Hi everyone! I've been in seminary for about a week so far, and thank G-d it's going really well. I want to share about an AMAZING trip that my seminary took us on this past week.
On Wednesday night, the city of Bnei Berak organized a huge celebratory parade honoring all the Israeli farmers who observed the laws of shemitta this past year. My seminary wanted us to be able to witness this once in a life time event, as a celebration like this has never happened before.
We boarded the bus in the late afternoon to begin our drive to Bnei Berak. About halfway there, our bus got pulled over by the police (!). The driver got off the bus and spoke to the police for about half an hour. We all just sat on the bus waiting, we had no clue what was going on! Finally, the driver got back on the bus. The whole time, our trip leader had been trying to find out what was happening, so when the driver eventually came back she asked him what was going on. His claim: it was all because he hadn't been wearing a seat belt. Still, we're not sure why that warranted a half hour conversation with the police! Once that was over with, we continued on our way to Bnei Berak. We got off the bus and found our way to one of the streets that was off of the central street where the parade was happening. At the top of the street, we began to hear pounding music, and the sound of people singing. The further down the street we got, the more crowded it got. Finally, we got to a point where the crowd was so thick that we couldn't go any further! I honestly don't think I've ever seen so many people in my whole life. I found out later that 30,000 people were in attendance!
In the middle of the street were thousands of charedei men singing and dancing with all the farmers who had kept shmitta. Further up the street were farmers riding their tractors down the streets between cheering crowds! Tons of people were holding signs proclaiming that the farmers were "giborei koach", "mighty men of power" (a description the Torah gives regarding farmers who observe shemittah).
After the dancing ended, a famous rabbi, Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein (whose opinions form the basis of one of my family's favorite Shabbos books: "Ve'haarevna", gave a speech about the importance of shemita and the greatness of these farmers.
One of the most moving parts for me happened after the official event was over. After the dancing and speeches were finished, the crowd thinned out a little, and we could finally get a clear view to the middle of the street. We saw huge groups of people gathered around the farmers, all requesting brachos (blessings) from them. It was so beautiful to see charedei men with peyos to their shoulders and black suits on bringing their children to get blessings from these farmers, most of whom were wearing jeans and some of whom are not even religious (absolutely amazing!). There was such a feeling of unity permeating the entire event! I (and the other girls in my seminary) were privileged to get brachos from two different farmers. We all felt that it was such a powerful moment, considering the fact that these men had literally sacrificed their entire livelihood for a year, all for the sake of Gd. They are truly "giborei koach" and it was so amazing that I got to witness it!