Although balloon terror is a relatively new phenomenon, the Arab destruction of Israeli agriculture has been going on for over a hundred years. Era Rapaport knows about it firsthand.
Some twenty-five years ago an American family wanted to have a share in the Biblical laws applicable to working the Land of Israel. Together with Era and his family they received property from The Land Authority of the State of Israel on the outskirts of Shiloh, once the Biblical capital of Israel, now home to over four hundred Jewish families. From the days of Joshua, grapes had grown in the area so they were the natural choice of what would be grown. Since Era was blessed to live in Shiloh, the onus of developing the project laid squarely on his shoulders. He cleared the land, set up the irrigation system, and hired Shiloh youth to plant 5,000 seedlings.
It was a Friday morning several months later when carloads of Arabs came to the fields to burn the plants and cut the pipes.
Arab reporters and camera-men came along. Evidently they wanted a story on Arab land being stolen by Jewish settlers. The problem with that story was the Arabs hadn’t owned the land. Before the grapes were planted it had been barren of anything save rocks and thorns.
Era didn’t arrive alone at the vineyard to protect the grapes; most of the Shiloh men joined him. As they engaged in hand-to-hand combat Era’s thirteen-year-old son gathered a group of boys. Together they recited Psalms as they overlooked the site of the struggle. Apparently those prayers helped because by the time the army arrived there had been no serious injuries. Not only that, a year later grapes were planted again.
As much as Era’s heart is with his grapes, he wears many other hats. He was the mayor of Shiloh on and off for ten years. He and his family did outreach work encouraging Aliyah (Israeli immigration) in America for three years. He’s a tour guide with a passion for sharing his knowledge of the Jewish country, a fundraiser with a number of visions, a volunteer in countless areas, a husband to Orit, father to seven, grandfather to thirty, brother, and friend. His life is so full that this article could easily expand into a book but there’s no need for that. Era’s autobiography, Letters from Tel Mond Prison, was published in 1996. Sadly, it’s out-of-print but used copies can be found on Amazon.
Of course, the obvious question is what was Era Rapaport doing in jail?
In the eighties he was part of The Jewish Underground. Discouraged by the government’s lukewarm reactions to Arab terror, a group of men decided to take matters into their own hands. It was known that a group of mayors were essential heads of the local PLO and constantly encouraging terror acts against Jews. One of the acts that The Jewish Underground orchestrated was planting a bomb in the car that belonged to the mayor of Nablus. This mayor was the head of the PLO, at the time, and was responsible for 18 Jews being killed and severely wounded. The bomb they planted caused the mayor to lose both his legs. Asked if he regrets his actions, Era adamantly says no. Asked if he would do the same action again today, he shakes his head no.
“At that point in time it was the right thing to do. Today, it’s a different ball game.”
When the police cracked the case in 1984 Era and his family were in America. They could have easily stayed there but they made the decision to return home.
“I’d rather sit in jail in Israel, than be a free man in America.”
He was sentenced to twenty-one months in jail but President Chaim Herzog, understanding what the situation was at the time, shortened his jail sentence by three months.
Era and Orit, a native-born Israeli, came to Shiloh the first year it was re-established as a modern village in 1977. They came with a strong desire to build the land as pioneers and they simply fell in love with the community.
Certainly the fact that the Mishkan, the Jewish Tabernacle, was once located in Shiloh, contributed to that love. Era was there in 1982 when archaeologists found jugs full of seeds from Jewish farmers thousands of years ago. They requested that the Shiloh residents guard the dig until they could transfer the jugs to the authorities. It was late at night, with a full moon, when Era brought his five-year-old daughter to see the discovery. He told her she probably wouldn’t remember the experience, but years later, she still does. Maybe that’s why she’s devoting herself to managing Ancient Shiloh, the Shilo tourist site, where some of those jugs can be seen.
Shiloh is an integral part of who Era is and Era is an integral part of Shiloh. His visions for the town included that the main synagogue be built as a model of the Tabernacle, building parks, a swimming pool, a basketball court, a dental clinic and fill surrounding hills with orchards and homes.
Era didn’t just dream. He did the fundraising, the paperwork, the grunt work and turned his hopes into a reality.
Orit is very much a partner to his dreams. Every year the couple hosts a party at the end of the grape harvest to thank The Almighty for their bountiful crop. Friends and neighbors are invited to taste their delectable wine and share their happiness. They are proud of the fact that on-going Arab terror has never broken them. They stand strong in their vision, remembering G-d’s promise:
“You will yet plant vineyards in the mountains of the Shomron; the planters will plant and redeem. For there will be a day when the watchman will call out on Mt. Ephraim, Arise, let us ascend to Zion, to HaShem, our G-d.” (Jeremiah 31:4-5)
Era’s love for the Land of Israel was fostered over many years with some powerful influencers. He gives special credit to Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, zt’l, the head of his yeshiva. He once described to a reporter with tears in his eyes, how Rabbi Kook pulled him into a dancing circle, telling him to be happy since he was confident that Era would one day make Israel his permanent home.
Era and Orit have their built home. They’ve had dancing and celebrations. They’ve planted and redeemed vineyards. As they continue with their missions, they’re ready and waiting for the watchman to come and herald the coming of the time of our redemption and true peace.