killed a few minutes earlier in shootouts with the military presence in the area. The core group is not shaken; they know they are there for the sake of the Jewish people. "We will absolutely not leave," says one of the new settlers. "We will not give in to Arab terror. Senior army officials have told us more than once that our presence here has saved the entire region because if we wouldn’t be here, the army would leave.

"We take people who can handle these difficulties, because not everybody can come to a place like Sa-Nur," says Itzik. He is formerly from Yitzhar, but admits that Sa-Nur is a far more difficult place to live in. "Now we mostly need moral and financial support to be able to continue to build up the place."

At the moment the yishuv is suffering from many problems. The food supply is irregular and basic supplies are difficult to obtain. The army tries to help, but the situation is complicated. For the Yud-Tes Kislev farbrengen, the mashpia who was supposed to farbreng got stuck on the road because of a roadside bomb. Not only couldn’t he make it to lead the farbrengen, he was the one who had the refreshments too… Instead of a seudas Yom Tov, the besieged of Sa-Nur farbrenged on mashkeh and a little mezonos.

Garfinkel: "Our goal is to transform the place into a flourishing yishuv. We have 13 dunam of agricultural land to develop which can support us, but we need additional manpower. Primarily we need moral and financial help. This is the initial period, so it’s hard, but I’m sure we’ll weather the trials. As a chassid, I know that Lubavitch always exhibited mesirus nefesh, and now too, we continue to hold on with mesirus nefesh. I wouldn’t be able to last here a minute without the kochos and brachos we get from the Rebbe."

When the first settlers arrived the place was neglected. The houses were deserted and some of them didn’t even meet minimal requirements. There was no shul. "We had to take the destroyed mosque and turn it into a shul," says Garfinkel. "We renovated, painted, and hung a large Moshiach flag on the top spire. We also put together a makeshift mikva, and life began."

On Sunday, the eighth light of Chanukah, the yishuv had a chanukas beis ha’kneses along with a hachnasas seifer Torah. About 500 people came, including rabbanim of the yishuvim in the area, such as Rabbi Levinger of Chevron, Rabbi Yehoshua Schmidt of Shavei Shomron, Rabbi Drei of Einav, Rabbi Shilo of Kedumim; the head of the Shomron Council, Mr. Bentzi Lieberman; the Jewish Agency representative, Mr. Yoav Ariel, and the members of the Shomron Council. All the speakers mentioned the mesirus nefesh of the Chabad chassidim who took this difficult task upon themselves. They expressed their hope that in the z’chus of their Jewish heroism, they would be victorious again b’z’man ha’zeh, like b’yamim ha’heim.

The minister for Homeland Security, Mr. Uzi Landau, sent his greetings for the event. "The minister doesn’t just send greetings," says Garfinkel. "He is constantly helping us settle Yesha. He sees settling here as being on the front line of the war to protect Eretz Yisroel from terrorists. His deputy, Mr. Gideon Ezra, also helps a great deal, as does Zev Chever (Zembish) of Amana, and Bentzi Lieberman. They encourage us and try as much as possible to help us hold on to the yishuv."

"I would like to thank Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Wilschansky, the rosh yeshiva of the Chabad yeshiva in Safed, who sends talmidim to strengthen the yeshiva. This gives us a wonderful atmosphere."

Q: Is there any improvement in what the army is doing?

Garfinkel: "The army is definitely doing important things that until recently had not been done. There are great numbers of elite forces in the area, and they enter villages, make arrests and liquidate terrorist cells, but this is only a drop in the bucket when you consider the enormous stores of arms the Arabs have."

"I’m sure we’re doing the right thing by guarding Eretz Yisroel and giving the Rebbe MH"M nachas ruach. The constant brachos of the Rebbe give us a good feeling, and the miracles we regularly experience prove to us clearly that the Rebbe is with us."


"The Birkas HaGomel bracha is a regular part of our davening on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbos."


"A bus used to come here five times daily. Now it’s been ten months since we’ve had any bus at all."


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